Ejaz Alam Augustine and his nephew escaped unhurt when armed assailants targeted them in Punjab province
Ejaz Alam Augustine (second from left, front row) with Catholic and Protestant bishops in Islamabad on Sept. 11. (Photo: Supplied)
A former provincial minister for minority affairs escaped unhurt when motorcycle-borne armed assailants targeted him in a Pakistan province where terror attacks have increased this year.
Two gunmen opened fire on the car in which Ejaz Alam Augustine and his 24-year-old nephew were traveling on Oct. 11.
Augustine, a Catholic, has been serving as a lawmaker in the Punjab provincial assembly since 2018 and is a former minister for human rights, minority affairs & interfaith harmony.
The incident occurred at around 8 p.m. while on their way home in Lahore in Punjab province from the nearby Kasur district.
The Kasur district police have registered a case of criminal intimidation and a manhunt is on to nab the gunmen.
When contacted by UCA News, Ali Muhammad, the duty officer and assistant sub-inspector at the police station, refused to comment.
Augustine said he saw the two people approaching. “We were at a railway crossing when they intercepted us," he told UCA News.
But the former minister said he could not see their faces as they had draped themselves in a shawl, a large piece of cloth placed on the shoulder or head.
"Sensing danger, we drove past them. But they fired at us. Fortunately, the bullets missed us," added Augustine.
Last month, Augustine joined a delegation of bishops and parliamentarians in meeting Pakistan's caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar to express concerns over the safety of religious minorities.
Kakar is leading the cash-strapped nation till the general elections in January next year.
Father Khalid Rashid Asi, director of the Diocesan Commission for Harmony and Interfaith Dialogue in the Faisalabad diocese, demanded protection for parliamentarians from minority communities.
“Sadly, the mainstream media ignored the news of the attack on the minister,” he said.
According to Church leaders, religious minorities in Pakistan are vulnerable to terrorism and religious extremism.
The number of militant attacks in Pakistan saw an unprecedented hike this year. In August, 99 incidents were reported, the highest in a month since November 2014.
“The attacks in August resulted in 112 deaths and 87 injuries, mostly security forces and civilians," said the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS).
The Islamabad-based think tank noted that there had been an 83 percent rise in militant attacks compared with July, which reported 54 attacks.
“There were five suicide attacks in July, the highest this year. Overall, the country witnessed 22 suicide attacks in the first eight months of 2023 in which 227 people were killed and 497 injured,” PICSS said.
In September, 65 attacks were reported, resulting in 136 fatalities and 144 injuries.
“Neither the minority nor the majority is safe anymore,” Father Asi said.
In 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic minister for minorities, was assassinated as he left his mother's home in Islamabad.
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