What triggered the Lahore massacre?

Bigotry was an unlikely trigger

“How can anyone blame a Muslim,” the Supreme Court of Pakistan asked rhetorically in a landmark 1993 judgement, “if he loses control of himself on hearing, reading or seeing such blasphemous material as has been produced (by the Ahmadis).”

Initial reactions to the terrorist attack on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore yesterday have focused on the official and popular bigotry against the heterodox sect in Pakistan. Intolerance towards the Ahmadi community is being seen as the explanation behind the massacre of worshippers, allegedly and by their own admission, by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, and the ‘Punjab wing of al-Qaeda’.

While that narrative explains why the Ahmadis were targeted at all, it does not answer the important question of “why now?” Ahmadis have been victims of official discrimination, political violence and popular invective for as long as Pakistan has existed. ‘Sectarian’ terrorist groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and the al Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have not only been in existence for a long time but are political allies of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the party that is in power in Punjab province.
Organisations like these had the capability and the motives to massacre Ahmadis all this while, but until yesterday, the violence was ‘below the radar’.

There is a need, therefore, to look beyond religious bigotry as the immediate cause of yesterday’s violence.

Tthe attacks could have been triggered by the allegation—by Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir—that the controversial Khaled Khawaja was, among others, working for the Ahmadis. Because Mr Mir’s words were widely publicised it is possible that hotheads in one or more of the militant groups decided to deliver a violent response. While this has happened in the past—as when a television personality’s anti-Ahmadi vitriol triggered a lynching—it was never on this scale.

If the Lahore attacks indicate that reactionary violence has escalated to this scale, then Pakistan is closer to the precipice that many people think. It is also unlikely. Instead, the scale of the attacks and the choice of the targets suggests that the Pakistani military establishment has once again, used terrorism to change the dynamics of its current situation. The large number of casualties will grab international attention. That the targets were Ahmadis will not play too badly with the domestic audience. But why?

The Pakistani military establishment uses terrorism essentially to create conditions that are favourable to its leadership and interests.

First, Taliban violence in Afghanistan primarily rises and falls with Washington’s moves away and towards Pakistan’s proxies there.

Second, terrorist attacks in Pakistan primarily rise and fall with Washington’s moves away and towards the Pakistani military establishment. Scaring the United States with the bogey of jihadis getting hold of nuclear weapons is an old, time-tested way for the army chief to be anointed with sash of indispensability. Escalating violence or triggering political crises also allow the military establishment to fend off US pressure to do things that it does not want to do.

Third, terrorist attacks in India primarily rise and fall with the Pakistani army’s need for an alibi to avoid fighting along the Durand Line. They are also connected with ensuring that the Pakistan army remains the real power in the country, regardless of what the civilian government wishes.

For the last several months, it appeared that General Kayani was having his way with the United States—with the London conference, strategic dialogue with the Obama administration, inflow of funds and so on. Compared to the violence of the previous year, things were relatively quiet in Pakistan…until Faisal Shahzad turned up and rocked the military establishment’s boat. Suddenly, not only was Hillary Clinton warning of dire consequences, but the US national security advisor and CIA chief personally put the Pakistan army on notice to move against militants in Waziristan. Meanwhile General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani is looking for ways not to retire on schedule.

As long as the United States keeps the pressure on the army to move into North Waziristan, there is a higher risk of terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The risk increases to the extent that there is a lack of clarity as to whether General Kayani will stay on.

4 thoughts on “What triggered the Lahore massacre?”

  1. Most insightful. Was scratching my head wondering what political end might be served by massacring Ahmadis – they’re so screwed as is. Makes sense that the MJC is raising the ante in a low-risk manner.

    Gotta say that Pak is a fascinating lab for the morbidly curios – game theory run amok. So any players, so many variables and limited reliable information.

  2. Scaring the United States with the bogey of jihadis getting hold of nuclear weapons is an old, time-tested way for the army chief to be anointed with sash of indispensability.
    Scare me once, shame on you… scare me twice, shame on me.

    Has it ever occured to you Nitin that the US wants people to think that it is scared of the bogey jihadist take over of the paki mjc’s crown jewels while fully knowing that no such thing is possible except in the fertile minds of sub standard fiction writers?

    The US may have very well used its “concerns” about Pakistan’s nukes especially after AQKhan’s saga to KNOW more about their nuclear facilities and command and control structure. They are not exactly fools and have been dealing with the Paki military for a long time now. They know who calls the shots and also know that it is the military which would voluntarily give away nukes to jihadist groups if it served its purposes.

    The Paki MJC has essentially blackmailed the US into submission and withdrawal from AfPak. After Shahzad Faisal’s terrorism attempt and his deep connections to the Paki military through his family, no one in the US is going to be fooled by all this internecine feud – if anything it only confirms to what extent the military in Pakistan will go to deflect attention from Shahzad Faisal’s fiasco.

    Today morning, I read a report in the Hindu citing a WaPo report that stated that the US was now looking at options to unilaterally attack terrorists in Pakistan – now if the US REALLY wanted to do that, they would not be giving it away to the WaPo or any other newspaper – they would actually do it. Trying to play a game of chicken with the Paki MJC is futile and its only innocent lives that get expensed with in the process.

    This is a way for the MJC to show that US plans to unilaterally attacking terrorists in Paki territory is ill-advised to say the least – they can unleash a torrent of terror in all major cities in Pakistan, not just the remote corners of the NWFP – what would the US do then ? Go after Sipah -E- Sahiba ?

    Against all odds, Pakistan continues to win the war against the US. As much as I hate these bastards, I have to say… Well played Pakis… well played.

  3. Bernard Henry Levy stated it very right. Something is very rotten in this islamic state.

  4. If there is excessive human rights violation in any country, that country should face pressure from the countries lending money to them. There should be some conditions to improve the situation as part of the lending contracts. This is just to raise voice in favor of those who are suppressed and deprived of their basic human rights.
    The killing in the name of religion is, and has always been, in direct contradiction to the teaching. This statement is true for any religion as far as I understand. Review examples of any of prophets there are no event where they performed or ordered killing of fellow human beings based on religious differences. They even forgave the people who called them names, disrespected them and their God, brought them hardships, and in many cases conspired to kill them.
    It was always prophets’ opponents who executed innocent people based on religious believes. I call on all human beings, to write something when you notice any comments, video that supports killing, or implies that it is legitimate religiously or in law of land. Write something that can remind these people that they are following footsteps of those who opposed their prophet.

Comments are closed.