Bomb blasts in Lahore and the problem of ‘sympathetic’ terrorism

Lahore experienced five low-intensity “timed explosions” on Friday, the first day after Ashura, targeting theatres at Al Falah and on Ferozpur Road near Mozang. They were planted on the premises, implying that little or no watch was set up in anticipation of “cultural” terrorism in the city. The last time it was threatened, hardly a few yards away from Al Falah, against the “obscene-CD” sellers of Hall Road, the shopkeepers simply took out their CDs and burned them.

The great Talibanisation movement in Pakistan is not restricted to the Tribal Areas of Pakistan; it has spread into the settled areas and threatens to extend into additional segments of the market catering to the entertainment of the cities. The representatives of the Lahore administration present at Friday’s blasts made a few “connections” but not all of them.

The Bomb Disposal Squad official connected the five blasts to ones that took place last year at Alhamra Art Centre, a few hundred yards from Al Falah, and at Garhi Shahu, ice-cream parlours being the target in the latter incident. Governor Punjab Mr Salmaan Taseer described the blasts as “acts of cowardice” committed by anti-Pakistan elements. Dr Mehdi Hassan of Beaconhouse National University said extremist groups were trying to lay down their own anti-culture sharia and should be opposed by civil society. Unfortunately, however, reporters describing the blasts on some TV channels tended to repeat some of the charges brought against the theatres by arch-reactionary circles of Lahore: that the dramas enacted on their stages contained “obscene” matter and that there was much prohibited dancing by women during the performance. One must recall, however, that this misplaced objection has always been there. Some sections of society have always objected to theatre and display of art as “ideologically repugnant”.

But the phenomenon of the “culture blasts” is new. No one tried to blow up the theatres in Lahore, Gujrat and Gujranwala where the populace increasingly took to them for entertainment. After complaints and some “vigilante” action — strange to say, by the police — these theatres were strictly regulated by the cultural authority of the province. The explosives have come into play after Talibanisation when threat to life became the expression of the ideological extremist in our midst.

This ideological extremist who spoke against entertainment in the past to firm up his identity among the “majority of the moderate” in the tolerant society of Lahore is now on the brink of advancing his cause to new intense heights. People who stood and commented on the blasts on Friday forgot to connect them to Talibanisation in general and the growing agenda of prohibition in particular under inspiration from the sharia being enforced in Swat and many normally administered cities of the NWFP.

Last year, Lahore also saw the more ominous extension of the Taliban’s prohibition of girls’ education. There were no bombs but over fifty threats were received in various girls’ schools and colleges which were then evacuated by way of precaution. It can simply mean that the extremists of the past are receiving strength from the Taliban and feel empowered enough to threaten terrorism through explosives and are now actually carrying it out. This is not Taliban terrorism but “sympathetic” terrorism on the part of those who actually favour their violent brand of Islam.

It would be folly to dismiss the Friday blasts as extremist acts against culture. The next stage can suddenly be on us: explosions with devices that can kill hundreds of people. The Taliban and Al Qaeda have already made a demonstration of that holocaust in Lahore a number of times, targeting the military and the police. Many suicide-bombers involved in terrorism have been found to be Punjabis. Those who do “sympathetic” terrorism today are a part of the network emerging all over Pakistan as foot-soldiers of Al Qaeda.

What encourages this development is our general attitude of denial of the true source of violence, and we do that in the name and cause of “nationalism”. Since we are opposed to the United States we deny that there is the threat of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Tribal Areas; and our parliament actually says that our army should quit fighting them. Since we hate India, we tend to connect all terrorism to RAW. Shockingly, at least one commentator has linked the Friday blasts to the pressure being mounted on Pakistan in the wake of our latest stand-off with India. (Daily Times)