Guns and rosaries

Christians of Quetta can now carry firearms for 'self-defence'

Guns and rosaries
The Christian community in Quetta has been allowed to carry firearms for self-defence, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Quetta Police Abdul Razzaq Cheema recently told The Friday Times.

The decision was made following a surge in targeted attacks against the community.

At least 15 Christians were killed and several wounded in three deadly attacks since December 2016. Police investigations said all Christians targeted in the shootings and bombings were civilians. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for these brutalities on their website.

In one sense, this recent surge in targeted attacks on Christians represents a shift as it is the Shia community of the city which has been traditionally under attack. An official of the Home Department requesting anonymity told The Friday Times that over 2,000 Shia Hazara citizens have been killed since early 2000s.

Last week, police officers held a meeting chaired by Cheema with the representatives of the Christian community in Quetta.
There has been a surge in attacks on Christians in recent times

It was decided that they would be allowed carry weapons for self-defence. Christians leaders were also asked to urge their community to install surveillance cameras around their neighborhoods and churches.

“They can carry a sub-machine gun, a pistol or an automatic weapon,” Cheema said.

Cheema said the reason terrorists were targeting Christians lately was to lend support to the global narrative that Pakistan, especially Quetta, was not safe for minorities.

“Law enforcers have made it nearly impossible for these terrorists to target the Hazara community, which is why they are now targeting Christians,” he said.

Senior photojournalist Musa Farman told The Friday Times that Quetta had been home to Christians for decades and they lived peacefully with other citizens of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. “All they want is peace and protection which is guaranteed under the Constitution.”

Some elders of the Christian community say nearly 50,000 Christians had been living in the city in segregated neighborhoods since before the Partition in 1947.

These residents are relatively poorer than other ethnic and religious groups living in Quetta.

Some Christian residents feel that allowing more weapons on the streets would not serve to protect them. They organized several protests across the city to demand protection from the government. They also formed security teams for their neighborhoods.

Rescue workers move the injured to a hospital after a church was attacked in Quetta

“We were told to be vigilant and search a person if they look suspicious,” said a Christian resident who attended the meeting presided over by Cheema.

He said law enforcement had failed to protect them. “We live in constant fear and have started to work on our own security since our forces are helpless.”

‘They plan attacks in Afghanistan’ Cheema has been working as a top police off icer for the past four years in the city.

He said the terrorists who had targeted minorities in Balochistan were trained in Afghanistan. “Members of the banned group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) joined ISIL and also operate under the umbrella of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). We have evidence that these terrorists were trained and funded by foreign forces.

Their headquarters are in Afghanistan and they send trained terrorists to Pakistan.

They are always looking for an opportunity to target minorities so that they can grab headlines,” Cheema said.

Responding to a question on the strength of ISIL in Balochistan, Cheema said the group comprised of less than five people who were trained well. “I am one hundred percent sure that there is no ISIL base in Pakistan. They come from Afghanistan and target people here,” he said. Quetta is less than 150 kilometers from Afghanistan.

Three weeks ago, Quetta police arrested Fazal Haq Ghaibzai, a leader of TTP who was involved in 11 incidents of terrorism in Quetta alone, Cheema said.

Haq and companions have also targeted police officers.

In the last 15 years, Quetta has witnessed a lot of bloodshed and targeted attacks on police officers reveal the poor training of law enforcement personnel in the city. “Many police officers in Pakistan are unwilling to work in Quetta,” an official of the city police told The Friday Times on condition of anonymity. “There are several vacant posts for senior police officers in Balochistan. They don’t want to work here because they fear for their lives,” he said.