Carnage on Easter

At least 72 dead in suicide bombing in Lahore as Taliban threaten more attacks

Carnage on Easter
At least 72 people died and about 300 others were wounded on Sunday, March 27, in a suicide bomb attack targeting hundreds of people had gathered at Lahore’s popular recreation spot Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park. Most of them were Christians celebrating Easter.

Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, took responsibility for the attack. “It was our people who attacked the Christians in Lahore, celebrating Easter,” their spokesman told reporters from an undisclosed location via telephone.

But many of those died were Muslims. “Bombs don’t see what one’s religious affiliation is when they explode. They are killing our children and trying to crush our spirits one parent at a time,” a survivor said. “Unless the ideology behind such actions is addressed, nothing is going to change.”

The attack isn’t the first such targeting of the Christian community. Around the same time last year, two men attacked two churches in Lahore’s largely Christian Youhannabad neighborhood, leading to unrest that went on for several days.
"Bombs don't see religious affiliation"

The park is one of the biggest in Lahore and is frequented by families. Most of the casualties were women and children.

The suicide attacker walked into the park with little trouble, and he did so through the main gate. Security officials say that he was carrying up to 20 kilograms of explosives. The weight could not have allowed him to walk too far. He did not need to.

The two most popular rides in the park were less than 30 steps away from the main gate, a police officer told me.

“There were scores of women and children between the entrance and those rides,” he said. “The impact of the blast flung many bodies into the air. Splatters at the scene seem to indicate that some bodies may have been thrown several feet away.”

The explosion was not among the largest in such attacks, but the impact was devastating because the area was packed.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif convened their own emergency meetings.

“We will continue to fight terrorism until it is rooted out from our society,” the prime minister said while addressing Pakistanis on television the next day.

The military announced an enhanced operation in Punjab. The “inhumane savages will not be allowed to overrun our life and liberty,” Gen Sharif was quoted as saying.

Military spokesman Gen Asim Bajwa said five raids were conducted on the night of March 27, in Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan. “Number of suspect terrorists and facilitators arrested and huge cache of arms and ammunition recovered,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

The results of a reinforced operation by military and paramilitary forces in the province may not be visible soon.

“I don’t know why these areas are attacked,” beat officer Zakaullah said when I asked him if it were a security failure. “We could have prevented this had we any intelligence on it, but we received no information,” he told me.

Zakaullah said such incidents were happening all over the country and no real preventive measures could stop them. “What possible measure can you take against a suicide bomber? You can shoot him in the head if you spot him, but what can you do apart from that?”

But he is confident that law-enforcement agencies will thwart the Pakistani Taliban’s announced plans to target the city. “We will face them,” he says. “Intelligence agencies are with us and they provide us with whatever information we need. So we will act on the intelligence we get and we will catch them.”

Dr Muhammad Iqbal, the superintendent of Police for the Iqbal Town division, believes the problem is deeper. “What security or equipment can stop a suicide bomber that has come to end his life?” he says. “Religious extremism needs to be curtailed” for the problem to be resolved substantially, according to the SP. “Madrassa reforms are needed to tackle this.”

He believes the security apparatus is not to blame. “There is a general security environment that the country is facing,” he says. “Our country is in a state of war.”

He says police operations are carried out as and when needed. “Many threats have been avoided, and many terrorists have been caught because of our efforts. Sometimes they are successful but most of the time we are successful.”

Dr Iqbal says police is ready to further improve its security measures. “We are working with local authorities and beefing up security wherever possible. We need to galvanize our existing security apparatus and we aren’t focusing on anything new right now,” he says.

But the police officer says it is primarily the extremist religious ideology that compels people to blow themselves up to kill others that has to be addressed. “It doesn’t matter how many guns you hand over to law enforcement personnel,” he says.

“When a suicide bomber is born, there is no equipment that can stop him. And truly, all we can do is try to stop the birth of a suicide bomber, because no bullet can kill the ideology he is nurtured with and raised on.”