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Lahore carnage: Punjab still in state of denial
By Ismail Khan
Sunday, 30 May, 2010
Punjab is still in a state of self-denial. As gunmen, lobbing hand grenades and firing automatic weapons killed 79 worshippers, all that television anchors and those sitting inside the television studios were keen to find out from their reporters covering the carnage in Model Town and Garhi Shaho was the ethnic identity of the assailants.
“How were they dressed?” asked one newscaster. “They were wearing shalwar kameez,” the reporter responded. “And they looked like Pathans,” the reporter added. Even after the police claimed clearing up the two places, anchors remained curious. “Are they locals,” asked a senior anchor who conducts a 50-minute show on one of the leading news channels.
Well, they must be disappointed. The main suspect in custody, Abdullah, turns out to be a Chachar from Rahim Yar Khan. Does this make the crime the gunmen have perpetrated by less? Had the perpetrators turned out to be Pakhtuns, which everybody in the electronic media so keen to find out and establish, would that have made the bloodbath any more tragic?
Sadly, the Punjab and for that matter the mainstream media, dominated by many television anchors who happen to be from Pakistan’s largest province, have still not gotten it.
Those who indulge in such acts may speak different languages, they may have different ethnic origins and they may come from different regions, they are one when it comes to their ideology. When they fight, they don’t fight as Punjabis and Pashtuns. They share goals and they share ideology.
It is plain and simple. They want to pull down the present system and establish an Islamic state. They oppose Pakistan’s pro-U.S policies and its support to Washington in the war on terror and therefore, consider all those representing the state as legitimate targets.
They want to wage ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan and therefore, view any attempt by Pakistan to stop them from going across to wage war against the US and Nato forces as deviation from the basic tenants of Islam.
And last but not the least, they consider minority sects as heretics and deviants and therefore, their killing for them is kosher.
But had the newscasters stopped at identifying the ethnic origin of the attackers, they would still have saved the day for themselves. But wait a minute. A newscaster asked a reporter about the security on the many other places of worship of the Ahmadi group in Lahore. And can you beat this? The reporter gave out the locations of all the places where Ahmadis offer their prayers.
Another reporter went a step further and identified some of the wounded officials as Ahmadis. Much like the gunmen who went on a shooting binge, the television anchors and reporters also had a field day and got away with it too.
But that’s how it was attempted to link up the twin-attacks in Lahore to a particular ethnic origin, in this case the Pashtuns.
Watch the news coverage after the DIG Lahore’s press conference and nowhere has this been mentioned as to where the assailants belonged to. All that all the television channels said was where they came from. To their consolation, the assailants did train in Miramshah and travelled to Bannu via Lahore. No mention of who the mastermind Rana was. Clearly as the name suggests, he was not a Pashtun either.
That was just one disturbing dimension of the gory episode broadcast live from Model Town and Garhi Shahu.
But what perhaps was more striking was the way the police behaved during the entire duration of the bloody incident.
Dozens of policemen armed with semi-automatic weapons and guns were seen rushed to the scenes of the bloodbath. They were seen huddled together either behind a wall or some other cover, without firing a single bullet.
More surprising was the way the two assailants were so openly shooting from a minerate and from behind a wall of the Ahmadis’ Jumaat Khana. In fact, the lone gunman standing, raising both hands with Kalashnikov holding in one, a sign of triumph in clear view of all, including the television camera. A sniper could have easily pulled him down but it seemed the Lahore police did not have one in place.
And then to cap it all, the celebratory gunfire by the Lahore police, which has now become their hallmark, every time they finish their job. What was there to celebrate? The death of seventy-nine people?
Manawan was the first such instance when the police were seen shooting in the air to express their jubilation after clearing up the place. Clearly, such acts betray a sense of relief after obvious tense moments. No one has raised any question over what has now become a behavioural pattern of the Lahore police.
Punjab’s capital finds itself in the eye of the storm. Its time it learns lessons from the past episode and starts looking inside than looking in other directions. Self denial wouldn’t do. Its time it acknowledges that the war on terror is as much their as it is the others. It needs to understand the origin of this scourge and not the ethnic origin of the perpetrators of such attacks.