Apparent calm in Rawalpindi after violence between Sunnis and Shiites. Curfew lifted
(AsiaNews) - In Rawalpindi schools and commercial buildings have reopened in
the aftermath of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites that left at
least 80 dead and about 125 injured including 50 children at a Koranic school. Official estimates provided so far speak of a dozen victims, but the number - according to hospital sources - is substantially higher, the authorities fear a spiral of violence and therefore have lowered the toll. The
police have removed road blocks and lifted the curfew , but the prohibition of
meeting and gathering in public still remains in force, based on art . 144 of the Pakistan Penal Code . According
to reports from the district coordinator ( DCO ) Sajid Zafar Dall, the police
remain on high alert and are ready to intervene at any time. To
prevent further tensions, no Masses were or Sunday services celebrated
yesterday in churches located in "sensitive" areas, where clashes took
place between Sunnis and Shiites.
Apparent calm now reigns in Rawalpindi, Punjab, theater on 15 November of sectarian clashes that broke out during a procession . In these days, in fact , the Shia community celebrates Muharram , the Muslim holy month , in memory of the martyrdom of Ali, the son of Mohammed, according to their own tradition . In the past, the first month of the Islamic calendar has sparked sectarian strife in Pakistan.
Since the death of Taliban leader Meshud the Islamabad government has strengthened security across the country , even if the measures put in place so far are not sufficient to prevent outbreaks of violence. The most serious occurred Nov. 15 , when a group of Shiite pilgrims in procession sparked a confrontation with the Sunni faithful intent on following the sermon of the imam in the mosque.
The words of the Sunni religious leader offended Shiite pilgrims, who responded verbally ( at first ), but then the dispute has degenerated into a bloodbath. The fighting involved some students of a nearby Islamic school . The two sides fired on each other and the entire Raja Bazar market in the city center was set on fire. A Sunni mosque / madrassa, was also set on fire along with a hundred shops .
The rumor that a group of Shiites had set fire to a Sunni mosque soon spread, triggering the reaction of the majority of residents ( about 80% in Paksitan is Sunni Muslim ) , who began to attack the Shiites in prayer for Muharram . Only the intervention of the army - as well as a cut to all communications and the imposition of curfew - brought the situation back under control and prevented further carnage.
According to witnesses , a group of Shiites stormed the mosque and butchered students inside. Further fueling the tension, images of slaughtered children have been circulating over the Internet, together with an appeal invoking the vengeance of the Sunnis. Islamabad has ordered the creation of a parliamentary committee to investigate the incidents.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Msgr . Rufin Anthony , bishop of Islamabad / Rawalpindi , asks for prayers for peace. "It's a terrible story - he says - and it matters little who was the first to begin. I appeal to everyone to sit down and pray for peace in the country. Violence never solved anything , indeed, it has always left wounds that are difficult to cure ". The parliamentarian Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed spares no criticism of the government : "I live in the area - he said - and every year there are clashes. Security must be stepped up [...] , there is a noticeable lack of security. For the first time a curfew has been imposed in Rawalpindi . Only the military intervention restored calm and legality". A representative of the Shiite community charges: "There has long been a conspiracy against us Shiites. We are branded as a minority in Pakistan. In several areas of the country there have been attacks against Shiites, there are several elements involved in what we might call the genocide of Shiites in Pakistan. "