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March 11, 2013

Lahore episode further blemishes Punjab govt’s record

Entertainment

WD
Web Desk
March 11, 2013

LAHORE: The anti-Christian violence in Lahore where 100-plus houses and shops were ransacked, looted and finally set ablaze by a group of fanatics has further blemished the already depressing record of the PML-N government which has mostly failed to protect members of the minority communities from the wrath of the extremists and terrorists.
According to careful estimates, during the five-year tenure of Shahbaz Sharif as chief minister of Punjab, over 200 Ahmadis, Christians and Shias were killed in the province in hate-drive attacks, with some of the horrific attacks targeting the minority communities taking place in Lahore. In an almost similar incident, hundreds of hooligans belonging to the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) attacked a Christians’ locality in Gojra city on July 31, 2009 and burnt alive eight members of a family besides setting ablaze over 100 houses. The failure of the Punjab government to prosecute any of the 70 accused held responsible for the gory incident had compelled the family head to leave Pakistan after the Punjab police failed to arrest the culprits who were hurling death threats to him for pursuing the case.
The anti-Christian attacks were triggered by reports of desecration of the Holy Quran by some Christians, which eventually proved false. Five of those burnt alive were women and children who could not run to save their lives.
A total of 72 people were nominated in the Gojra attacks’ FIR who were set free one by one because the complainant in the murder case, Almas Hameed Masih, a resident of the Christian Colony, decided against pursuing the case and left Pakistan to save his life. Almas had actually nominated the president of the Toba Tek Singh chapter of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the FIR as one of the accused who was held responsible for the July 31, 2010 incident along with the local leadership of the SSP which had been renamed as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). Those nominated in the case

registered under section 7 of the Anti Terrorism Act included Abdul Qadir Awan of the PML-N and Maulana Abdul Khaliq, Qari Abidur Rehman Shah and Hafiz Muhammad Imran of the ASWJ.
Ten months after the Gojra tragedy, two fidayeen squads of the Punjabi Taliban targeted two Ahmadi mosques in the Model Town and Garhi Shahu areas of Lahore and killed over 100 people who were offering Friday prayers. Claiming responsibility for the May 28, 2010 twin terrorist attacks, Mansoor Maawia, a spokesperson for the Punjabi Taliban, had said, “No Ahmadi would live in peace in Pakistan. Our war against them will continue till their complete elimination because they are as bad infidels as Jews are.” It later transpired during investigations that the master planner of the twin attacks was in fact a doctor of the Jinnah Hospital, Dr Ali Abdullah, who was also the president of the Jamaatud Daawa Medical Wing. He told his interrogators that while pursuing his medical degree at Allama Iqbal Medical College, he had received armed training in Azad Kashmir at a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LT) training camp being run by Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaatud Daawa (JD). His arrest showed for the first time that the LT was a part of the Punjabi Taliban who have let loose a reign of terror across Pakistan, especially targeting the minority communities. However, none of the accused in the twin attacks has so far been taken to task.
Seven months later (on January 4, 2011), Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was shot dead in the federal capital by Malik Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard from the Elite Force of the Punjab Police. The killer later explained that he had assassinated Taseer because of his criticism of the blasphemy law and his efforts to secure a presidential pardon for Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian woman already condemned to death by a Pakistani Anti-Terrorism Court for having committed blasphemy. Qadri had admitted in his confessional statement that he was actually provoked for the murder by the fiery speeches of two Rawalpindi-based clerics Mufti Hanif Qureshi and Qari Imtiaz Hussain Shah. Mufti Hanif is the ameer of a Rawalpindi-based religious outfit, Shabab-e-Islami Pakistan while Imtiaz Shah is the imam of a Rawalpindi-based mosque called Amna Masjid.
Two months later (on March 2, 2011), Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, a Roman Catholic and an outspoken critic of the blasphemy law, was shot dead in Islamabad. The responsibility for the assassination was placed on the Punjabi Taliban because of a pamphlet found at the place where he was killed. Written in Urdu, the leaflet claimed that Bhatti had been killed because of his opposition to the blasphemy law. His killers have yet to be arrested.
The next in line to be killed by the Punjabi Taliban was Bargeeta Almby, a 72-year old female Christian charity worker from Sweden, who was shot in the Model Town area of Lahore on December 3, 2012 for allegedly backing two Christian priests who had been accused of committing blasphemy, the preliminary police investigations have indicated. Bargeeta Almby, the managing director of the Full Gospel Assemblies (FGA), a church fellowship founded in the United States with congregations worldwide, was returning home from her Kot Lakhpat office when two unidentified motorcyclists shot her in the Model Town area of Lahore where she had been living since long. The day Bargeeta was targeted in Model Town, another significant incident took place in the Q Block area of Model Town where over a dozen masked men carrying arms and digging tools, vandalised the tombstones of 100-plus graves at an Ahmadi cemetery. Three months before this incident, Warren Weinstein, a 71-year old Jewish American US Aid official, was abducted from his Model Town home in Lahore (on August 13, 2011) by armed men belonging to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) who eventually sold him to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The ugly episode in the Badami Bagh area of Lahore took place at a time when the PML-N government in Punjab was already under fire from its political opponents for trying to strike a seat adjustment deal with the ASWJ in south Punjab for the upcoming general elections. However, a Punjab government spokesman refuted the impression that it has failed to protect members of the minority communities because of a soft corner for the banned militant or sectarian outfits.