As the year 2012 winds down news comes out of Pakistan, that a graveyard belonging to the Ahmadi Muslim sect has been desecrated in the city of Lahore; news that I fear will come to be seen as a grim milestone in Pakistan’s descent into chaos.
This Grave Affair, (pardon the pun), is shocking in its audacity. The graveyard is located in the model town neighbourhood of Lahore, which is the provincial capital of Pakistan’s largest province, the Punjab, and is the second largest city in Pakistan. Model town is home to the Sharif brothers: the elder Brother Nawaz is a once and ( likely) future Prime Minister and his younger brother Shabbaz is the Chief Minister of the Punjab. A safer neighbourhood in the city would be hard to find, yet even there militants can strike at will.
The attack took place early Monday morning, a dozen or so armed attackers climbed over the walls of the cemetery and ambushed the on duty security guard and the caretaker. Thankfully the militants just imprisoned their captives in the caretakers house along with their families instead of killing them; perhaps they wanted to leave witnesses to spread the word of what they would do. The masked men openly identified themselves as members of banned militant groups and proceeded to desecrate 120 graves.
A history lesson is in order. The Ahmadis are basically the Muslim equivalent of Mormons. The sect was founded in the late 19th century in India and embraces all the tenets and teachings of Islam save one; that Muhammad is the greatest and last of God’s Prophets. Ahmadis accept that Muhammad is the greatest of God’s Prophets but believe that the founder of their sect is in fact the last Prophet of God. It seems like a small quibble and one that could easily have been ignored in time; after all few Christians would nowadays deny the right of Mormons to identify as Christians.
But this being Pakistan, an opportunity to cynically exploit the mindless hate of the masses for political and personal gain is never passed up by the Puppet Masters of the land. Violence against Ahmadi’s flared in 1953 in Lahore and was only quelled when the Army was called in to restore order. Clerics and their right wing political supporters demanded that Ahmadi’s be declared non-Muslims; a demand that was granted in 1974 by the ostensibly secular Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Bhutto hoped to co-opt the religious right in order to shore up his faltering public support; the right re-payed his efforts by supporting Bhutto’s hanging at the hands of his former Army Chief and religious zealot Zia ul-Huq. Zia further oppressed Ahmadi’s, he banned Ahmadi’s from identifying as Muslims and unleashed the slow burning campaign of violence against them that continues to this day.
Perhaps the only ray of light in this affair is that the attackers only came in the wee hours of the morning; stealing into the graveyard like thieves in the night. I wonder though, how long it will take until attacks such as these take place in the full light of day with the attackers showing their faces to world, knowing that no one can stop them.
And as I’m writing this post news comes out of Lahore that 72 year old Swedish Nun Bargeeta Almby was shot in the chest by gunmen on motorcycles in broad daylight outside her home in Model town. Almby had lived in Pakistan for 38 years and ran an orphanage, a school, and a women’s health centre that focused on preventing deaths in childbirth. An attack on a elderly woman is cowardly and rarely occurs even in Pakistan. Almby is fighting for her life in a Lahore Hospital but regardless of whether she lives or dies her charity work is likely to be severely curtailed; which will result in greater hardship for Pakistan’s poor.
Most disturbing was that the attack took place next to a prominent provincial politicians home but the police on duty there claimed not to have witnessed the attack. This special blend of indifference and incompetence is a trademark of Pakistani officials. Indeed the attacks on the graveyard and the Nun both show a level of careful planning and co-ordination that is rarely seen by State officials. The Puppet Master’s have achieved much this week: they successfully desecrated an Ahmadi grave thereby proving that not even death can keep one safe in Pakistan, they gunned down an elderly Nun in broad daylight which will severely curtail what little aid the poor of Pakistan get, leaving them desperate enough to turn to the Puppet Masters for protection, and most importantly they have set precedents for more audacious atrocities down the road. All in all a good week’s work.