By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
At least 95 worshippers were killed and 92 injured on May 28, 2010, as seven assailants, including three suicide bombers, attacked Ahmadi mosques in the Model Town and Garhi Shahu areas of Lahore. Five of the attackers were also killed.Terrorists wearing suicide vests stormed the two places of worship a few minutes before special Friday prayers, initiating an over three-hour-long standoff. Both the attacks were backed by suicide bombers and began within a span of a few minutes.
After battling the militants for hours, the Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) claimed to have arrested two of the attackers from Model Town and one suspect from the Garhi Shahu mosque. Senior Police Official Rana Ayaz disclosed, "They came into the mosque from the back and started firing. They were armed with hand grenades and suicide vests and other weapons."
The Punjab chapter of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. "Congratulations to the whole nation on what the brave mujahideen (holy warriors) did yesterday in Garhi Shahu and Model Town, Lahore," a statement issued by TTP spokesman Muhammad Omar on May 29, declared, "On the whole, we do like to encourage the nation for increasing such activities, like targeted killings of Qadianis, Shias, the political parties that support them, as well as law enforcement agencies, the Pakistan Army and other racist parties." He also warned the Muttahida Qaumi Movement [MQM] of attacks, calling it a "terrorist wing of Qadianis and Jews" and adding, "They are responsible for destruction of the country and the nation. We are encouraging assassination attacks on everyone who is with the MQM."
The May 28 attack coincided with the completion of one year since the TTP attack at Lahore on May 27, 2009, where suicide bombers detonated a vehicle loaded with some 100 kilograms of explosives near the offices of the CCPO and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – killing at least 27 and injuring 326, in addition to destroying a two-storey building of the Rescue 15 Police Service. An ISI colonel and 15 Police officials were among those killed. There is some similarity between the two incidents, since both involved small arms assaults backed by suicide bombings.
The Lahore attacks are hardly an exception in any sense beyond the relatively large numbers killed in a single operation. On May 28, 2010, itself, unidentified militants killed four Policemen in a suspected sectarian attack in the Satellite Town area of Quetta in Balochistan. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the attack. On the same day, one person belonging to the Shia community was killed and some others injured in a clash between two rival sects, the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a front organization of the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), and a group of Shias, at Islam Chowk in the Orangi Town of Karachi in Sindh.
The Ahmadis, also known as Qadianis, have tens of thousands of followers in Pakistan, and the sect has long regarded as deviant and heretic and been persecuted and targeted in sectarian attacks in the country. Founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad towards the end of the 19th Century, the Ahmadis have a number of unique views, including the claim that Ahmad himself was a prophet, and that Jesus died at age 120 in Jammu and Kashmir, assertions regarded as heretical by orthodox Muslims. An Ahmadi website indicates that the movement, now headquartered in the UK, spans over 195 countries, with membership exceeding ‘tens of millions’. The Ahmadis also claim that they are the only leading Islamic organisation to categorically reject terrorism in any form. They have been systematically targeted by radical Sunni groups in the past. Significantly, the Pakistani leaders who condemned the attacks did not refer specifically to the Ahmadis in their statements. TV channels and newspapers avoided the word "mosque" in describing the attacked sites, preferring "places of worship."
Throughout the first half of the 20th Century, the issue of the Ahmadi faith was raised repeatedly before different courts at the District level. In many such cases, local courts declared them non-Muslims. In 1974, under severe pressure from clerics, Pakistan's first democratically elected Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, introduced the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which declared Ahmadis non-Muslims. In 1984, Pakistan's military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, brought in a new law, which barred Ahmadis from reciting the Kalima (the first proclamation of Islamic faith) and from calling their places of worship mosques. The Ahmadis, however, declare themselves Muslims and claim to practise Islam in its pristine form.
After the May 28 attack, the Jamaat-e-Ahmadi Pakistan, which represents the sect, stated that the Government had been 'going soft' on radical groups that espoused violence against Ahmedis. "All hard-line religious organisations in Pakistan are against us and are spreading venomous propaganda against us. We are told that the Punjabi Taliban had carried out the attack. Tell me which religious party here does not endorse the idea of killing Ahmedis?" JAP spokesman Qamar Suleman demanded. He stated, further, "The Government has never come down hard on elements that instigate people against us, and that is why it is equally responsible for what happened on Friday." He complained that a section of the media had incited people against Ahmedis. An audiotape conversation between Hamid Mir, Executive Editor of GEO News and a man purportedly linked to the TTP, has revealed that Mir’s exhortations against the Qadianis in a telephonic conversation with an unnamed TTP leader could have led to the execution of Khalid Khawaja, a retired ISI official associated with the Lal Masjid Operation in July 2007. During this conversation, Mir described the Ahmadis as "even worse than kafirs (unbelievers)". Suleman asserted that, unless the Federal and Punjab Governments acted "seriously and sincerely" to condemn and eliminate such elements, incidents like Friday's attacks will not stop: "Pakistani clerics want us to leave Pakistan. They are giving us this message through such attacks."
Apart from Ahmadis, other sects, including the Shias and Barelvis, have also come under fire from radical Islamist groups. Since the emergence of the TTP, sectarian violence has escalated, with a cult of suicide bombing taking root among the extremists. Sectarian groups such as the LeJ and SSP have joined hands with TTP in executing these sectarian attacks. The Institute for Conflict Management database records that 2010 has already witnessed 17 such attacks, in which 215 people have been killed. Total fatalities have already exceeded the 190 killed in 106 sectarian attacks in 2009.
Sectarian Violence in Pakistan: 2002-2010
*Data till May 30, 2010
Meanwhile, the Minister for Interior Affairs Rehman Malik indicated that his Ministry had sent two security alerts to the Punjab Government on May 13 and May 26, respectively, about possible terrorist activity in Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Such general alerts are, however, issued on farily regular intervals, and have seldom succeeded in preventing attacks. Before the March 8, 2010, suicide attack in front of the Special Intelligence Agency’s (SIA) office in the Model Town area of Lahore, in which 13 persons were killed and 80 injured, for instance, a February 8 intelligence reports had warned that the TTP had sent eight female suicide bombers to attack high-value targets in Punjab.
A successful attack was, nevertheless, staged, though female suicide bombers were not involved. A spokesman for the TTP, Azam Tariq, claiming responsibility for attack had then warned, "The attack was to avenge (US) drone attacks and (Pakistani) military operations in the Tribal Areas… we have 2,800 to 3,000 more suicide bombers. We will target all Government places, buildings and offices."
Again on March 11, 2010, authorities declared red alert at sensitive installations after the reported entry of an explosive-laden car into Lahore. Sources claimed that a white car, with registration number 1320-A, had entered Lahore from Rawalpindi, following which security was beefed up to avoid any mishap. Enforcement agencies had warned authorities that 19 militants had been deputed to cover 12 cities of the Province, and were most likely to target National Accountability Bureau offices and anti-terrorism courts. A letter had also been forwarded to the authorities concerned, mentioning that some relatively defunct organisations, including Maulana Abdul Jabbar’s faction of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), LeJ, Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami (HuJI), Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA), had also joined the TTP. Despite all the warnings, on March 12, suicide bombers ripped through Lahore’s RA Bazaar in the cantonment area, killing at least 57 persons, including eight soldiers, and injuring more than 90. While a private television channel reported that the TTP had claimed responsibility, another television channel reported that al Qaeda-linked Sunni terrorist organisation LeJ had claimed responsibility. Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s comments on this remained confused, though he did claim that a ‘decisive operation’ would be launched against banned sectarian outfits if they did not refrain from further terrorist attacks. Such ‘decisive action’ remains conspicuous in its absence.
Pakistan’s political formations, across party lines, have supported sectarian groups to strengthen their vote banks. Just after the attack on the Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, for instance, the Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer stated that the Ahmedis had been targeted due to the close relations between the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the TTP. In a message on the social networking website, Twitter, Taseer claimed that the banned SSP and TTP were united and supported by Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah. Significantly, during the National Assembly by-election for the Jhang seat on March 11, 2008, in the Punjab, 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 declared, "not all banned outfits and organisations are involved in terrorist activities".
Instead of taking effective action against the sectarian extremists, Islamabad seems quite content to muddy the waters with unsubstantiated allegation of the involvement of the Indian external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). Minister for Interior Affairs, Rehman Malik, thus insinuated, after the Lahore attacks, "About Balochistan I am sure that RAW is involved in sabotage activities. But, for Lahore we are investigating." While such declarations may find some political traction among the more gullible of Pakistan’s citizens, the state’s failure to deal with the malignant sectarian genie can only further endanger the future of a country and system already writhing in the flames of an engulfing terrorism.
The author is a Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management.
Source: South Asia Intelligence Review [SAIR]