By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (firstname.lastname@example.org)
LAHORE, PAKISTAN. (ANS-April 9, 2016) — Christian leaders are demanding protection after the deadly suicide attack on Easter Sunday 2015 in Lahore, Pakistan.
An article by Aftab Alexander Mughal said that reports say at least 74 people, both Christians and Muslims were killed, including 29 children. Over 370 people were injured in the blast on March 27, at Gulshan Iqbal Park in Lahore.
Lahore is the capital of Punjab province and the second largest city of Pakistan. Christians make up only 5 percent of the 80 million population of the city.
At the time of the blast, about 3,000 people were visiting the park, where some Christian families were celebrating Easter, following prayer services. Mughal said some wounded people are still in hospitals and in critical condition.
It is estimated that around 32 Christians, mostly young children, from Nishtar Colony, Youhanabad, Bahar Colony, Khaliqnagar and Awan Market of Lahore have died in the Islamist suicide bombing strike.
On April 4, Pakistanis remembered the victims of the Lahore carnage. Churches throughout Pakistan organized special prayer services, while throughout the day Muslim families visited their love ones graves in Lahore.
Along with the Pakistani nation, the international community also condemned the devastated incident. Pope Francis called it a bloody and hideous attack and demanded protection for the country’s religious minorities, especially Christians, who were the main target.
Jamat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, which has a close association with the Islamic State, claimed responsibility.
Later, the group released the picture of the suicide attacker, identified as Salahuddin Khurasani. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is based in the Mohmand agency of the tribal areas, led by Umar Khalid Khurasani.
In March last year, Mughal said, the same terrorist group attacked two churches in Lahore. Lahore is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s hometown.
The attackers’ main target was Pakistan’s poor Christian community. It was also a message to the government that these groups are still capable of striking wherever they want, despite a year long military operation against terrorists in the northern part of the country.
According to eyewitnesses, there were no proper security arrangements in and around the playground, which made it easy for the suicide bomber to enter the park without much difficulty and blow himself up in the crowded area.
Immediately after the blast, Christian leaders asked the community to be peaceful and called for unity and brotherhood.
People immediately rushed to the playground to help the victims, and many young people gathered outside the hospitals to donate blood for the wounded. Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Sikh.
There were peaceful protests against the terrorists and organized peace vigils for the victims.
Church leaders visited both the Christians and Muslims injured people in Sheikh Zaid and Jinnah Hospitals in Lahore, and prayed for them. They also prayed for the medical staff who worked tirelessly under great pressure to save as many people as they could.
The Punjab government announced three days of mourning in memory of the victims, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chaired a special meeting after the blast to review the security situation in the country.
Mughal said as the provincial government was not yet ready to go after the militants, General Raheel Sharif immediately gave orders to the army to start an operation against militants in the province.
In the operation, the authorities arrested over 300 suspected militants from the various areas of the province.
Pakistan has been suffering from terrorism since 2001, but Mughal said Pakistani authorities largely ignored the activities of these militant groups. Until now, at least 60,000 people have lost their lives at the hands of terrorists.
It is a familiar pattern that after every major attack, Mughal said, the government pledges to fight terrorism and ensures the nation that the security risks are at the lowest level during that time. Despite the government’s claims, the Sunday attack exposed the weak security situation in the country.
The attack occurred on the same day when the supporters of Mumtaz Qadri, murderer of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, a liberal Muslim, entered into Islamabad’s Red Zone demandedthere be no amendment to the blasphemy laws. They also demanded Qadri’s be publicly declared a hero.
The protesters were violent; they beat police, burned vehicles and buildings. Qadri, a self-confessed assassin and a conservative Muslim, was hanged on Feb. 29.
Qadri assassinated Taseer because of his views on Pakistani’s controversial blasphemy laws and for Taseer’s support to Christian woman, Asia Bibi. She was arrested in June 2009, and convicted and sentenced under the blasphemy laws.
Against the High Court’s judgment, she appealed in the country’s Supreme Court and is waiting for the date of the hearing now. The blasphemy laws were introduced in the 1980s by General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-88), a military dictator, under his Islamisation policy.
Since Qadri was executed; Christians were fearing the backlash.
According to Minority Concern, suicide attacks targeting Christians are not uncommon in Pakistan.
On March 14 2015, 21 people were killed and more than 80 have been injured in the suicide attacks by the Taliban at the two churches in Youhanabad, a dense Christian neighborhood in Lahore.
On Sept. 23 2013, Taliban suicide bombers attacked All Saints Church in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where some 80 Christians were killed, and about 120 people were injured. The majority of them were women and children.
Mughal said, “It is a sad reality that the state has failed to punish those who killed many innocent Christians outside their churches. Religious minorities, especially the Christian community in Pakistan, are persecuted groups by all standards. They face discrimination, and usually they are the soft targets of hardliners and militants.”
Christians are the second largest minority group making up about 1.6 percent of the total population. Violence and intimidation aimed at the Christian minority have escalated in Pakistan in the recent years.
The vulnerable Christian community is demanding that the government of Nawaz Sharif, a conservative Muslim and whose success has depended on support of religious parties for protection, should take strong measures to protect them.
Minority Rights Group International (MRG) categorizes Pakistan as one of the world’s most dangerous countries for religious minorities.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has designated Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” since 2002, due to the government’s failure to intervene against violence targeting religious minorities.
Mughal said if Pakistan wants to prosper as a state, it should revisit its policies based on religious ideology. The time has proven that these policies have not brought any good to the country and its people, rather divided and paralyzed the nation.
He continued, “Pakistan needs to become a liberal-democratic country, in its true sense.”
Moreover, the state must accept minorities as equal citizen and take necessary steps for the promotion of democratic values, equality, pluralism and human rights. In addition, if Pakistan is really serious about eradicating terrorism, then it must challenge the culture of violence and hatred, and should go after every militant group without any distinction.
Without eliminating all sorts of militants groups, Pakistan cannot progress. Otherwise, general public will continue live in a culture of fear, and the persecution of minorities will never end.
Aftab Alexander Mughal is the editor of the Minority Concern of Pakistan magazine and former National Executive Secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of Pakistan.
Photo captions: 1) A distraught mother after the terror attack. (NBC News). 2) Playground in the park where the suicide bomber struck. 3) Father with his injured son after the deadly blast. 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 email@example.com.
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