Islamabad (AsiaNews) – It “is good that a serious and dangerous threat to world peace and peace in our region has been eliminated”. Even if “it doesn’t mean the end of al Qaeda, [. . .] it does send a strong symbolic message,” said Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha, archbishop emeritus of Lahore, who spoke to AsiaNews about the killing of Osama Bin Laden on Monday. In Pakistan tough, radical Muslim groups organised prayers and demonstrations in Karachi and Peshawar in memory of the “martyr”. In Punjab, top police officials are warning of possible terrorist attacks, whilst Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani has called on the world to help Pakistan in its fight against extremism, which he described as the nation’s “number one” problem.
For Mgr Saldanha, Bin Laden’s death has raised some hope for “peace and stability;” however, “it is too early to say what will be the effects on the Christian minority.” In fact, “people are still stunned, refusing to accept that Osama has really died. They say that it might be a trick. We cannot know for sure. But educated people believe the news.”
In Karachi, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamat ul Dawa, which are banned organisations, yesterday offered funeral prayers for Bin Laden whose “martyrdom will not be in vain.” Other groups also slammed the death of the extremist leader. In Peshawar, a crowd met to celebrate the ‘hero of Islam’. “Martyrdom is not a defeat,” a Lashkar-e-Taiba spokesman said, “but a matter of pride for Muslims. [. . .] May Allah accept the sacrifice of Osama Bin Laden.”
“Protests and demonstrations might take place in the next few days,” Archbishop Saldanha noted. The ruling party and top military brass will likely be targeted for cooperating with the United States.
For the archbishop emeritus of Lahore, “the government has taken extra security measures for schools and churches” and he trusts that “there will not be any attacks or violence”
However, anonymous Catholic sources told AsiaNews that “some groups are promoting a campaign of religious intolerance.” Still, it would be better not to stir up fears because “any news made public too soon might lead to incidents. It is better not to spread rumours based on biases”.
Al Qaeda’s founder and leader Osama Bin Laden was killed on Monday during a military operation by US Special Forces in Abbottabad, about 60 kilometres from Islamabad.
Some sources said that he died from a gunshot to the head fired by one of his bodyguards to prevent his capture. One of his daughters is saying that he was taken initially alive but later killed by US Special Forces at the start of the operation.
In Pakistan, a political storm is raging over whether the authorities in Islamabad knew about the US action or not. Questions remain in fact, as to how Bin Laden could be living undisturbed and undetected in one of the most militarised and high security zones of the country.
With Bin Laden dead, a top police official in Punjab is warning that terrorists might hit out at foreigners as well as leaders of religious minorities present in the province. Similarly, intelligence agencies have raised the alarm level and increased their monitoring extremist groups.
Survey results published in the Pakistani daily The Dawn indicate that 64 per cent of its readers believe that Bin Laden’s death will lead to a significant rise in terrorist attacks in Pakistan.
In view of the situation, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has appealed to the world to help Pakistan in its fight against terrorism, the nation’s “number one” problem.
Echoing these words, Pakistan’s Communication Minister Firdos Ashiq Hussain said, “Pakistan has paid the heaviest price in the war against terror”.
Lastly, President Asif Ali Zardari insisted that his government did not provide the al Qaeda leader any help or protection, dismissing claims claiming otherwise as “baseless speculation”. (DS)
(Jibran Khan contributed to the reporting)