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Easter Day suicide bombing: The grisly fallout of intolerance

We feel for the Lahore blast victims. But is India able to truly empathise with Pakistan?

editorials Updated: Mar 28, 2016 22:36 IST
A bomb blast in a park in Lahore has killed 72 people and wounded over 340 others.
A bomb blast in a park in Lahore has killed 72 people and wounded over 340 others. (AP)

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, around 60,266 people have died in terrorist violence in Pakistan during 2003-16. One expects that in a nation used to such violence, calculated in its origin and random in its delivery, people would avoid public spaces, particularly during festivals and for political gatherings. But the human yearning to escape the quotidian, to conjure brief moments of joy through rites of togetherness — via an imagination of recessed risk — is evidently overpowering.

This is something terrorists seem to be more alert to than governments, which routinely fail to create safe public spaces. So, as families thronged to Gulshan-i-Iqbal park in Lahore on Easter Day, a suicide bomber detonated his vest — near a carousel and dodging car area that children were keen to try out — killing 72 people and injuring over 340 others.

Read | Pakistan launches manhunt for terrorists behind Lahore blast

If the Lahore blast was geared to retaliate against the Pakistan government’s offensive against the Pakistan Taliban in tribal areas, Sunday offered another compelling challenge that non-State actors pose to the Pakistani establishment.

Thousands of supporters of Mumtaz Qadri, the commando who was executed last month for assassinating former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, marched to Islamabad taking on Pakistan security forces at various points, breaking barriers and setting ablaze containers, forcing the army to rush in troops to secure the Red Zone, which houses key government buildings and embassies.

The protesters intend to stay in the Red Zone and are demanding, among other things, the implementation of Sharia, release of accused clerics, declaring Qadri officially as a martyr and converting his jail cell into a heritage site.

Those in India watching instability in Pakistan tend to see it as a comeuppance for nurturing extremist forces over the decades. The usual tropes in discourse resurface. There is no good Taliban and bad Taliban. Islamabad cannot be selective in its approach to terrorism. So long as Pakistan considers some terrorists as State assets to target India, it will never be rid of the scourge. Those arguments are all valid. But Pakistan’s travails also offer a lesson to India about the long-term effects of failing to challenge intolerance.

Calls for Sharia law to be imposed are no different from those in India who insist that one cultural code be imposed on a diverse society. There is also a need for a more rounded sense of empathy. Many profess to feel for the Lahore blast victims and yet indulge in a mindless stereotyping of Pakistanis. This is creating sickening outcomes in our society like the frequent targeting of Indian Muslims. Pakistan is not the only country we need to worry about.