The March 27 terror attack on Pakistan’s second largest city of Lahore on Easter Sunday has received worldwide condemnation. The attack near the children’s rides of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, a favorite destination for low to middle income Pakistanis because of its low entry fees and less expensive rides, left at least 72 people, including at least 26 children, dead and 300 injured.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway faction of Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility of the attack. A spokesman for the terrorist group told the Associated Press that a suicide bomber associated with the faction deliberately targeted the Christian community. The faction is lead by Omar Khalid Khurasani, Pakistan’s most wanted terrorist.
Pakistani Christians account for 1.5% of its 200 million population and have often been targeted by religious extremists. Pakistani media reports say the initial investigations have identified a 28-year old suspect from south Punjab as the possible suicide bomber in Sunday’s atrocity. South Punjab is known for its extremist outfits and seminaries breeding religious zealots involved in terrorism.
The country’s military has for too long been seeking permission of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif government to carry out a cleanup operation in the Punjab province. But the prime minister, who draws much of his political power from Punjab, has remained hesitant in giving sweeping powers to the military. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party is known for links with extremist outfits. Pakistani media has reported in the past that the PML(N) gave party tickets to as many as 50 known extremists ahead of 2013 general elections. Operation in south Punjab is one of the many policy issues that are emerging as points of differences between the Sharif government and the military.
And after much wait, the military seems to have taken the initiative in its own hands regarding the cleanup operation in southern Punjab after the Sunday terror attack. Military spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa tweeted hours after the Sunday attack that the intelligence agencies had carried out raids across the province and recovered arms, ammunition and explosives. He also announced arrest of several suspects.
The differences between the military and the Sharif government became more apparent when the Pakistani Prime Minister in nationwide television address did not take ownership of military-led operations in Punjab. The speech, according to many Pakistani analysts, lacked substance and was loaded with political rhetoric.
Political patronage of extremism in Pakistan is not new. Several religious parties, including key allies of Nawaz Sharif and opposition leader Imran Khan had openly opposed the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the policeman who assassinated former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in Islamabad in 2011. Qadri was executed on February 4. Thousands of his supporters have been challenging the government writ in the heart of Islamabad since March 28, marking 40 days of “mourning” Qadri’s execution.
The attack sent shockwaves across the world. US joined the global condemnation of the attack. Ned Price, spokesman National Security Council, White House, called the attack as “appalling”.
“We send our deepest condolences to the loved ones of those killed, just as our thoughts and prayers are with the many injured in the explosion.,” Price said in a statement. “The United States stands with the people and Government of Pakistan at this difficult hour. We will continue to work with our partners in Pakistan and across the region, as together we will be unyielding in our efforts to root out the scourge of terrorism. condemns in the strongest terms today’s appalling terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan.”
U.S. presidential candidates John Kasich, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton all issued statements denouncing the attack, for which a faction of the Taliban extremist group has claimed responsibility.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, French President François Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron were among the world leaders who condemned the attack.
The attack left the Pakistani community based in North America shocked. The community organized vigils at several places, including two in front of Makki Masjid on the Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams joined representatives of NYPD Muslim Officers Association and leaders of Pakistani community to condemn the massacre.
“We need to be very clear. An attack on Pakistani soil is not a Christian attack, is not a Muslim attack. It’s an attack on Pakistani people. It’s an attack on humanity,” he told a press conference outside Makki Masjid. “We are not going to allow the evil minded people to divide us on religious grounds. A mother does not mourn differently if a child is a Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist. They mourn. And that’s what we are doing. We are mourning because members of human race were killed and destroyed. And we want to be extremely clear. The violent act that attempts to dim our life of freedom and peace will not succeed,” he added.
The press conference was also addressed Captain Waheed Akhtar of the NYPD, Adeel Rana of NYPD, president of Pakistani American Christian Association William Shahzad, Chairperson of American Council of Minority Women Bazah Roohi and others who condemned Sunday’s terrorist attack.
A vigil was also held at the same spot on Monday evening (March 28) in which representatives of different faith groups showed up to express solidarity with Pakistan in this hour of grief. Men, women and children holding candles stood in silence to pay tributes to those who lost their lives in Sunday’s attack.
The New York City’s progressive mayor Bill de Blasio also condemned the Lahore carnage. “First a soccer game in Iraq, now a park in Pakistan. Terrorism is a virus that goes after the innocent. Sending prayers and solidarity,” de Blasio tweeted hours after the attack.