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Lahore's Bloody Sunday: The Thin Line Between Terrorists And Protestors

18/03/2015 8:12 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Pakistani Christian women mourn as they gather at a church damaged from a suicide bombing attack in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, March 15, 2015. Suicide bombers exploded themselves near two churches in the eastern city of Lahore on Sunday as worshippers were gathered inside, killing at least a dozen people, officials said, in the latest attack against religious minorities in the country. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

Terrorists want destabilisation in a country, and that is one of the reasons why they attack people and places. But sometimes, there is a very thin line separating the acts of terrorists from non-terrorists, as became clear from the recent violent protests and lynching incidents in Lahore in retaliation for a terrorist attack.

On March 15, at least 15 people were killed and more than 70 injured when two Taliban suicide bombers attacked two churches in Lahore's Youhanabad neighbourhood, which is home to more than 100,000 Christians.

The attacks deserve nothing but condemnation. They caused an irreplaceable loss. The Christian community makes up around 2% of Pakistan's mainly Muslim population of 180 million and its members have every right to protest against terrorism and the failure of the state to prevent such incidents.

However, as rampaging mobs took over the streets, the protests in Lahore assumed a more sinister form. The crowd got their hands on two people who were 'suspected' of being associates of the attackers. The two people were apparently beaten to death and set on fire, while onlookers stood around the burning bodies, clapping and cheering; others took pictures and videos of the rising fumes. No one stopped to ask the most basic questions. What if those two people had nothing to do with the attackers? Why couldn't they be handed over to security officials to find out who they actually were? No country, including Pakistan, allows its people to take the law into their own hands.

"Sadly, these protestors have helped the terrorists further their cause. They helped destabilise Pakistan some more. Can we even call these protestors 'non-terrorists' after all the damage and chaos they caused in just two days?"

It did not end there. The angry protestors proceeded to clash with the police with stones and sticks. Some of them went on to create a mess at a nearby Metro bus station. They ran around everywhere, smashing vehicles. The protestors continued to riot in Lahore the next day as well, leaving one person dead.

On the next day of the attack (as I write this), Dawn reported that a brother of one of the so-called 'suspects' showed up at the police station to inform them that his brother was a glass-cutter and had nothing to do with the Lahore-church-bombings. He may have been attacked because the protestors perceived his tools to be weapons.

So who will be blamed for this mishap if the police confirm that the brother is speaking the truth? Just the way Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan's Jamaatul Ahrar faction took the responsibility of the church attacks, who will stand up and take responsibility for burning a local glass-cutter? Just as terrorists kill innocent people, so have--by the looks of it--those protesting against terrorism.

What was achieved? Did the lost souls come back to life? Was terrorism wiped out? Were there any promises from terrorists to never kill again? Was there a rewind button for what happened on that bloody Sunday? No. It was business as usual: the announcement of compensation money by the government, messages of sympathy from officials, fake promises and negotiations with the Christian community.

Sadly, these protestors have helped the terrorists further their cause. They helped destabilise Pakistan some more. Can we even call these protestors 'non-terrorists' after all the damage and chaos they caused in just two days? That thin line has just vanished.

Like most other Pakistanis, I am just as heartbroken as I was when terrorists killed about 150 people (most of them children) in a school attack in Peshawar on December 16 last year. We've seen people from the Hazara community getting killed. We know about the Christian couple that was burnt alive over the allegations of blasphemy. Pakistanis have also not forgotten the attack on All-Saints Church in Peshawar, in which 80 people lost their lives. Like any other Pakistani, I also hate how the government and security agencies have failed to protect us citizens in our very own country. Just like any other Pakistani, I too fear, "What if I am next?"

But how can we even think about condoning protests that destabilise this country? It is very important to understand that there are numerous ways to protest, and it is not necessary to resort to violence. If the protestors were thinking that the way to address the tragedy was by fighting with the security officials and the government, they were highly mistaken. Moreover, there was more 'breaking news' about the angry protestors rather than those who fell victim to the terrorist attack. This way, the government and security forces were thinking more about how to calm down the protestors rather than concentrating on investigating the attacks and working on a plan for the prevention of future incidents.

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