The latest violence in Pakistan has targeted not the state, but religious minorities in the country. Over the weekend, Christian residents of Gojra were targeted by an angry mob of Islamic activists who sought revenge for alleged acts of desecration of the Qur’an. When the dust cleared, there were at least seven dead and dozens of homes burned to the ground. Amidst the destruction, one person has been strangely silent — Nawaz Sharif.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemned the violence, immediately dispatching the Minister for Minority Affairs along with police and Rangers to protect Christian citizens.
Zardari said the state must protect civilians under attack from a handful of vengeful and armed groups, APP reported, citing presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar. A judicial inquiry will be held into the incident that will “give some comfort to the victims that the state is not biased,” the president said.
Units of the Rangers security force are in the Gojra area keeping order, Zardari said.
It was quickly discovered that the alleged desecration was fabricated, and that no anti-Islamic provocations had occurred.
Punjab Chief Minister Rana Sanaullah has ruled out purported ‘desecration’ of the Quran by people of Christian community, which is seen as the prime reason behind Saturday’s communal violence in Gojra town in which seven Christians, including three women, were burnt alive and over dozen wounded.
“Authorities had investigated the allegation of a Quran being defiled, and our initial reports say that there has not been any incident of desecration,” Sanaullah said.
Particularly troubling, though, is the seeming absence of Nawaz Sharif, leader of the PML(N) which controls Punjab.
New information is emerging that suggest that the violence may have been exacerbated, at least in part, by PML(N) officials.
The reaction was further inflamed by a person Qadeer Awan (who is an official of PML-N) who sent people to Jhang to import activists, some of whom came masked and surrounded the Christian village. There was firing into the village and some christians defending the village by firing in the air to scare away the people. Police was present but took only evasive action and used teargassing. This continued for 5 hours and then busloads of people joined the mob, with the police backing away, ransacked the entire village and burnt six Christians alive and shot dead one.
Witnesses claim that the PML(N) controlled local police failed to protect the minority community as the violence broke out. With PML(N) leader Nawaz Sharif’s recent attempts to remake himself as a political moderate following his history of cooperation with Islamic radicals, one would think he would want to quickly make statements condemning the attacks and stand up for the rights and defense of Pakistan’s minority communities.
Instead, his silence speaks volumes.