It is with a feeling of unease that I pass by religious protests on the main mall road of Lahore.
“Where is the Punjab assembly house?” a group of bearded men holding Islamic flags asked me the other evening as I walked along Hall Road, the hub of Lahore’s electronics sector.
Anyone who lives in the capital or at least is familiar with the Punjab knows the pillared building is located a few meters from Hall Road, just near Mall Road. This historic crossroads is a popular venue for protests.
Likewise, the roads were blocked this weekend after angry religious activists demonstrated at the Punjab assembly to protest the conviction of Mumtaz Qadri for the killing of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer in early January.
The convicted man, a police guard, tried to justify the murder by stating that he had killed the governor for his public support of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who Taseer had deemed was wrongly convicted of blasphemy.
This was not the first time outsiders have tried to demonstrate in the provincial capital. I remember a group of protesters trying hard to read an anti-American poster written in Urdu, the national language, pasted on the wall of a mosque.
Police on duty at the time did not seem to notice the way in which the protesters tried to read each word by tracing their fingers along the lines of text. I would bet any amount of money that they were not Pakistani nationals.
Similarly, none of the demonstrators who routinely stage annual anti-Valentine’s Day truck rallies are from Lahore. Whenever terror strikes the country, the government tries to point the finger of blame on non-state participants.
The unwillingness of authorities to issue madrassa
(Isamic seminary) reforms has led to a proliferation of unregulated and unregistered madrassas
that ideologically support militant groups.
This kind of blame game has worked for a while, but now Pakistan is having a hard time trying to prove itself as a peace-loving nation, especially after the recent incidents in war-torn Afghanistan.
The government over the weekend rejected allegations that the military’s powerful Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI), was involved in the murder of Burhanuddin Rabbani, chairman of the High Peace Council, on September 20.
Similarly the prime minister rejected US allegations of ISI support for the Haqqani Network’s attack on the US embassy in Kabul a week before Rabbani’s killing.
Analysts say the army is struggling to restore its credibility after the death of Osama bin Laden earlier this year next to the country’s top military academy.
It is time the government takes serious notice of politicians either supporting banned religious outfits or dependent on their votes. If the media and politicians clamor about US drone attacks violating Pakistan's sovereignty, they should equally denounce terrorists for using Pakistan soil and threatening its stability.
Increasing intolerance and terror attacks have almost silenced the Church in Pakistan from speaking on social issues. I am still waiting for a press statement of any sort since the change of leadership in the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference this March.
The National Commission for Justice and Peace, within the Bishops’ Conference, which will celebrate its silver jubilee this week, is organizing a gathering after keeping a low profile for months.
I am sure the Church leadership would welcome a court verdict that discourages killing someone over the charge of blasphemy. Any other decision would plunge society into further anarchy. Justice would then be served and a voice of sanity would conquer emotionalism and religious obsession.
The average Pakistan wants shelter, schooling for his children and peace in his life. We face a new problem every day we wake up and the government should provide some relief from real issues like inflation, power crises, dengue fever and flooding.
Playing the religious card and engaging non-state actors can help some parties further their own agendas, but it will only further isolate the country in the eyes of the international community, which already doubts the country’s sincerity in the war on terror.
The current anti-America jihad has a strong religious and political context, and the state has to amend its own ways before complaining of an international conspiracy.
Silent Thinker is the pseudonym of a Catholic commentator based in Lahore
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