Problems confronting Punjab


And the government



The attack happened a couple of hours after news that Barelvis, who had gathered for Mumtaz Qadri’s chehlum, had decided to go on a rampage


The government acted wisely by not using force against the protesters as many believe had the protesters got some more dead bodies, the riots could have jolted the whole country

It was a fun evening for people — mostly children — who had gathered at Gulshan Iqbal Park, Lahore. Many in the crowd were Christians who had come to the park with their children to celebrate Easter. While religious oppression of minorities in Pakistan is a well-established fact, many ignore the economic suppression of Christians. Mostly belonging to middle or lower middle class families, Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park is the perfect holiday destination for the Christian families.

Islamist terrorist group TTP, on the other hand, had also planned something for the park. The part of the park where electronic rides are located attracts the majority of the children. Salahuddin, who belonged to TTP splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, had chosen that part to blow himself up with a bomb – to kill as many children as he could to supposedly serve Islam.

He succeeded in killing 73 people, injuring more than 300 – most of whom were children. “After the first shock and desperate hope that this might be a mini-massacre with single-digit casualties, Pakistani reactions were predictable, as if we had known it was coming,” observed Mohammad Hanif in his piece for The Guardian.

Hanif went on to state the reaction of Pakistanis beyond expressing shock and disbelief. “Was the Eiffel Tower going to light up in Pakistani colours in solidarity? Surely there has to be an Indian hand behind this? It can’t be an attack on Christians because more Muslims were killed. Within hours of the attack, the laptop warriors were telling the nation that the attack was a sign that we were winning this war,” he wrote.

The attack happened a couple of hours after news that Barelvis, who had gathered for Mumtaz Qadri’s chehlum, had decided to go on a rampage. They had earlier given an ultimatum to the government which included demands like recognising Qadri as a martyr, declaring his cell in the jail as national heritage, hang Asia Bibi immediately and announce a holiday on the day of his execution – to name the few.

As unacceptable as these demands could be, the government did not respond to the ultimatum which led the infuriated protesters to march towards Islamabad. It was yet another spectacle of the federal government failing to act decisively as the angry mob was allowed to move towards the Red Zone.

The mob clashed with riot police at a few places, which was later ordered to retreat. Metro bus stations were damaged, security cameras destroyed and state-owned buildings violated. The mob stopped at D-Chowk voluntarily as no forces were present there to stop them from heading towards parliament house. It was almost an hour after government requested the army to send its troops to protect the important buildings in the red zone.

With Lahore burning and Islamabad taken hostage, the country which had displayed its military might 4 days before looked like a joke now.

Electronic media, while continuing its tradition of jumping the guns without waiting for confirmation, once again committed a blunder by naming the wrong man to be behind the attack. As a routine duty, police picked up an ID card of the man they suspected to be the bomber. Taking the lead from them, media aired the news of Yousaf from Muzaffargarh to be the suicide bomber. His house was raided, family arrested and the area was cordoned off by police, as DSNGs waited for breaking news.

The myth was busted when TTP spokesperson, Ehsanullah Ehsan posted a picture of the attacker, who he named Salahuddin. Media was forced to correct the error they committed but the damage had been done.

Curiously, however, the COAS met with the military command and announced a military operation in Punjab the very next day. The civilian government was not taken into confidence and as I write this, news is coming that Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif just met the COAS.

Observing this phenomenon with curios eyes, noted author and journalist Ahmed Rashid wrote in his piece for The New York Review of Books: “Almost immediately, the army declared it had taken control of security in the province, dealing a perhaps fatal blow to the already dwindling political prestige of Prime Minister Sharif. The army told the media to emphasise that the orders for the Punjab operation were given directly by General Sharif and not the prime minister.”

Columnist Wajahat Masood said an operation was already going on in Punjab by the Counter Terrorism Department. “Death of Malik Ishaq, busting ISIS cells in Daska and arresting several JeM members after PM’s order was all part of this operation,” he said.

However, he believes the military is up for point scoring by single handedly announcing the operation.

While it is yet to be seen how such a lapse in Lahore’s security occurred, Ehsanullah Ehsan threatened more such attacks while announcing their arrival in Punjab.

On the other hand, the sit-in by Barelvis was ended after four days of standoff. For four days, Islamabad’s life was literally jolted as mobile service was off and major roads blocked as uncertainty prevailed.

Emphasising the latest phenomenon of rising Barelvi extremism, Wajahat Masood said, “Barelvis have always been sidelined by the state as Deobandis were preferred to be used as policy tool.”

With Qadri’s execution, Masood believes Barelvis have got a tool to play with.

The government acted wisely by not using force against the protesters as many believe had the protesters got some more dead bodies, the riots could have jolted the whole country as Barelvis are in majority.

However, Masood believes the real face of these clerics using the name of Islam to further their own agendas have been unmasked. “The abusing and indecent behaviour shown by the leaders of the protesters might act as an eye opener for those who revere them,” he concluded.


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