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The silent spectator — Attack on Christians

March 11, 2013

HOMES are burned, religious paraphernalia destroyed, residents terrorised, a country’s already tattered reputation for looking after its own further damaged. And the Punjab government just stood by and let it all happen in the provincial capital of the country’s largest, richest, most powerful province. If that was not staggering enough, early reports suggest that it was the police that told the Christian residents of the small neighbourhood in Badami Bagh to evacuate because they feared an attack — the night before it actually occurred. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has belatedly swung into action, suspending police officials, promising immediate relief to the victims of the mob and making all the usual noises. But there’s a more important fact here, and it may give an indication of what will come next: as also highlighted by the media in the wake of the Badami Bagh attack, no one has been held to account for the devastation wrought on another Christian community in Punjab several years ago, in Shantinagar. The past, in incidents such as these, will almost surely be repeated in the present, particularly with electoral considerations dominating political thinking at the moment.

Also sobering is the growing track record of the PML-N when it comes to mob violence against Christians during the party’s watch: Shanti-nagar, Gojra and now Badami Bagh. For mob violence to break out in Lahore in this day and age, when the provincial government is touting metro buses and laptop schemes and ‘futuristic’ solutions to the province’s myriad problems, is a measure of perhaps just how misplaced the PML-N’s priorities are. Of course, the PML-N will point to this being a national malaise and the fact that Dadu district in Sindh recently saw a man burned to death by a mob after he was accused of blasphemy underlines the reality that it is not just a ‘Punjab’ problem.

All of that would only obfuscate the mishandling of the latest situation. When in Lahore recently another Christian community was besieged by right-wing activists celebrating the conversion of a Hindu boy, the Punjab government used a combination of local political and police influence to defuse the situation and bring an end to the provocative demonstrations. What was the Punjab government doing overnight after the blasphemy charged had been raised and tensions spiralled? The chief minister, known to be a micro manager, needs to explain why his administration was so passive. Complicity or incompetence, it’s a question being raised distressingly often of Pakistan’s institutions.