Friday, May 28, 2010

Lahore terror

Dreadful news this morning about coordinate terrorist attacks on the two main Ahmadiyya Muslim mosques in Lahore, Pakistan. I wrote to Alastair Burt MP, the Minister who deals with south Asia at the FCO, as follows:

You will have heard of the ghastly tragedy unfolding in Lahore, I know, and I’m writing to ask if the Government will take the lead in mobilising international pressure on Pakistan for a determined policy to remove the sources of terrorism, starting with the anti-Ahmadiyya laws, but I would also try to get them to pass new laws making incitement to religious hatred a criminal offence.

Please see attached copy of a statement I issued to the PA and BBC a couple of hours ago.

The press statement, issued at lunchtime was as follows:

Statement by Lord Avebury, Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group UK, on the violence against Ahmadiyya Muslim worshippers and their mosques in Lahore, Pakistan

This morning we had reports of coordinated attacks against the two main Ahmadiyya Muslim mosques in Lahore while they were crowded with worshippers for Friday prayers.

The mosques, Baitul Zikr in Garhi Shahu and Baitul Noor in Model Town Block C, were targeted by a previously unknown group calling itself either Al-Qa'idah Al-Jihad Punjab Wing, or Tehrike Taliban . They arrived at around 13.00 local time, as Friday prayers were starting. Preliminary reports from Model Town, where police have recaptured the mosque, indicate that 23 worshippers were killed, two terrorists who blew themselves up, and two were captured. . Some 40 people were injured, 12 seriously.

At the Baitul Zikr mosque 41 bodies of worshippers have been removed so far, and a gun battle continues between the police and terrorists after four hours, with the worshippers trapped inside.

The Parliamentary Human Rights Group recently sent a mission to Pakistan to investigate the treatment of religious minorities, and their preliminary report, issued just before the election, called attention to the widespread intimidation and violence perpetrated against the Ahmadis.

In Punjab, and Lahore in particular, the Muslim League provincial government is aligned with extremist groups such as the Khatme Nabuwwat, which openly incite religious hatred and violence. This atrocious attack on worshippers at their Friday prayers was an organised crime waiting to happen, and the federal government must take responsibility for its failure to deal with the incessant barrage of hate speech by these groups against the peaceful Ahmadiyya Muslims.

It should be noted that Pakistan has enacted specific anti-Ahmadiyya laws – the 1984 Ordinance XX of the dictator Zia ul-Haq – and this is the root cause of the universal discrimination and repression which culminates in assassinations of Ahmadis and repeated acts of terrorism against their places of worship.

I shall be asking the Foreign Office to mobilise the international community to assist Pakistan in combating the sources of terrorism, starting with reforms of the law which incites it.

Pakistan has suffered a crescendo of terrorist attacks in 2009 and 2010, particularly on the religious minorities, with uncounted hundreds killed and injured, and huge damage to the economy. The response of the government has been to amend the law by presidential ordinance to allow suspects to be detained for 90 days without access to a court, and to make confessions to the police or military admissible as evidence, though frequently they are extracted by means of torture. The nurseries of terrorism, the hate organisations such as the Khatme Nabuwwat and the Saudi-funded Salafist madrassas, remain untouched and seemingly untouchable. The international community must help Pakistan to confront the ideology which threatens its very existence.

19.00 Friday evening: I just heard, to my great sorrow and dismay, that among those murdered by the terrorists in Lahore were the National Ameer Mr M A Sheikh and General (Retd) Nisar Ahmad.

Saturday morning: the death toll has risen to 93, but with another 110 people injured and in hospital, this is not the final score. The Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gillani on Saturday vowed not to bow down to extremism and terrorism and to launch a military operation at any place that served as a safe haven of such elements. But when seven Christians were burnt alive and 50 houses destroyed by a mob in the town of Gojra last August, the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Chief Minister of Punjab visited the site immediately, not only announcing an inquiry but promising compensation to the victims and help with rebuilding. Will the authorities fund the rebuilding of the two mosques, and will they compensate the injured and the relatives of the Ahmadi martyrs? Maybe not, when the Punjab provincial government sponsored a conference of the International Khatme Nabuwwat in Lahore, the organisation mainly responsible for inciting hatred against the Ahmadis, as recently as April 12. As an editorial in the newspaper Dawn put it on March 26

But the authorities appear to be approaching the problem as a narrow counter-terrorism issue. The wider problem is the infrastructure of hate and religious intolerance that is thriving in the province, often under official patronage. No matter how many militants the state captures or kills, there will always be more if the pipeline of hate continues to churn out brainwashed foot soldiers. The Punjab authorities must find a way, and the will, to shut down the pipeline of hate and intolerance.


According to the Xinhua News Agency (,

"Retired Lieutenant General Talaat Masood, a seasoned defense analyst, said that Pakistan has a long history of sectarian violence and Qadaynis were opposed in history".

"The militants groups in Pakistan act in accordance with their ideological orientation and training and there are certain groups that consider killing of infidels or non-believers as good, and all those who are not in line with their believes are considered as infidels," he added.

This reinforces my firm belief that treating sectarian atrocities as matters that concern only the police is a serious error.and that the suppliers of the ideological fuel motivating the terrorists needs to be tackled at source. Xinhua adds that the one terrorist arrested, believed to be aged between 15 and 18, was a student of Karachi-based religious seminary. The indoctrination of young men by extremist madrassas, and incitement by extremist organisations such as the Khatme Nabuwwat, will tear Pakistan apart if the government - and provincial governments, particularly in Punjab - don't act promptly against them.

Three UN experts - Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Asma Jahangir, Independent Expert on minority issues Gay McDougall and Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston - have also now said that incitement to hatred must be tackled. They say there were plenty of warning signs that went unheeded; one of those was the preliminary report of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group mission to Pakistan in April.

The International Committee of the Red Cross also issued a statement, merely reiterating their concern regarding the level of armed violence and its impact on the people of Pakistan. (

In an editorial as recent as May 24, the newspaper Dawn made the point

"This government would be issuing a political statement in support of the minorities if it were to work towards repealing the blasphemy law. A campaign is also needed to make people aware of the virtues of tolerance. Without a change in the public mindset the current environment of hostility will remain". (

Islamabad desperately needs the vision and determination to confront extremism, not only by repealing the blasphemy laws, but prohibiting hate speech and closing down the madrassas that foment and encourage the Salafist ideology of hatred. In the absence of those qualities, the people of Pakistan face an uncertain and perilous future, and the cancer of extremism would spread to the diaspora, with terrible implications for the rest of the world as well.

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