Religious persecution threat high in Punjab

Analysts and officials said Punjab’s extreme poverty, as well as lack of education, makes people in the region more vulnerable to the lure of militancy. The militants in Punjab had a good infrastructure on the ground, with many organizations involved in various feuds, including sectarian violence. These militants are overwhelmingly members of banned organizations and all extremist organizations in Punjab are against religious minorities. In addition to media onslaught devoid of any ‘code of conduct’, the scope of violent behavior has widened manifold with drastically serious repercussions. Ironically, it is a common practice of the popular Urdu right wing media and it’s televangelist anchors and analysts to agitate against minorities.

Pakistan’s minorities fearful after Sulamn Taseer’s assassination and now the situation is looking very bleak for Christians and other minorities. And they are forced to think that if a man who was simply defending them could be murdered so brutally, what will happen to them?

TERROR has gripped the mindset of the Pakistani minorities especially in Punjab as a consequence of the brutal murder of Salman Taseer. they are observed that ‘Liberal Pakistan’ is now completely dead and the ‘extremists’ are knocking at their doors. And they can be killed anytime, anywhere and by anyone.

Punjab’s political significance:

Punjab is the most developed, most populous, with approximately 56% of the country’s total population as well as most prosperous province of Pakistan. Lahore has been the capital of Punjab for a thousand years; it is Punjab’s main cultural, historical, administrative and economic center.

National Assembly of Pakistan which is the supreme legislative body and the main decision making authority of Pakistan have a total of about 342 seats. Among these seats, Punjab have 148 members in National Assembly with 2 members of federal and 35 seats for Women making the total of 183 seats in Assembly. This is 53.5% of the total seats present and it still doesn’t include at least 5 seats for minorities making the total seats 193 which are 55% of the total seats in National Assembly. This simply means that if all the representatives of Punjab combine to pass a single resolution then they can easily do so even if all the other provinces are voting against it.

Punjab, which plays an important role for any political force of the country to form or sustain its government at the Centre, as it is commonly believed that the one, who commands Punjab, virtually controls the reins of power at the Federal Capital. Keeping in view the political importance of Punjab and to accomplish its campaign for giving a national character to the party, the political parties have been attaching top priority to Punjab from day one and the present rallies and conventions are a part of the same drive. And various political parties (mis)using religious and anti west slogans to mobilize people in Punjab.

Lahore is the heart of Pakistan for all political and practical purposes. It is Lahore that stimulates and animates Pakistan. Islamabad, the capital city is predominantly a bureaucratic town with no political soul. Rawalpindi is a garrison town headquartering the Pakistan Army GHQ, and army formations. Karachi is a commercial and financial metropolis and more engrossed in these activities.

Lahore is therefore, the city that counts politically. It also happens to be the capital of Punjab Province which predominates Pakistan and controls Pakistan in all fields. And now even Many Christians miss a ‘tolerant’ Lahore, here is a report published in ‘The Express Tribune’

LAHORE: After the killing of former governor Salmaan Taseer and the ensuing protests, Lahore’s Christian community finds itself in a quandary. Nervous about their status in the city, many Christians, The Express Tribune spoke with are lying low so as to not draw any attention to themselves. The fear of being declared ‘blasphemers’ has gripped many in the community.

Lalaza Masih, a middle-aged Christian man who resides in east Lahore, standing outside his brick flat explained that the city’s attitude towards the Christian community had changed. “Generally, people in the community fear discussing religion with others. My neighbours and I don’t really interact much,” he said.
“The thing is we are scared that we are being watched and suddenly some allegations leading to a fatwa will materialise,” he added. Masih agreed that it was uncomfortable to live like this but on the other hand he said his attitude had ensured that he did not have any religious confrontation. He lamented that the openness the city’s Christian community once showed had now disappeared. There were only a few areas which allowed for interaction between religious communities, he said.

Anarkali resident Nasreen said that since Taseer’s death there had been a sharp change in the attitudes in her area but feelings of intolerance had been building for some time. She said many had disparaging names for Christians and members of the community employed as labourers and domestic workers were intimidated.
“I think its best for us if we just stay quiet and not make a fuss,” said Nasreen.

A pastor who spoke on condition of anonymity said the number of people who came to the church due to fear had grown. He said the church hoped for a more tolerant environment. He said many had chosen to be aloof as a strategy to deal with their fears.
“There is no doubt that the community is scared of becoming outcasts. We must move towards a more tolerant Pakistan. We have to stand united against terrorism and extremism,” the pastor said.

National Commission for Justice and Peace executive secretary Peter Jacobs said that Taseer’s killing had changed the dynamics of Lahori society. Jacobs said that the government’s reaction to Taseer’s death and the countless protests since then showed a lack of commitment to rule of law. “No suo motu action has been taken against hate speeches,” he said.He said the minorities were scared as the message sent was that hate speech and walk chalking were permissible. The police, he said, had shown no interest in curbing hate speech. The impression was that the state really had no interest in protecting its minorities, he added.

Religious scholar Dr Khalid Zaheer said, “We owe freedom of expression, tolerance and love to religious minorities. The current attitude reflects a lack of confidence in our own faith.”

Dr Zaheer said, “We cannot reason in an environment of tension. We are scaring our minorities. God will not spare us.”

Salman Taseer’s assassination is a manifestation of a fundamentally radicalised society that has no space for progressive or liberal thought. The system and the establishment provide a concrete base for hardliners and extremist groups, further strengthening their reach in Punjab, in particular, and in the country at large.

Religious parties pledge support to Mumtaz Qadri

Thousands of demonstrators responded to a call by the Tehreek-e-Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-(TNS) Risalat (SAW) to rally from Nasir Bagh to Faisal Chowk on The Mall on Sunday to protest against government’s plans to amend blasphemy laws.
Demonstrators from the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) held banners in support of Mumtaz Qadri – the police commando who shot dead former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. Leaders of the PML-N and PML-Q also addressed the rally.

Leaders of almost all factions of the Muslim League and religious parties, participated in the rally. Prominent among them were: Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F Ameer Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Jamaat-i-Islami Ameer Syed Manawwar Hasan, Pakistan Muslim League-Q leader Ch Pervaiz Elahi, PML-N central leader MNA Khwaja Saad Rafique, Jamatud Dawa Ameer Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Maulana Sami Ullah, Allama Ibtisam Elahi Zaheer, Azam Swati, Qari Zawar Bahadur, Hafiz Mohammed Daud Abul Khair, Ameer Hamza, PML-Z chief Ejazul Haq, Maulana Mohammed Ilyas Ghumman, MPA Maulana Ilyas Chinoti, Maulana Samiul Haq, Hafiz Akif Saeed, Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, Maulana Ataul Memon, Qari Hanif Jalandhri, Allama Sajid Mir, Maulana Amjad, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidery, Sahibzada Pir Abdur Raheem, Allama Syed Sajid Naqvi, Maulana Ajmal Qadri, Hafiz Abdul Gaffoor Roparri and others.

According to the Pakistan today report, a political expert said the Punjab government helped increase the size of the TNS rally to demonstrate the public backlash against the killing by the US national, whose immunity has been sought under the Vienna Convention. Addressing the rally, PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique said the Punjab government had not bowed to pressure exerted by the US ambassador for the release of Raymond Davis.
He strongly supported the TNS movement and vowed to resist any changes in the blasphemy laws. And a large number of PML N workers participated in the rally.

PML-N leader Khwaja Saad Rafique, addressing the rally, said his party assured the religious community that Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat was not aimed at victimising any particular community but protecting the sanctity of Holy Prophet (PBUH). He asked the PPP leadership to join hands with the Tehreek-e-Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e- Risalat. He said Nawaz Sharif told the American ambassador that the issue of Raymond Davis would be decided by the courts when he called on the PML-N leader. (Source)

Initially, Fazal-ur-Rehman Niazi, president PML (N) lawyers’ wing in Rawalpindi, came out in support of Mumtaz Qadri.

Participants chanted slogans of “Free Mumtaz Qadri”, “We are ready to sacrifice our lives for the honour of Prophet Muhammad(PBUH)” and “Changes in blasphemy law not accepted”.

Earlier, Tehrik Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat (TTNR) offered full legal and moral support to Qadri, saying no stone would be left unturned to get him released.

Thousands rally in Lahore over blasphemy law, Leaders vow not to allow any amendment
Salim Ahmed

Lahore—Right wing parties here on Sunday showed their strength, as Tehrik-e-Namoos-e-Risalat rally was held in which participants gave a clear message to all and sundry that no body would be allowed to bring any amendment in the blasphemy law.

The rally which started from Nasir Bagh culminated in front of Punjab Assembly where leaders of various parties including Maulana Fazl ur Rehman (JUI), Syed Munawar Hassan (Jamaat-e-Islami), Ch. Pervaiz Elahi (PML-Q), Senator Ghafoor Haidri, Abu Al Khair Muhammad Zubair, Maulana Amjad Khan and many others addressed the activists of various parties including the PML-N and expressed the resolve that no body would be allowed to amend the blasphemy law.

Addressing the rally, PML-Q leader Chaudhry Parvez Elahi said: “We curse that assembly which dares to amend blashphemy law and our party will be the first to quit such an assembly.

He said the United Front has been formed to will expose hypocrisy’s of the rulers in the coming days.

He said: “We have not adopted double standards unlike the rulers and our children and assets are of no consequence in the defence of Namoos-e-Risalat (Peace be Upon Him).

Elahi said that the overwhelming participation in today’s rally proved undoubtedly that all Muslims were united and above political and sectarian divides in the protection of Namoos-e-Risalat (Peace be Upon Him). He said that no amendment in the Namoos-e-Risalat (Peace be Upon Him) law was acceptable to the people of Pakistan as the Muslims of Pakistan valued Namoos-e-Risalat (Peace be Upon Him) more than their lives.

He said that in the past Moulana Shah Ahmad Noorani, Moulana Mufti Mehmood, Moulana Zafar Ahmad Ansari, Moulana Abdul Haq, Prof. Ghafoor Ahmad and Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi were frontline politicians who fought for Tahafuz-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwat in the National Assembly and today history was repeating itself where once again PML, JUI, JUP, JI and other political parties had come to uphold Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat (Peace be Upon Him).

He said that his family had never adopted double standards on the issue of Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat (Peace be Upon Him). He assured the rally participants that he and his colleagues will leave no stone unturned to protect the Namoos-e-Risalat (Peace be Upon Him) law in the parliament and outside.

Maulana Fazl ur Rehman said the committee already formed may be abolished. He also said efforts are being made to get released US employee who was killer of two Pakistanis.

Unprecedented measures were adopted to ensure safety of the participants of the rally. All the roads leading to the route of the rally were blocked that caused hardships to citizens.

Rana Sanaullah conducted a joint campaign with the SSP and its head, Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi. Jhang is the epicentre of the sectarian groups. When questioned on this, Sanaullah argued, “Not all banned outfits and organisations are involved in terrorist activities.” Sanaullah’s response was symptomatic of the soft approach adopted by the Punjab Government towards radical groups that espouse violence against the Non Muslims.

Punjab Province is the ‘Extreme Center’ of Blasphemy Cases:

An analysis of the reported blasphemy cases in Pakistan since 1986 (the year when this controversial law (295-C) was made part of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, reveals that the majority of these cases occurred in a few districts in central Punjab.

The data collected by Life for All (LFA), an NGO working for the repeal of the Pakistan blasphemy laws, has revealed that since 1986, 1058 people (456 Ahmadis*, 449 Muslims, 132 Christians and 21 Hindus) have been charged under the blasphemy laws.

According to Rizwan Paul, Executive Director of LFA, “Around 80 per cent of all these cases have been registered in only eight districts of central Punjab — Lahore, Faisalabad, Toba Tek Singh, Gujranwala, Sheikhupura, Sialkot, Gujrat and Kasur”.

The worst part, Paul went on to say is that so far 37 accused “blasphemers” (16 Christian, 15 Muslims, five Ahmadis and two Hindu) have been killed extra-judicially.

“Twenty-seven out of them have also been killed in these districts. The killing of nine blasphemy-accused in police custody or jail also took place in this part of the country,” says Paul

He believes that in majority of the cases, the blasphemy accusations are used by people for settling personal vendettas and disputes over property or business or to discriminate against minorities.

Zia’s dictatorship and affluence [both came to the region in late 1970s] instigated intolerance in central Punjab.

“Both factors combined with the Afghan war played an important role in extending the reach of religious fundamentalists to the area,” he said.

Paul believes the Pakistani society was polarized when Gen Zia, who died along with several of his top generals and then United States Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Lewis Raphel, in a suspicious aircraft crash near Bahawalpur (Punjab) on August 17, 1988, introduced Islamic studies as a compulsory subject in 1977 at school level and a separate electorate in 1985.

Experts on society and fundamentalism agree with Paul’s argument, but say they also need to see the issue in larger perspective.

“It is not easy to pinpoint one reason for the radicalization of central Punjab over the years,” says Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) and editor of the quarterly research journal Conflict and Peace Studies.

He says, “We also need to check the demography of Christian minorities in Pakistan. More than 50 per cent of total Christians and majority of Ahmadis of Pakistan live in these seven to eight districts of central Punjab.

“Christians, initially, had been living on the fringes of cities and towns away from the majority population to avoid direct contact with them. But as the population increased manifold over the last few decades, their localities have become part of cities and towns making their properties more valuable and bringing them into direct contact with Muslim majority.”

Rana does not rule out the role of religious parties in this regard.

“Religious parties always play a very important role in blasphemy cases,” he went on to say. “Central Punjab, being the most economically developed areas of Pakistan, has become the most lucrative area for religious parties. More than 20 major religious parties belonging to all sects have their headquarters in Lahore or in its surrounding areas”.

Rana says that businessmen and traders are the main supporters of these religious parties as they ensure security to them.

“It is also important to note that madrasas (religious seminaries) have developed at a good pace in central Punjab over the years, but interestingly an overwhelming majority of teachers and students in these madrasas hail from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Kashmir or Southern Punjab,” he stated. “They do not have emotional or historical connection with these areas and that is why they do not care about hurting the feelings of others. They also force minorities to convert to [their version] of Islam.”

Shafqat Tanvir Mirza, an expert on Punjabi culture and literature, believes that central Punjab has always been a center of reformism and liberalism.

“Just take the cases of Guru Nanak, Waris Shah, Bulleh Shah, Faiz and Iqbal. They all were against Mullahism and in reaction Mullahs started concentrating in this area. They have got some success, but fundamentalism is not the main discourse of majority in central Punjab.”

Sabiha Shaheen, Executive Director of Bargad, a Gujranwala-based NGO, believes urbanization and media played the most important role in radicalizing the society in central Punjab.

“Urbanization,” she said, “has been providing opportunities to minorities for upward social mobility, which is resulting in awareness about individual rights in society. The feudal mindset has not accepted it. Increasingly radicalized mullahs are helping landowners in rural areas and traders in urban areas to maintain their stranglehold over minority workers.”

Shaheen says the radicalization of women has also been fueling the issue. “In Gujranwala district alone, we have around 40 degree-awarding madrasas for women while there are less than 20 government colleges for girls,” she added.

Arif Hassan, an expert on urbanization, says that all major right-wing Islamic movements in the world are the products of urbanized areas.

“Income generation opportunities are most visible in urban areas. Urban areas also provide more space for the expression of social and economic inequalities,” says Hassan. “In Karachi, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) – a political party, provides the opportunity of expression while in central Punjab religious parties do the same.”

He believes that doctrine of rationality has vanished from our society.

“Right now,” Hassan added, “two factors have been ruling the thinking of our urban society — megalomania (we are the best) and paranoia (that the whole world is busy conspiring against us).”

PMLN’s dubious stance on war on terror and it’s soft position against extremism:

Several extremist organizations in Punjab have links to ruling party PML(N),there are various reports suggest that the PML-N is unwilling to launch a determined crackdown because it seeks political support from the religious right.

There are reports that Punjab based banned organizations are allied with militants in Waziristan, some observers accuse and suggest that they have backing of PML-N and Punjab government and some of the religious sections who are justifying the suicide attacks. The PML-N has maintained a studied silence on this subject and has refrained from involvement in operations in southern Punjab. Lamentably, PML-N has vote-bank of extremists’ elements and it would be difficult task to crush the extremists’ networks from the province. According to media reports, and election monitors observed that PML-N has won elections in Punjab with the support of extremists organizations.

Punjab based PML-N is finding it hard to recognize terrorism as a local phenomenon, that is what called a short sighted party policy It is generally believed, that the Punjab Government is led by the right wing party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), is Taliban apologetic and weak in the fight against the terrorism. It is deliberately but illogically find lame excuses and concoct cover-ups for the terrorists by citing the reaction to the drone attacks or continuity of Musharraf Policy.

The PPP, ANP and other democratic forces charge is that the PML-N is soft on some of these terror outfits for political gains. A problem lies in PML-N’s policy regarding terrorism. According to many observers, the Punjab government has decided not to fight the terrorist organizations and provide security to citizens.

The leader of the PML-N Mian Nawaz Sharif is not prepared to admit the presence and activities of the second combine in Punjab. In the past, many PML-N leaders have had contacts with banned militant outlets and had taken the help of their cadres during election campaigns. Members of the provincial government, which is controlled by the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, have resisted — a clear move against these banned militant organizations, analysts and observers say is driven by its reliance on banned militant groups to deliver key votes during elections.

The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), which is considered close to right-wing religious parties, has never openly backed the ruling Pakistan People’s Party-led government’s war on terror. All moderate political forces criticized the PML-N after senior party leader and Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah met and traveled with leaders of the banned militant group while campaigning for by-polls in Jhang district. The PPP and PML-N have differences over handling terror groups in Punjab with the PPP demanding that the provincial government crack down on terrorists who have been striking across Pakistan’s most prosperous and populous province with alarming regularity. Fauzia Wahab insinuated that the PML-N won elections with support from extremists.

Sadly Punjab government still in state of denial mode and it is this kind of muddled environment that suits extremist criminal cartels and terror networks to further enhance their agenda. Last year, the chief minister of Punjab – Mian Shahbaz Sharif publicly requested the Taliban to desist from attacks in Punjab, claiming to espouse the same ideology and same background. In the month of March, Punjab’s Muddle headed Law Minister Rana Sana Ullah participated in a public rally with the leaders of another banned terrorist organization in Jhang City; many terrorists came from that city to attack Christians in Gojra last year. Punjab’s CM Shahbaz Sharif and Co plus Punjabi main stream right wing media dominated by many televangelist anchors and analysts, have still not gotten it. Therefore observers suggesting that, PML-N and Punjab still in state of denial.

Federal Minister for Law Babar Awan accusing PML-N of supporting assassin of Salman Taseer has asked from PML (N) Chief Nawaz Sharif who were the people who garlanded Mumtaz Qadri. He criticized over role and statements of opposition leader in National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar and said that Nisar started the hot talk against government. Talking to media, he asked three questions from PML (N) chief Nawaz Sharif that who were the people who garlanded Taster’s killer, who sent the PML (N) lawyers and flowers for Mumtaz Qadri. Babar said that he can provide the video of PML (N) lawyers who were garlanding Mumtaz Qadri. Law Minister added that not one PML (N) worker can move in Rawalpindi area without permission of Ch. Nisar.

The very fact that the lawyers’ crowd was led by a PML (N) leader shows that, at its base, the ruling party of Punjab is also comprised of fanatic mobsters who have no respect for the law. Advocate Niazi was not the only PML (N) leader who expressed admiration for the killer: PML (N) spokesman, Sidique-ul-Farooq also gave a similar spin to this murder by saying the Taseer was going to be murdered any way by someone if not killer Qadri. This means that Punjab government was aware of the danger and it did not do much about it. PML (N) may not be part of a conspiracy to kill Taseer but it is part of the crowd that has created an environment of extremist religion. After all, it was in Nawaz Sharif’s tenure as prime minister, that the mandatory death sentence was added to the Zia era blasphemy law.

According to one op-ed published in the Wichaar, the very fact that the lawyers’ crowd was led by a PML (N) leader shows that, at its base, the ruling party of Punjab is also comprised of fanatic mobsters who have no respect for the law. Advocate Niazi was not the only PML (N) leader who expressed admiration for the killer: PML (N) spokesman, Sidique-ul-Farooq also gave a similar spin to this murder by saying the Taseer was going to be murdered any way by someone if not killer Qadri. This means that Punjab government was aware of the danger and it did not do much about it. PML (N) may not be part of a conspiracy to kill Taseer but it is part of the crowd that has created an environment of extremist religion. After all, it was in Nawaz Sharif’s tenure as prime minister, that the mandatory death sentence was added to the Zia era blasphemy law.

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer once rightly said that he feared the Punjab Government wanted to Talibanise Punjab.

And now Nawaz Sharif’s Lawyers wing openly supports Salman Taseer’s Killer Malik Mumtaz Qadri, it is quite understandable as Mian Nawaz Sharif and it’s party has vowed to accomplish Zia’s mission. So, we can safely assume where the Punjab is heading under PML(N).



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