Aug 15, 2009

Gojra carnage

The attack on the Christian community in Gojra has been settled by the typical government response to such crisis situation—i.e., dismiss one or two officials and then close the case file. The mob violence which led to seven deaths, however, requires more systematic attention to be paid to the Muslim-Christian dynamics in the country, the government administrative structure responsible for maintaining law and order, and the role of the leaders of the minority communities. Only a serious review can make the government move closer to developing a mechanism that could help prevent eruption of these anti-Christian riots every once in a while.

First, there is the issue of identifying the groups who benefit from these anti-minority riots. The fact-finding report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) argues that the attacks were pre-planned and were not a result of instantly spurred mob violence. The report summary, as presented in the newspapers, notes that on July 31, Imams in the local mosques asked people to “make mincemeat of the Christians.” The report also says that members of Sipah-e-Sahaba and other extremist organisations were involved in these attacks. This raises many questions, such as why these organisations targeted this particular area, and why at this point in time?

To prevent such events from happening in future the government needs to develop some assessment mechanisms to help identify the area in which Christian communities are particularly vulnerable. Further, it needs to identify the political interests which benefit from such attacks on Christian communities. Most cases of inter-religious or inter-ethnic mob violence are triggered by political interests rather than just conviction in religious beliefs. If, as the HRCP report has argued, the Imams of some mosques actually played an active role in mobilising the Muslim community to join a planned attack on the Christian community then it should be possible to trace the planners of this crime if these Imams are identified and a serious enquiry is carried out. It is also important to systematically review the last few incidences of mob attacks on Christian communities to try to identify why every once in a while the Christians, who live in harmony with the Muslims, become target of such mob attacks.

The incident also raises questions about the main authority responsible for maintaining law and order in the current government structure. Under the Local Government Ordinance, 2001, it is the Zila Nazim that is responsible for maintaining the overall law and order situation, and not the DCO. However, in this case it is the civil bureaucracy, rather than the political leadership at the district level, that has been made accountable for the failure of the state to ensure law and order and the security of the Christian community. This issue in itself requires further investigation as there needs to be a clear consensus on which is the primary state body responsible for ensuring security of the lives of ordinary citizens as lack of this clarity allows for the blame to be shifted around too easily.

Finally, the incident also raises the problem of weak leadership within the Christian community in the country. The details of the incident highlights that lack of clear channel of communications between the government and the trapped Christian community further led to escalation of violence. To bring calm in a situation of mob frenzy it is important that the two sides are able to establish some communication between trustworthy channels on both sides. It appears that in this case the Christian leadership arrived a bit late and left the local Christian community relatively vulnerable.

There are too many under-investigated issues in this case. To ensure justice to the Christian community which was attacked and to help prevent similar attacks in future it is critical that the government does not look at this incident as one of those one events that are easily settled by suspending or dismissing a couple of government officials. The deeper causes or such attacks, rather the planners of such riots, need to be identified to ensure security of the lives of ordinary Pakistanis.

By Dr Masooda Bano
The writer is a research fellow at the Oxford University.

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