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DAWN - Editorial; October 30, 2001

October 30, 2001

Massacre in Bahawalpur

THE sense of horror, revulsion and shame at Sunday’s attack on a Bahawalpur church is too overpowering for words. The fact that as many as seventeen Christian worshippers and a constable on duty at the church gate were gunned down in one fell swoop of indiscriminate firing by a band of four or five marauders makes it one of the most gruesome slaughters of its kind in the country. The savage act has shocked the nation, as it has the entire world. The ease with which the killers operated and fled after performing the grisly deed showed how well-planned the attack was. First, they shot the constable on duty, and then they moved into the church, firing indiscriminately on the worshippers. The nation has roundly condemned the massacre. President Pervez Musharraf said he was extremely shocked by the tragedy and his “heart goes out to the victims and their families”. He held out an assurance that the government would do everything in its power to “track down the culprits and bring them to justice”. The crime has also been condemned by all sections of society. Those who have expressed their horror over the tragedy included leaders from virtually all parties, religious and secular. They included the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Jamiatul-Ulema-i-Islam (both groups), and rightly emphasized the point that Islam enjoined tolerance upon its followers and that the attack on a peaceful prayer congregation could not be the work of any Muslim elements. They suggested that the massacre could be the work of foreign agents.

The real issue is the identity and motive of the assailants. In his condolence message, President Musharraf said he would refrain from making any comments on the identity of the attackers until the investigation was complete. But he did say that “the method used and the inhuman tactics employed clearly indicate the involvement of trained terrorist organizations bent upon creating discord and disharmony in Pakistan”. This is nothing new.

Trained terrorists — well-armed and well-funded — have played havoc with Pakistan. For the last more than a decade, terrorists of every conceivable strain — ethnic, sectarian, foreign-sponsored and obscurantist — have been operating in Pakistan with impunity. They have attacked mosques, imambargahs, madrassahs, churches and religious processions, besides trains, buses, railway stations, bus stops, business centres and other public places. Also to have fallen to the assassins’ bullets were religious leaders, philanthropists, doctors and technocrats. While some of the terrorists have been caught and punished, the large majority of them have remained untraced. One does not know whether the criminals who perpetrated Sunday’s ghastly act would ever be caught and dealt with according to law.

While the law enforcement and intelligence agencies must naturally redouble their efforts to get the criminals, it should be made clear to the terrorists of whatever hue that they are up against the combined wrath of the people and the state. If the motive behind Sunday’s massacre was to ignite religious riots or just to create panic and scare at this critical time, it must be the concern of the government and all responsible citizens to deny them the satisfaction of success. A more perverse motive could be to force the government to change its Afghan policy. Here again, the full force of the law and the national will must be brought to bear on the terrorists and those behind them to make them realize that such designs simply cannot work. The decision to join the world coalition against terrorism is based on principle and is in the best national interest in the given regional and international context arising from the events of September 11. Under no circumstances should the government make any move that would make the terrorists feel that they have succeeded in their mission.

On the wrong course

IN two separate yet related incidents of law and order lies the greatest challenge to the authority of the state: the gathering of thousands of jihadi volunteers on the Durand Line wishing to cross over into Afghanistan to fight along side the Taliban, and the blockade of the Karakoram Highway by religious zealots in the Kohistan district. Both incidents have rightly caused anxiety and concern in Islamabad, especially as innocent young men are being forced into conscription of sorts, or incited to violence, by a band of bigoted zealots who only represent a marginal fringe of society. Yet, these incidents are a dangerous reminder that it takes only a few thousand defiant and determined people to hold a nation of 140 million hostage to their whims and caprices. The two acts in question are anything but rational — much less guided by an enlightened spirit of religious commitment. Clearly, if the government has to take action to disperse the jihadis camping on the Pak-Afghan border or those blocking the KKH, the onus of any ensuing violence will lie squarely on those who have incited and set these people on such a course of action.

It is indeed deplorable that the sponsors of such defiant acts should choose to hide behind the mask of religion. For the millions comprising Pakistan’s Muslim majority, this certainly is not the face of religion they would like to identify with. Many will indeed argue that Islam is being presented in a wrong light by these acts of zealotry. The so-called leaders who have incited the young and simple mountain people to embark on this dangerous course of action, must be held accountable. What is it if not an act of terrorism to send thousands of young armed men to block a highway or to cross over into the war zone of Afghanistan? The government must do all it can to tackle the two situations firmly but as tactfully as possible.

Elusive justice

THERE is more bad news for a hapless group of people who have waited for over 30 years for justice. The 2,000 families displaced to make way for the Tarbela Dam project have been informed that the NWFP government has no land to spare for their resettlement. Some 90,000 persons from 84 villages, mainly in Haripur district in the NWFP, were evacuated in the seventies to make way for the dam and its lake. Although those dislocated were promised compensation and alternative land, they were callously forgotten once the dam was built. Despite years of lobbying, successive governments have failed to resolve the issue. Recently, there was news that about 2,000 acres of land had been earmarked for some of the displaced in Dera Ismail Khan district.

However, the NWFP now claims that this land has been set aside for the army. The federal government had also requested Punjab and Sindh to allot land to the Tarbela affectees. But they too have not responded positively. In recent years, the World Bank, under international attack for financing large projects without regard to the plight of the displaced, had also entered the fray. In fact, the Bank had made its 300-million-dollar loan for the Ghazi Barotha hydro project conditional on the swift resettlement of the Tarbela displaced. Despite this pressure, the provinces continue to drag their feet, claiming that they have no land to spare. It is time the government cut through all the red tape and inter-provincial wrangling to settle this issue once and for all.