03/29/2016, 09.35
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Prayer vigil for Lahore’s dead and criticism of Nawaz Sharif government

by Shafique Khokhar

Christians and Muslims from civil society say the government only preaches against terrorism, but is afraid of losing the votes of Muslim extremists. Solidarity in blood donations for the wounded in the city's hospitals. Sit-in of Islamic extremists in Islamabad to criticize the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, Salman Taseer’s killer. Concerns about possible murder of Asia Bibi. Calls for a commitment to eradicating fundamentalism from textbooks, courts, and public discourse.


Lahore (AsiaNews) - Defying fear, hundreds of people, Christians and Muslims, gathered last night at the gates of Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park, a short walk from where the attack took place two days ago, to remember with a vigil by candlelight the more than 70 dead and 300 wounded. Many of them are women and children who were playing in the park.

Although Jamaat ul Ahrar, an off-shoot group of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, have claimed responsibility for the attack which they say was aimed at Christians, the police have confirmed the death and injury of many Muslims.

Participants at last night’s rally recalled all who lost their lives and chanted slogans against those who kill, against their supporters and financiers. They also repeatedly called for the government not only preach against terrorism, but to do something practical to save people's lives.

Speaking at the gathering, Abdullah Malik, president of the Association of Civil Society, said he was "deeply shocked at the loss of precious lives", and while he expressed "solidarity with the victims and their families," underlining "the failure government and those who are responsible for security" to “stop terrorist activities" and their inability to "stop those who are involved directly or indirectly".  "It is time - he added – that the government devise a solid strategy and make uncompromising efforts to eliminate the extremists, without discrimination".

Samson Salamat, president of the multi-religious Rwadari Tehreek, that promotes peace and tolerance, denounced the situation of the country where "our children are deprived of the right to play and to education because they lack security and live in threat and terror ". Immediately after the attack on Lahore park, Rwadari Tehreek appealed to its members and civil society to urge Christians and Muslims to donate blood for the wounded in the city's hospitals.

"Enough is enough - said Salamat - and we call upon the serious attention of the Government, state apparatus, the political parties and all other stake-holders to make short term and long term policy and strategy to counter the culture of hatred, extremism and violence in the name of religion and sect.  Merely lip-service cannot reverse the worst ever situation and we demand practical steps".

Peter Jacob, director of the Centre for Social Justice, speaking to AsiaNews, notes that the Taliban, claiming the attack in Lahore, want to challenge the government in its claim to combat extremism. "Christians - he says - are victims of this banal power struggle. The suicide attack on the Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park concides with demonstrations for blasphemy in Islamabad, which the government did not want to deal with".

For two days, hundreds of Islamic extremists have been stationed outside parliament in Islamabad, demanding the implementation of sharia and the hanging of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother sentenced to death for blasphemy, who has been waiting for an appeal process for five years.

The sit-in began a month after the death of Mumtaz Qadri revered as a hero. Qadri was hanged a month ago for killing the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who wanted to change the blasphemy law and help Asia Bibi. The army has increased security at the prison in Multan, where the woman is held, fearing attempts at an assassination.

Sunil Malik, director of the Foundation for Peace and Human Development, calls for greater involvement of the military in combating terrorism, but also a commitment to eradicate sectarianism in all its forms "in textbooks, sermons in mosques, in drawing room conversations".

Joel Amir Sahotra, a Christian politician, denounces “the negligence of the government in a bid to maintain power and support of hard-line religious elements had cost Pakistan a huge loss. The judiciary has failed to convict people known to be involved in terrorist attacks. The government and the judiciary are under the control of religious groups, because they never take action against religious elements despite having known that they conspire to target minority groups and spread sectarianism. We want operation against all terrorist factors".

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