Pakistan again hit the world media headlines this week when “unknown” rioters set ablaze over 150 houses and shops of Christians living in a shanty settlement in the downtown Lahore, capital of country’s biggest province, Punjab.
The attack came a day after the local police evacuated Joseph colony locality and repulsed a Muslims mob trying to attack the place in search of a Christian youth accused of using blasphemous language against Prophet of Islam (pbuh), while quarreling in a drunken state.
Luckily no life was lost in the incident, in contrast to the countless killings taking place in other major cities like Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and the tribal region of the country, in bomb blasts and target killings over the last decade which were the spillover of the U.S.-led war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Other side of the story
While mainstream local and foreign media are toeing the same line of misuse of Islamic laws of blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (pbuh). But few quarters accused media of again playing up the stereotypical hype against blasphemy laws, ignoring the fact that some powerful iron scrap dealers had been pressurizing the dwellers for the last many years to sell their lands surrounded by a number of large scrap warehouses and foundries. And why angry Muslim mob returned without torching the houses on the first day after clashing with the police and being told the accused had been arrested.
The media was accused of ignoring that most of those arrested for arson comprised bulk of the illiterate laborers of the scrap foundries and warehouses, acting on the orders of the powerful employers who had also been campaigning for the elections of their association and already mobilizing the people on that count.
Pakistan is two months away from general elections, and witnessing a sharp upsurge in bomb explosions at public places and sniper killings in past couple of months. Security agencies see it as foreign controlled conspiracy to postpone the polls by creating chaos since the poll surveys had predicted victory for right wing political parties opposed to the U.S. war on terror. Apart from the blasts, the sniper killings in country’s biggest city and commercial hub, Karachi, had also jumped up.
Attack on Christian locality earned bad name for already maligned Pakistan in the world. It followed a series of huge bomb blasts in Quetta and Karachi in the past few weeks targeting primarily the minority Shia community in an attempt to trigger Shia-Sunni riots, but failed to achieve that presumed objective, said an official in Punjab.
Use of sectarian groups by unpopular regimes
The monster of sectarian strife had remained a big challenge for Pakistan over the last three decades. The powers ruling the country from behind the scene had always used this ‘effective weapon’ deftly to undermine powerful political movements against dictatorships. Unpopular military governments secretly backed sectarian and linguistic groups for their own interests. Foreign countries fighting a proxy war inside Pakistani territories provided these groups money and arms through intelligence agencies. They grew into big monsters with the passage of time and became a nuisance for the country. After the former dictator General [retired] Pervez Musharaff allowed bases to US forces in the wake of 9-11, some groups with strong religious leanings turned against his dictatorial regime.
No doubt, the honor of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) is dearer to Muslims over everything else. Punishment for blasphemy is incorporated in the law. But the law is often misused for settling personal scores, mostly against the minorities due to the ever growing bad governance and the resulting intolerance in the country. Joseph Colony tragedy was a glaring example of police mishandling, which acted in bizarre manner by first evacuating the locality and then leaving it unguarded on the next day.
Guarding against mischief mongers
Entire history of Islam is full of treating religious minorities with exemplary treatment that acted as catalyst to bring scores of them into Islamic folds. Pakistan is the continuity of the same traditions as its founder Quaid-e-Azam [great leader] Muhammad Ali Jinnah rightly put it in his first address to the constituent assembly that no discrimination whatsoever would be made with any citizen on account of his religion, cast or creed in the light of golden Islamic principles.
Mistreatment with any minority is against the Islam which is the founding ideology of Pakistan. Those victimize minorities deserve harsh punishments according to law. But the causes leading to mob violence on the issue of blasphemy, and the growing indiscipline and intolerance in society need to be analyzed and arrested.
Ambitions of western colonialists need to be checked which misused media to create grounds to commit aggression against Muslim countries in the past. Western intellectuals had already indicated they are in experiencing a clash of civilization against Islam, and hence crafting media hype against Islamic civilization.
Indifferent ruling elite
While Christians homes were ablaze, Pakistani prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was on a private but unwanted visit to India to see the historic shrine at Ajmer Sharif, just six days ahead of his government’s term expires. His sightseeing at the expense of taxpayers’ money in the dying moments of his rule brought him embarrassment when custodian of the shrine refused to welcome him because of maltreatment to religious minorities and the alleged beheading of an Indian soldier by Pakistani troops at the Line of Control dividing disputed Kashmir between two countries a couple of months ago.
This attitude was enough to judge the concern of Pakistani rulers for the lives of citizens. Similarly, no heads were rolled on death of dozens of innocent people daily in Karachi in sniper killings. The killings intensified in during the last couple of months depicting the civil war of Beirut of the 70’s and 80’s, but served as no cause of concern for Zardari’s regime.
Nobody in the country has any clue as to how the bloodshed could be stopped and when? God save this country!
Mansoor Jafar is the founding Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based at Islamabad. He can be reached through Twitter: @mansoorjafar