Akbar Jan Marwat
There seems to be at best, a very tenuous connection between the violent march of pro-Qadri protestors to Parliament house in Islamabad and the dastardly and grotesque bomb blast that took place in a park in Lahore, on the Easter day after noon on Sunday. More than 80 innocent Christian and Muslims died. The tenuous connections between the two events could be: the desperate push from religious extremists, to put pressure on the state, which has apparently made its mind to veer away from religious extremism and crack hard on religious militancy. Lets delve into the two events a bit more deeply. It also has to be said from the outset, that the response of our Government in dealing with these two events, left a lot to be desired.
The events after the early chehlum of Mumtaz Qadri – the executed killer of former governor Salman Tasir – started to get ugly. A few thousand supporters of Qadri, belonging to Sunni Tehrek and other Bravelvi groups decided to march to Islamabad. Apparently none of the known leaders led this march. The Rally of a couple of thousand bearded men wielding batons and sticks were led by the banner of the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, a coalition of several unknown Barelvi groups. Their leaders, Sarwat Ijaz Qadri of Sunni Tehreek, Pir Muhammad Afzal Qadri and Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi of other Bralvi groups followed the procession.
It was strange that minimal resistance was offered to the protesters en route to Parliament house. As the protesters entered Islamabad, the Islamabad Police and district management personal, cravenly melted away, leaving the citizens of Islamabad, at the mercy of the stick wielding rioters. The Islamabad Police totally abdicated its responsibility of protecting the life and property of its citizens. The ubiquitous pickets — which make the life of ordinary citizens miserable on a daily basis, were deserted by the police jawans.
The rioters turned violent just as they approached the red zone. The China Chowk metro station was completely vandalised and destroyed by the protestors. A few containers were also torched, thus causing a loss of million of rupees to the Public exchequer. The rioters were still not stopped, and they comfortably ensconced themselves in the red zone. The Islamabad district officials, Islamabad police led by its junior and out of turn appointed IG, and above all our tantrum throwing Interior Minister are squarely responsible for this pathetic performance, and have a lot to answer the nation for. The protestors seemed to have been controlled only after the 111 Brigade of the Army was called out.
In Lahore on the same day, an event immensely more tragic took place, when a recreational park, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, was hit by a suicide bomber as most Christian families were celebrating Easter. More than 80 men, women and children belonging to all faiths died. According to latest reports the number of fatalities are increasing as more critically injured victims are losing their battle with death. The most critical question which begs an answer is: how could a suicide bomber reach inside the park, in a milieu, where it is proclaimed ad nusium by our authorities, that Pakistan is in a state of war. For a country, which is in a state of war, the security arrangements done by the authorities to thwart such incidents, were clearly not enough.
In a clear departure from before, the Chief of Army Staff, COAS, gave an order to Army to start an operation against religious militants in Punjab. It has to be remembered, that the civilian government at the centre and Punjab were resisting a full-fledged Army operation in Punjab; and asserting that they could deal with the militancy by using the police and the counter Terrorism Department (CTD). But it seems, the Army has again forced the government’s hand in going for wholesale military operation. Jamatul Ahrar, an Islamic State affiliate, which is known to use fighters of Sepah-Sahaba for such operations, accepted the responsibility of the Lahore blast. The ISIS and its affiliates after losing territory in the Middle East, and being pushed on the back-foot in Afghanistan, seems to be desperate, and is thus going for soft targets. According to DG. ISPR, anti-militant operations are under way in Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan and Muzzafargarh. A large number of suspects and huge cache of arms and ammunition have also been recovered. Actually military operation in Punjab should have began earlier and not after the Lahore bomb blast, but then as they say, ‘better late than never’.
It is of vital importance, that the federal government and the Army show a united front, and carry the operation in unison. The PM very correctly said “our goal is not only to eliminate terror infrastructure but also the extremist mindset which is a threat to our way of life”. The Army operation in Punjab was long over due, southern Punjab is especially considered to be the bastion of sectarian militant organizations like Sepah-i-Sahaba and Lashkar-i-Jangvi. Action not only against religious militants but the mindset, which breeds religious extremism, which in turn leads to radicalisation and militarisation, is also required.
Coming back to the dahrna of the Qadri Brigade in the D-Chowk of Islamabad, which has entered its forth day: a similar extremist mindset is on display. The defence and civilian authorities need to deal with this extremist mind set, in the similar manner as they are dealing with other targets of national action plan and Zarb-i-Azb. It is very important to realise that religious extremism leading to militancy has its roots in extremist thinking, which is the most important factor in radicalising and eulogising religiously extremist elements to become militants.
—The writer is author, citizen journalist and entrepreneur based in Islamabad.