Photo Credit: ANN/Samuel Nazir
By Umar Farooq, writing for the Christian Science Monitor
Nearly four years after deadly anti-Christian riots left nine dead, authorities released a 318-page report indicating Pakistan's security establishment could have prevented them.
A series of violent riots against Pakistani Christians in the past decade has concerned human rights watchers and religious minorities in Pakistan.
The latest deadly incident, which took place just two months ago, raised questions about what, if anything, can be done to prevent such violence.
The March incident when a Muslim mob burned down a Christian neighborhood in Lahore, echoed a similar incident in the rural town of Gojra four years earlier. Nine people were killed when rioters torched two Christian neighborhoods over rumors the Christians had celebrated a wedding by showering the groom with pages torn from the Quran. Despite hundreds of arrests, no one was tried for the riots, and relatives of those killed have now fled Pakistan.
In 2009, the Punjab government asked a senior judge to investigate how to prevent incidents like the one in Gojra. The judge interviewed nearly 600 witnesses, including senior politicians and intelligence officials, producing a 318-page report detailing who was responsible for the violence. But the full report was not released until recently – nearly four years after the riots.
It implicates members of Pakistan Muslim League-N, at the time just recently elected to power, and recommends Pakistan's blasphemy laws be reformed to prevent future violence. According to the report, the Interservices Intelligence (ISI) and local intelligence agencies knew banned extremist groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba were organizing the mobs, yet authorities did not take preventative action.
“Everything could have been avoided, if the local administration did what they were supposed to do,” says Mehboob Khan, who headed fact-finding trips to Gojra for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Like the riot in Lahore this year, Mr. Khan says police had several days to curtail growing threats from Muslim extremists in Gojra.
On July 30, 2009, members of Sipah-e-Sahaba led a mob that burned down the entire village of Korian over the blasphemy accusation. The next day, preachers at three local mosques used their Friday sermons to demand that Gojra's Christian community – some 40,000 people – be expelled. They announced rallies the next day.
The next day, busloads of seminary students from the nearby town of Jhang – a radical Sunni stronghold – joined the rallies, which were addressed by local PML-N leaders and preachers from Sipah-e-Sahaba.
Bishop John Samuel, who heads an Anglican community in Gojra, says local police should have stopped the meetings and arrested those calling for more violence. “There had already been one fire, why did the police allow these meetings?" he asks.