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Pakistan: Terror Attack on Peshawar Church - Editorials and commentary

23 September 2013

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  • Our bloody Sunday - Editorial, The Daily Times
  • Murder in the cathedral - Editorial, Khaleej Times
  • Peshawar carnage - Editorial, The Express Tribune
  • Deadly Ideology: Killing Of Churchgoers - Editorial, Dawn
  • Baptised in blood - Editorial, The News
  • Peshawar church bombings show the deadly outcome of religious intolerance by Samira Shackle

The Daily Times, September 24, 2013

EDITORIAL : Our bloody Sunday

Sunday, September 22, 2013, will certainly stand in history as one of the blackest days for the Christian community in Pakistan, a day on which a minority we as a nation were sworn to protect, was brutally struck down by the dark cloud of militancy that Pakistan has spawned and cannot get rid of. The All Saints Church in Peshawar was the scene of deadly carnage when two suicide bombers detonated themselves during Sunday mass when the house of worship was host to more than 500 faithful. The attack was nothing short of a massacre and was designed so that a maximum number of fatalities would occur. One suicide bomber blew himself up outside the church after the services were over and people were leaving the premises. The other blew himself up inside the church after just 30 seconds. There were body parts strewn around everywhere and the stench of death held heavy and thick in Peshawar that morning. More than 80 have died and over 100 are injured. The fatalities continue to rise because many of the wounded are in dire condition. A relatively lesser-known faction of the Taliban, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Jundullah (TTPJ), has come forward to claim responsibility for the deadly attack. Our interior minister has gone on record to say that the TTPJ does not operate on Pakistani soil but then how can he explain this exceptionally well planned strike by this group? The TTPJ militants said they carried out this attack because they want to kill the enemies of Islam; one begs to understand how a peaceful Christian minority can possibly be an enemy to Pakistan or to Islam. More than anything, it seems the terrorists are the real enemies here, butchering innocent people in a bloody quest that cannot be understood by anyone.

As can be expected, the Christian community is out on the streets, protesting against this mass murder, venting its anger at the state and the government. We are seeing nationwide protests and some of them are becoming violent, with the protesters pelting stones and lashing out at the government. This is a devastating development because it reveals that we are pushing a once peaceful minority into aggressive mode and the taking up of arms. This will come as no surprise really because the state is spineless and has been unable to protect most of its citizens: the Shias have started arming themselves after constant attacks and so have the Sunni Barelvis, who have both formed militias because the state cannot protect them from those who look to slaughter them. It is only a matter of time before the Christian community, the Ahmedi community and the Hindu and Sikh minorities fight back. Is this what we want, to push our own citizens up against a wall so ugly and bloodied that we become a nation at civil war? It is understandable that the security forces are stretched, what with the insurgency in FATA and routine terror attacks all over the country, but we cannot afford to leave our minorities at the mercy of those who bomb churches, mosques, temples, shrines, schools and markets. The lacklustre performance of the intelligence agencies, the police and the security forces has allowed such massacres to happen all too often. Just this year we lost more than 200 Shia Hazaras to this same sectarian menace.

Attacks such as this show that the hopes pinned on the peace talks were just too naïve. We are dealing with monsters that know not the meaning of negotiations. How can the government think that by talking to the TTP, which is the umbrella organisation, it can stop attacks by renegade, autonomous factions of the Taliban like the TTPJ? Even the military seems to be distancing itself from the peace talks. Military operations against this multi-headed hydra is the only option, for the militants are now too many and too far down the road of being rogues. All those in the government who think dialogue is the way towards peace and security are fooling themselves. How can they ever look their citizens, particularly their minorities, in the eye again if they do not take a hard stance on these brutes? Bloody Sunday has sealed the deal. Will the government please stop playing the wimp and protect its people and the nation’s flag that runs red?

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Khaleej Times, Editorial - 24 September 2013

Murder in the cathedral

WHILE SUICIDE bombing is not an uncommon phenomenon in Pakistan, there is something especially appalling about militants targeting a place of worship where people are at their most vulnerable.

Even during the worst violence in Europe, churches were regarded as sanctuaries and people who took shelter there, even if they were criminals, could ask for asylum and were even granted so, as Victor Hugo depicted in “The Hunchback of Notredam”. The public horror and repugnance that the spilling of blood in the house of God provokes remains indelibly etched in the collective minds of society.

That is why the assassination of British archbishop Thomas Becket in the Canterbury cathedral on the behest of the then reigning monarch Henry II still remains an anathema, despite the fact that it happened in 1170 AD and the king was the rightful ruler of the land. The bloodbath at Peshawar’s All Saints Church after Sunday’s mass, in which nearly 80 people died and the casualties could go up, is therefore even more condemn-worthy, being perpetrated by suicide bombers who have no legitimacy.

Pakistan has a long list of attacks on churches and Christians. Whenever a book or film in the West gave offence, Christians in Pakistan paid for them though they had no hand in them. In 2006, churches and Christian schools in Pakistan came under attack over an offending cartoon published in a Danish newspaper. The government’s failure to control anti-secular forces was highlighted in 2011 when gunmen killed Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for minorities affair, who was the first Christian to have become a minister in Pakistan’s federal cabinet. Though Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has condemned the church attack, the need is for quick and strong action against the perpetrators that would deter future attacks, not just words. Bhatti’s murder, for instance, is yet to be punished. Police arrested an alleged perpetrator only last week, two years after the killing even though the victim was a powerful man with high connections.

At a time the Sharif government is trying to promote foreign investment and tourism in Pakistan, the church carnage will deal a blow to the government’s efforts unless quick retaliatory action is taken against the perpetrators.

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The Express Tribune

Peshawar carnage


It was the softest of targets. A Christian church in Peshawar, which with a dreadful tragic irony had been built to resemble a mosque as a gesture of interfaith harmony. The congregation had just said Mass and was leaving the church, which was packed with men, women, and children, when the two suicide bombers rushed towards the throng and detonated themselves; one inside the church the other outside after having been stopped by police. Body parts of both have been recovered for forensic examination. By 4 pm on the afternoon of September 22, it was being reported that there were 60 dead and 120 injured, with the number of dead set to rise as many are said to be mortally wounded. Protests are being held in Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Faisalabad. The carnage had not been claimed by any group by late afternoon.

Given the tardiness of politicians to respond to acts of terrorism in the recent past, they moved this time with considerable swiftness. Leaders of all parties deplored the killing and the president and the prime minister were forthright in their condemnation. Assorted dignitaries Tweeted their shock and disgust and there appears to be some unanimity in collective abhorrence at what may be the largest mass-murder of Christians since the massacre at a church in Bahawalpur in 2000. The chief minister of Punjab has convened a meeting to discuss the incident on September 23 and it must be assumed that the chief minister of K-P will be doing the same though it has yet to be announced.

There can be no justification for this, no prevarication, no semi-sincere regrets. Over 200 innocent people worshipping as is their right under the Constitution have had their lives blighted by bigots and murderers. Those who did this are in all likelihood allied to those who last week killed two senior army officers in the Swat valley. And some of our politicians believe we should be talking to these people? We suggest they take a reading of the mood of the general public and if they do, they may find that talking is not uppermost in the minds of most at this time.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2013.

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Dawn, September 23 2013


Deadly Ideology: Killing Of Churchgoers

THERE are moments when the full force of the threat that stalks this land hits with a sickening intensity. Yesterday was one of those moments — a depressing, shocking, violent attack that made it apparent, as though a reminder was needed, of just how far this country has drifted from the ideals and principles upon which it was created. Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Pakistan is not dead, for Christians still congregated in Peshawar yesterday to celebrate the Sunday mass. But the suicide bombers who attacked the All Saint’s Church and killed innocent, ordinary citizens were trying to kill Jinnah’s Pakistan. If this country is to survive and emerge one day as an embodiment of its founding father’s ideals, there can be no room for extremists, terrorists and militants. There is truly an either/or scenario for this country: either the terrorists are defeated or the Pakistan that the majority of the country wants will be lost forever.

The targeting of Christians may seem to some as a new front being opened by the militants, but in fact it is logical progression of the extremist ideology. Be it other sects within Islam or other religions, the violent extremist wants to eliminate all others and produce a homogenous society in which only a particular version of Islamic interpretation rules over the people. The hatred and bigotry embedded in the extremist ideology is not just about foreigners, but also about the majority of Pakistanis themselves. Be it Shias, Ismailis, Barelvis, non-Muslims or anyone else deemed to be outside the pale of radical Islam as practiced by the militants and terrorists, everyone is a target. Until that reality is absorbed by the country’s political leadership — that what confronts the country is a murderous ideology — there can be no real understanding of why Pakistan has been so wracked by violence. And without that understanding, there cannot begin to be a solution.

For a week that began with the killing of an army general and ended with the murder of scores of Christians, the inevitable question is where does that leave the nascent dialogue process with the TTP? If dialogue was at the outset very unlikely to succeed, what chances of success are there now? Perhaps the most discouraging aspect about the dialogue process is the national political leadership’s abject surrender before the Taliban. Even yesterday voices were heard suggesting that the church bombing was an attempt to undermine the dialogue process. When deferring to the enemy trumps honouring your dead, what hope for peace, dialogue or anything of the like?

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The News, September 23, 2013

Editorial: Baptised in blood

Those who rule us should hang their heads in collective shame, when suicide bombers can enter a church in Peshawar and kill over 70 worshippers. The number is sure to rise as many of the 120 injured are in critical condition. If any of us professes shock that such an attack could take place here, that humanity could sink so low, their surprise will ring hollow. Even though no group has claimed responsibility for the attack as these lines are written, the answer to that question doesn’t really matter. All of us can guess; it is the same forces that have struck before – in many places, and in many ways. We have become a country where identity – be it religion, ethnicity or gender – can be the difference between being allowed to live and having a permanent death sentence hanging over you. Christians are massacred while they pray, Shias are hauled out of buses and killed over belief and women are murdered, raped and humiliated because of traditional notions of ‘honour’. The Christians – as patriotic and as Pakistani as any of us – have hardly ever been involved in controversies and have generally chosen to keep a relatively low profile, speaking out only peacefully about the ceaseless social, economic and religious discrimination in their face. Have they been targeted because of their association with the ‘west’ and the notion that they have links with the Christians in the US and other nations? Who can assume that the madness that drives some to mow down human beings like that is immune to this brand of hatred?

The perfunctory words of condemnation that were issued by the politicians after the church attack are no longer enough. Sending a few government officials to the site of the attack – as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did by sending Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and as the PTI leadership did, taking time out from meetings in the luxurious environs of Islamabad – will not suffice. Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour of the ANP was forced to leave the spot due to the rage of mourners as he reached the church to condole with families. PTI chief Imran Khan has commented on how such attacks seem to take place just when peace talks are approaching and then lashed out at his political opponents, rather than those who committed this monstrosity. This is egregious behaviour. The absolute last thing we need right now is the usual bout of conspiracy theories – a result of flights of foolish fancy based on notions that ‘outside’ forces did it. It is no time for ignorance and irresponsibility. This country has borne too much pain for business to continue as usual. It is time to level with the citizenry. We can’t simply be told that talks will be the held with the militants and then everything will miraculously resolve itself. It must be explained, in great detail, exactly what is being done to check the triumphant march of hatred and madness. What concessions are on the table? If there is to be any red line, what is it? Right now, what should the victims, their families and people at large expect? That such attacks will continue with impunity without any consequences for those who perpetrate them? Members of the Christian community who blocked roads with the bodies of their loved ones should be joined by the rest of Pakistan. This should be no occasion to wonder just how many non-Christians – the members of Pakistan’s Muslim majority – mourn with them. This was an attack on everyone who doesn’t subscribe to obscurantist agendas. We have remained silent for far too long and silence now will have blood on its hands.

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The Guardian, 23 September 2013

Peshawar church bombings show the deadly outcome of religious intolerance

The Pakistan my grandmother left was meant to be an inclusive, secular state. This kind of attack on Christians is, sadly, not uncommon

by Samira Shackle

Pakistani Christians protest against suicide bombing
Pakistani Christians protest against the suicide bombing in All Saints church in the northwestern city of Peshawar that killed 81 worshippers. Photograph: A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images

On Sunday, around 500 worshippers attended mass at the All Saints church in Peshawar, north-western Pakistan. After the service, they gathered outside the church to receive free food that was being distributed. As they did so, two huge explosions ripped through the crowd; a double suicide attack. The death toll currently stands at 81, with 100 more people injured. It was one of the most devastating attacks on the Christian population in Pakistan’s history.

It takes a lot to shock Pakistan, a country where small bomb attacks or targeted killings happen on a daily basis somewhere in the country, and often fail to make headlines. Nor are attacks on the country’s religious minorities anything out of the ordinary. At the beginning of this year, an enormous attack in a Shia Muslim area of the southern province of Quetta killed more than 80 people, while Sunni militants have carried out numerous execution-style killings of Shias.

Such extreme violence against minorities tends to be perpetrated by the country’s many and various militant organisations. The group that claimed responsibility for this latest attack has links to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and said it was acting in retaliation for drone strikes. Yet the problem runs far deeper than a few rogue elements. Disturbingly, these extremist groups, which have been allowed to operate by successive governments, do have an impact on the national debate. This has contributed to increasing intolerance across society.

In May, an angry mob – ordinary citizens, not terrorists – destroyed Joseph Colony, a Christian area of Lahore, after a resident was accused of blasphemy. The law, which carries a maximum sentence of death for insulting the Prophet Muhammad or the Qur’an, is frequently used to hammer religious minorities. It is a legal mandate for bigotry which politicians are too afraid to amend, after two ministers who spoke out against it were killed several years ago.

It is these major incidents that make international news, but a low level of discrimination is a fact of life for many of Pakistan’s religious minorities. Christians make up around 1.6% of the population and number around 2.8 million. Generations ago, in pre-partition India, many were Hindus, subsequently converting from the very lowest caste (of dalit, once known as "untouchable"). Pakistan – a largely Muslim state – does not have a caste system, but its shadow can be seen in the treatment of Christians today. Many Christians I have interviewed speak of being refused water; uneducated Muslims do not want to share with them because they are seen to be unclean. Employers of domestic staff keep separate utensils for any Christian employees. Employment opportunities other than traditional, menial work can be hard to come by.

A study of Pakistan, Christian Citizens in an Islamic State, by academic Theodore Gabriel, draws attention to school textbooks which say that Christians worship three gods and define citizens of Pakistan as Muslims.

Of course, these views are by no means held by everyone. Across the country, Muslims and non-Muslims alike have turned out to protest against Sunday’s attack and the government’s inadequate response. Yet simultaneously, liberal commentators have drawn attention to the fact that none of the major news networks referred to the dead as shaheed, an Urdu word meaning martyr, commonly used for those who have been killed by terrorist violence.

Pakistan was explicitly conceived as a secular state with Islam as its main religion. My grandmother, who left Pakistan 40 years ago, watched the news on Sunday in horror: the country that was formed when she was a young woman had set out to be tolerant and inclusive. In an oft-quoted speech at the country’s creation, the founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah said: "We have many non-Muslims – Hindus, Christians, and Parsis – but they are all Pakistanis." Over the years, with military dictator General Zia ul-Haq’s programme of Islamisation, and the increasing influence of extremists, this fundamental principle seems to have been lost.

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