Cecil Chaudhry (third from left), executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, joins other anti-war protesters outside Lahore Press Club on Feb. 28. (Photo by Michelle Chaudhry)
Catholic groups joined a protest in Lahore against a military escalation in Pakistan and India following the recent suicide bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir.
“If we don’t end war, war will end us,” read placards held by staff of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), the Catholic Church's human rights body in Pakistan, at the protest in front of Lahore Press Club on Feb. 28.
Peace activists including Christians NGOs also protested about “war mongering” and “bomb blasts.” Simultaneous demonstrations were held at press clubs in Islamabad and Karachi.
The nuclear-armed neighbors have conducted airstrikes on each other's territory this week as tensions run high after 40 Indian paramilitary troops were killed in a Feb. 14 suicide attack. Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of Mohammad) claimed responsibility for the atrocity.
Religious parties in Pakistan are holding truck rallies in support of armed forces as Pakistani airspace remained closed to commercial operations until March 1. The Samjhota Express twice-weekly train service from Lahore to India’s Attari has also been suspended.
NCJP program coordinator Kashif Aslam praised Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for announcing the release of Indian Air Force pilot Abhi Nandan, who was captured on Feb. 27 after his jet was shot down. A video of Pakistani soldiers trying to protect him from villagers has gone viral on social media.
“This is a diplomatic scoop. We are on high moral ground at this moment. Hope sanity prevails with this peace gesture. We appreciate such steps by the Pakistani government but condemn the ongoing aggression on electronic and social media. Only people-to-people contact can improve our strained relations,” Aslam told ucanews.com.
“The ever-escalating defense budget should instead be diverted towards developing the people. Only demilitarization can promise progress.”
Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore also expressed solidarity with Pakistan’s armed forces in an interfaith press conference at Lahore Press Club. “All issues must be resolved through peace talks and dialogue. War is not an option,” he said. Carrying Pakistan flags, the archbishop and clerics also prayed for peace.
Pakistani priests are using pulpits and social media platforms to pray for peace. “In the name of God Almighty, give peace a chance. Come and negotiate and find a solution to the issues that displease us,” Father Abid Habib, former regional coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic religious major superiors, posted on Facebook.
India accuses Pakistan of supporting "a freedom struggle" in Kashmir against Indian administration. Some groups have also taken up arms in an effort to separate Kashmir from India.
An estimated 100,000 people have died, including civilians, militants and army personnel, after Muslim militants began an armed struggle in 1990 to free the region from Indian rule.
The conflict dates back to 1947 when India and Pakistan become separate states after British rule ended. Both countries claim Kashmir in full and have fought at least three major wars and regularly exchange artillery and small-weapons fire across a disputed border.