The hard choice for Pakistan

THE suicide-bombing of a busy park in Lahore on Easter Sunday, which killed more than 70 people, most of them women and children, was not only more lethal than the terrorist attack in Brussels a few days earlier. It also represented a different order of threat to the country in which it happened. Pakistan is engaged in a belated struggle against religious extremism that will determine what sort of country it becomes.


That threat is plain in the bomber’s choice of location and timing (see article). Lahore is the capital of Punjab, the provincial power base of the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. Although most of the victims in Gulshan-e-Iqbal park were Muslim, one aim was to kill Christians. The attack happened to come just a few weeks after the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, a police bodyguard who in 2011 murdered Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, for his criticism of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Over 100,000 people attended Qadri’s funeral in Rawalpindi on March 1st. On the same day that the Lahore bomber struck, riot police in the capital, Islamabad, were trying to control a 10,000-strong demonstration against Qadri’s execution.
The bombing in Lahore was carried out by Jammat-ul-Ahrar, which splintered from the Pakistani Taliban. The religious hatred it represents has been assiduously cultivated in Pakistan for many years. Saudi money for the building of madrassas (religious seminaries) began to flood into Pakistan during the 1980s with the encouragement of the president at that time, General Zia ul Haq, who saw the country’s Islamisation as his main mission. There are now some 24,000 madrassas in Pakistan, attended by at least 2m boys. Nearly all adhere to the highly conservative Deobandi sect, whose beliefs are similar to Saudi Wahhabism. Tahir Ashrafi, head of the Pakistan Ulema Council, an umbrella group, reckons that 60% of the pupils at madrassas were “not involved in any training or terrorist activities”. He declines to expand on what the other 40% might be up to.


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