Guest Blog by Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist.
The recent incidents in Gojra are a grim reminder of how existing half laws can be manipulated for personal and political ends. Besides loss of life, property or the reputation of the country, it also reflects an opportunist political system in which strange bedfellows can be espoused for political expediency and where rule of law can be applied selectively. Worse, it exposes false claims of the provincial and federal governments over constant surveillance of banned militant outfits in Punjab.
The entire trail from Jhang to Gojra, Mian Channu and Shantinagar is littered with similar incidents of religiously fanned hatred spearheaded by banned militant outfits. Time and again such incidents take place with impunity and remarkable alacrity. It is to question why the local administration is caught sleeping and why no preventive measures manifest themselves in pre emptive actions.
There is no doubt that the working relationship between the Federal Government and PMLN Government is dysfunctional. It took the Government of Punjab three days to move into a belated action despite warnings given by Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister of Minorities Affairs. The provincial government dismissed the factual reporting of the federal minister for over two days and moved reluctantly after all the damage had been done and Faisalabad-Karachi Railway traffic blocked for two days. The Chief Minister has repeatedly postponed his visit to the city citing security reasons. Meanwhile the frustrations continue to grow resulting in resignations of one federal and one provincial minister.
Reportedly, around 18th of July, intelligence agencies had issued a warning to the Government of Punjab of likely incidents of terrorism in which some enclaves of minority Pakistanis could be targeted. Rather than take this information seriously, the provincial government deemed it fit to act as it did, allowing free access to militant outfits for arson and murder. Perhaps they were too engrossed in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling sparing no moments for the welfare of its citizens.
The entire incident belying the fragility of our system began at a wedding party in Korrian, a Christian village 6 Kms from Gojra on 29 July. A local guest was escorted out of the celebrations for being drunk. He took revenge by leveraging the Blasphemy slogan in cahoots with some local clerics and sleepers of the banned outfits. The Federal Minister Mr. Bhatti moved into action but all his cautions fell on deaf and defiant ears in Lahore.
The Christian enclave in Gojra is located close to Awan Town named after a local property tycoon Mr. Qadeer Awan. Qadeer also runs and controls many local businesses like CNG and Petrol Pumps. He is reputed to be a very influential PML-N member and financier of the party and sleeper militants. He is known to hold the neighboring Christian enclave in contempt with a long record of confrontation. He saw the incident at Korrian as an opportunity to settle issues and extract advantage. He is the prime suspect in the FIR, registered after 48 hours of delay. Christians allege that he with his team of sons and relatives master minded the entire operation including movement of militants from Jhang and surrounding areas.
These militants moved on public transport with automatic weapons, explosives and incendiaries with complete impunity despite many Police Check Posts en route. Rather than risk confronting heavily armed militants, the baton wielding local police chose to by stand. A nearby sizable Christian Village Chak 424 was put on hold through an expected militant attack. This was done through messages by militants, clerics and local administration. The village was never attacked but the warnings served to block reinforcements to the besieged people of Gojra. The militants were seen taking orders on cell phones as also pass on information. If all calls on cell phones from the area were to be checked during the arson, it would reveal a long trail of connections leading to militant leaders, politicians and handlers residing outside Pakistan.
But there is a positive side too. Neighboring Muslim communities gave shelter to men, women and children, escorted them out of the area on their own transport and provided food. Some Pakistani NGOs have also established camps and MQM relief has arrived in trucks from as far away as Sindh. Pathetically, the only missing group is the Government of Punjab.
Standing next to seven caskets on the railway crossing at Gojra, I was questioning myself why seven females were burnt alive with incendiaries and why innocent people shot in the head at point blank. As I write this, two more men have succumbed to burn injuries in the local hospital. The Punjab Government made no efforts to evacuate them to a Burn Hospital in Lahore. I ask myself, did they deserve this treatment. Do Pakistani Christians who put the opportunist Unionist of Punjab to shame by aligning with Jinnah deserve this?
Local Christians allege that PML-N Government is reluctant to act because it fears losing its vote bank in the area. The incident has become a political battle ground between PML-N and PPP in which justice, rule of law and criminal accountability would ultimately be eclipsed. I remain in awe of the political system to move beyond its petty politics.
In an environment where the legal community is charged and Supreme Court taking landmark decisions, it is incumbent to take a look at half laws that provide a pretext for mob justice. The Supreme Court needs to re evaluate Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code and direct the Parliament to frame it in a manner, wherein it cannot be exploited or manipulated.