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The South Asia Channel

In Pakistan’s own backyard

Pakistan is in trouble. The recent attack on two Ahmedi mosques in Lahore, which killed over 90 people, is yet another sign of the evolution of terrorist attacks in the country and the ever-growing militancy problem in southern Punjab. But as importantly, it is another sign of an issue that successive Pakistani governments have historically ...

Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

Pakistan is in trouble.

The recent attack on two Ahmedi mosques in Lahore, which killed over 90 people, is yet another sign of the evolution of terrorist attacks in the country and the ever-growing militancy problem in southern Punjab. But as importantly, it is another sign of an issue that successive Pakistani governments have historically swept under the carpet rearing back with full force.

While the killings of Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs in Pakistan are nothing new, and are sadly part of a larger pattern of how minorities are threatened in Pakistan, the attacks highlighted an issue that has rarely been mentioned in the past few years. Unlike the suicide bombers and the Hakimullahs of the world, those who kill Ahmedis are rarely mentioned — until now, when the Taliban turned on them and the attack unfolded live on Pakistani television channels.

Yet, the Ahmedis receive none of the sympathy that the victims of any other attack can. The Pakistani media self-censors itself, in fear of being charged with lawsuits, and does not use the word mosque or Muslim in reference to Ahmedis. An amendment made to the Pakistani constitution in 1974 declared all Ahmedis non-Muslims and in 1984, changes were made to the Pakistan Penal Code to include punishments for Ahmedis who would use Islamic terms for their sect. For decades now, Ahmedis have been killed in scores, courtesy of organizations that have brainwashed their followers into believing that killing Ahmedis is acceptable.

A few days after the attack, four gunmen entered the hospital where one of the captured terrorists was being treated, and started to shoot indiscriminately in the emergency ward, killing five people. Television channels showed gripping visuals of bandaged patients and their visitors scrambling over gates to be able to escape.

Condemnations of both attacks came from the usual quarters — President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik all chipped in with their statements.

But in comparison, Pakistani politicians — who can be found doing the rounds of talk shows every night — were not as up in arms as they are about any political crisis in the country, or on Facebook being banned in the country. It took the former Information Minister, Sherry Rehman, who raised a fuss in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, for a motion to be passed condemning the attacks.

The real bone of contention is that the attack finds its roots in southern Punjab, an area where ruling politicians including Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)’s Rana Sanaullah and the Pakistan People’s Party Jamshed Dasti have used the support of leaders from banned organizations like the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. The attackers reportedly took refuge before the attack at the headquarters of the missionary organization Tableeghi Jamaat, an organization that receives tremendous support from the Punjabi government, and is located in Raiwind (home of Pakistan Muslim League leader and ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif).

Pakistan’s government doesn’t protect all its citizens equally. There were a handful of policemen on duty outside the Ahmedi mosques, whereas the Tableeghi Jamaat’s annual meetings see a heavy contingent of police and emergency services deployed to protect attendees.

When it came to an issue where it was safe to be as vocal and vociferous in condemnations — the Gaza flotilla crisis — Pakistani politicians condemned the actions taken by the Israel Defense Forces, attended protests, and issued statements. Pakistani politicians consistently fail to realize that they must turn their attention to what is literally happening in their own backyard.

Their silence on the attacks on Ahmedis was to be expected, but Pakistan’s politicians are now, by default, complicit in a larger scheme of staying mute on issues that threaten Pakistan, that cause ticking human bombs to explode.

In a cruel twist of fate, the Facebook controversy — which saw the social networking website blocked by a court order and thousands out on the streets protesting against the website and the Draw Muhammad Day contest — may have found a resonance with the militants who carried out the attack. The attackers, who were captured in the mosque by survivors, revealed to the police that they were brainwashed into believing that Ahmedis were involved in drawing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.

The rot set into Pakistani society and the reluctance of the state to solve the issue at its very roots, has seen hundreds of people turn against the Pakistani government. Perhaps it is time the powers that rule Pakistan realize that the ticking bombs — militancy, unemployment, distribution of hate literature — can no longer be ignored.

Saba Imtiaz works for The Express Tribune, an English-language newspaper in Pakistan.

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