By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (Jeremyreynalds@gmail.com)
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS-April 2, 2016)– Parvaiz Masih didn’t know his son was among the hundreds injured in the Easter bombing of a crowded park until the boy had arrived at the hospital.
“I don’t know when Waqar left and went to the park with friends,” said the 16-year-old boy’s father.
A story by World Watch Monitor reported that hundreds of people, including many Christians, were at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, the largest in Lahore, enjoying the warm Easter weather.
A bomb explosion killed scores of people on the spot. Hundreds more were taken to hospitals.
“After he got injured he was taken up to Sheikh Zahid Hospital, from where he was shifted to the Mayo Hospital, but he succumbed to his injuries,” Masih told World Watch Monitor.
“Waqar was a Class-9 student at St. John’s School, Youhanabad,” the father said. “He dreamt of growing up and serving his country and the community.”
The bomb killed at least 74 people and injured more than 300 – although by March 29, the BBC reported that only about 60 of the critically injured remained in hospital.
It was the deadliest terror attack in the history of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous, and most Christian, state. It was the deadliest in Pakistan since the 2014 massacre of 134 schoolchildren at a military-run academy in Peshawar, in Pakistan’s north-west.
A splinter group of the Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, claimed responsibility for the March 27 attack, and said it had “targeted Christians celebrating Easter.”
Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif visited the injured in hospital, while the Chief Minister of the Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, announced three days of mourning.
Christians make up just 2 per cent of overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan. There are more in Lahore, which has about 10 million residents, about 5 percent of whom are Christian.
Punjab Assembly member Mary Gill said security around churches was very high in the city, which is why terrorists targeted the park.
Christian leaders and politicians attended funeral services on March 28. Social activist Kashif Suba told World Watch Monitor he lost three cousins: Sahil Rehmat, 10, Somal Tariq, 12, and Sahil Masih, 17. They had gone to the park with their parents.
“They were looking at their children when the suicide bomber ripped through the crowd and blew himself up,” Suba said.
Their funeral, he said, was attended by parliamentarians. They included Punjab Assembly member Shunila Ruth; Ports and Shipping Minister Senator Kamran Michael; and the Anglican Bishop of Raiwind, Azad Marshall.
One mourner reflected, “When you have seen death – you have seen children fly into their air whole, and fall back on the earth in slivers and pieces – what have you got to fear? Something fills you with the knowledge that if you lived through that, you will live through anything God wants you to. And will die from anything God wants to use to take you. I don’t know why God gave me life. I would rather die. I am not afraid, just desperately confused.”
World Watch Monitor said that directly after the Lahore suicide blast, army chief Raheel Sharif ordered intelligence agencies to track down those responsible.
He was quoted by the Pakistan satellite news channel Samaa as saying, “We must bring the killers of our innocent brothers, sisters and children to justice and will never allow these savage inhumans (sic) to overrun our life and liberty.”
In the subsequent 48 hours, at least 5,221 suspects were arrested, Pakistan Today reported. A long-awaited crackdown on banned organizations in the Punjab has begun.
Security agencies identified the suicide bomber as a man named Yousuf, and arrested his brothers in southern Punjab.
As the country reeled from the Easter massacre, the Pakistan Army was dispatched the same day to the capital, Islamabad, to stop the advance of more than a thousand protesters into the diplomatic sector of the city, the so-called “red zone.”
The protests continued into March 30 in support of Mumtaz Qadri, who was executed on Feb. 29 for killing the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer.
The protesters beat police and burned vehicles and buildings.
World Watch Monitor said they presented a 10-point demand which included, “the unconditional release of all Sunni clerics and leaders booked on various charges, including terrorism and murder; the recognition of Mumtaz Qadri as a martyr and the conversion of his Adiala Jail cell into a national heritage site; assurances that the blasphemy laws will not be amended …and the execution of blasphemy accused Asia Bibi.”
The Pakistani authorities gave several deadlines for the protesters to disperse.
“We don’t want any violence, but we can’t tolerate it anymore,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told the protesters late on Tuesday.
Talks continued to break the deadlock, until protesters finally dispersed late in the day on March 30, with leaders saying their demands had been met, although the government in turn said it had made no concessions.
A Christian in Lahore told World Watch Monitor, “There is a tangible tension in the air. On one level there is the pain of the stories we are listening to. On the other hand there is the tension in the air that is building up with the intensely charged political situation.”
For more information visit www.worldwatchmonitor.org
Photo captions: 1) Pakistani Christian women mourn the death of Sharmoon who was killed in a bombing attack, in Lahore, Pakistan, Easter Monday, March 28, 2016. 2) Pakistani Christian women mourn the death of a loved one killed in the Lahore bombing. 3) Pakistani Islamist protesters march in the capital Islamabad on Wednesday, where tens of thousands demonstrated this past week (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images). 4) Jeremy and Elma Reynalds.
About the writer: Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico’s largest emergency homeless shelter, www.joyjunction.org. He has a master’s degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is “From Destitute to Ph.D.” Additional details on “From Destitute to Ph.D.” are available at www.myhomelessjourney.com. Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife, Elma. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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