ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: Caretaker prime minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar on Friday delivered a forceful rebuke to elements involved in the ransacking and burning of churches in Jaranwala earlier this week, even as senior officials cast doubts on the veracity of the blasphemy allegations that prompted the melee.
“The Pakistani state and society does not align and identify with such elements. They may be from us but they are divorced from us,” PM Kakar was quoted as saying in an official press release issued by the Prime Minister Office.
Separately, Punjab caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi said on Friday that all damaged churches in Jaranwala will be restored by next week.
“Assessments are being made to gauge the extent of damage to destroyed homes, and financial assistance will be provided to affected families accordingly,” Mr Naqvi said.
Interim CM says all damaged churches to be restored by next week; officials see ‘conspiracy’ behind Jaranwala melee, cast doubt over allegations of blasphemy
Vowing to protect minorities in the country, PM Kakar said his government would take stern action against those involved in the ransacking and gutting of churches and homes of the Christian community in Jaranwala.
“Minorities will stay protected. It might be an attempt to harm minorities in the country by marginalised and peripheral groups but the state and society will respond to this “sternly and strictly,” the PM was quoted as saying.
The prime minister claimed that the interim government would try to differentiate between politics and law. “There is a rule of law and there is a rule of order. We will ensure that rule of order is not compromised in any way. Rule of order would ensure and lead us to rule of law,” he added.
“There is no room for chaos or anarchy in any governance system, secular system or religious theocratic system. So we know the sanctity of the order. That would be kept at any cost. Pakistan is shared by all ethnicities, creed and religious backgrounds,” he said.
“We would strongly discourage rigidity in any form in this society. We do not stand for the forces of darkness. Rigidity may come in the garb of religion or secularism or any other form. These extreme attitudes, they are not just unwelcome, they will be discouraged,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Naqvi told a delegation of Christian leaders at the Chief Minister’s Office that the destroyed churches would be restored, latest by Tuesday, and compensation paid to those whose homes have been damaged.
“Assessments are being made to gauge the extent of damage to destroyed homes, and financial assistance will be provided to affected families accordingly,” Mr Naqvi said. He said more arrests were being made and those involved in this heinous crime would not escape punishment. “We have video footages and other evidence to apprehend and bring the culprits of the tragedy to justice,” he said.
The delegation of minority leaders — comprising Senator Kamran Michael, Bishop Azad Marshall, former MPA Shakeel Marcus Khokhar, Shahzad Gull, Pastor Jameel Nasir, Colonel McDonald Chandy, Pastor Anwar Fazal, Pastor Waseemullah Khokhar, Bishop Sebastian Shah — underscored the need to take swift action against the culprits to prevent such incidents in the future.
Doubts over blasphemy allegations
Also on Friday, two key officials cast doubt on the allegations of desecration of the Holy Quran, which became the basis for the mob’s rampage in Jaranwala.
In an interview with Reuters, Punjab police chief Usman Anwar said that pages of the Holy Quran were found in a street with derogatory comments written on them in red.
One attached extra page also carried the names, addresses and national identity card numbers of the accused. Police were investigating all angles as to why the names and addresses would be attached, he told Reuters.
These concerns were echoed by caretaker Punjab information minister Amir Mir.
Speaking to Geo News anchorperson Shahzad Iqbal on Friday night, he said: “Initial investigation indicates that this was a conspiracy to provoke religious sentiments among the Muslim population and create a riot-like situation. The investigation is ongoing, and once completed, all findings will be made public”.
He claimed there were currently two theories: “One suggests foreign involvement, while the other points to local religious elements. When a foreign force plans an activity, they employ their agents in the country to incite unrest. Then, sometimes, when individuals of different faiths, such as Christians and Muslims, are engaged in a dispute, a situation is fabricated to exploit religious sentiments for personal gain.”
“Consider how it all began — just after the Fajr prayers, when some individuals exiting the mosque found pages of the Holy Quran with inappropriate words written on them. Interestingly, the names of a Christian man… and his two sons were written on the pages in red ink, along with their telephone numbers and addresses, and their photos were also attached,” he said.
Later, the men were held responsible for desecrating the holy book, he said, asking: “Do you think anyone planning blasphemy would write their own name, address, and telephone number and leave the pages in front of a mosque?”
Syed Irfan Raza in Islamabad, Zulqernain Tahir in Lahore and Riaz Usman in Karachi also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2023