01/31/2014, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Faisalabad: hundreds of 'white flags' march for peace against terrorism

by Shafique Khokhar
Activists, NGOs, politicians and ordinary citizens call on the government to adopt a "third way" that includes talks but also a crackdown against those who engage in violence. Criticising the government and its institutions for failing to ensure security, ordinary Pakistanis are "tired" of attacks and want "targeted" operations against violent extremists.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - The government has to adopt a "third way" that includes "dialogue" but also military action. Hence, "talks with extremists who want to stop their violent activities are useful," but the authorities must at the same time hit "those who perpetrate [unpunished] acts of terrorism."

This is what hundreds of Muslim and Christian activists want, as they came together yesterday in a campaign for peace (pictured) titled 'White Flag', a unique initiative in Pakistan.

Pakistani authorities have been trying for some time to get the Taliban to negotiate an end to the violence that has been tearing the country apart, and left scores of dead in the first weeks of 2014 alone. Yet, their action has so far been "confused" and inconclusive.

For this reason, NGOs, activist groups and political parties came up with the idea of offering an alternative solution to re-establish justice and the rule of law.

The Peace and Human Development (PHD) Foundation, the Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation (AWAM), a number of pro-democracy movements and the Awami Workers Party (AWP) are behind the White Flag campaign

This initiative stems from the inaction of the state and its institutions, which have failed so far to deal with the violence. Campaign promoters want the authorities to use "every means" to achieve a lasting peace.

Similarly, the Catholic Church in Pakistan a few days ago organised a day of prayer in all the dioceses of the country to promote peace.

Armed with white flags, placards and banners, hundreds of people - including students, lawyers, trade unionists and ordinary citizens - marched for six kilometres from Pahari Chowk People's Colony N 2 to the Faisalabad Press Club to reiterate their shared desire for peace and an end to terrorism.

Protesters called on fellow Pakistanis to take part in the White Flag campaign by any civilian and democratic means, like displaying a white sheet outside their home, office and place of business to honour all those who sacrificed their lives in the struggle against fundamentalism.

Activists and politicians spoke at the event. Robin Daniel, founder of the National Minority Alliance-Pakistan (NMAP), said that Pakistan "is tired of terrorism". The "White flag campaign will prove itself" by uniting "every Pakistani" fed up with violence, irrespective of "religion, sect, race and colour".

PHD Foundation director Suneel Malik called for a "third option" that does not exclude "surgical operations [. . .] against the warring groups".  Yet, "the already established line between the good and the bad militants" must be maintained "until the last criminal is eliminated."

For her part, AWAM director Nazia Sardar called for an "appropriate strategy".

"Those who inflict colossal loss to the peaceful citizens of Pakistan will never be forgiven for their crimes," said Women's rights activist Shazia George. "The state must ensure the supremacy of the constitution and the writ of the government in Pakistan".

Arif Ayaz called for "decisive military action against armed groups," which "deserve to be dealt with an iron hand".

With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).

Violence against ethnic and religious minorities is commonplace across the country, with Shia Muslims and Christians as the main target, with things getting worse in recent years.

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