By Iram Ramzan
There is a phrase in Punjabi, which roughly translates as, “The one who has not yet seen Lahore, has not been born.”
I certainly felt alive whenever I visited this vibrant capital city of the Punjab in Pakistan. In the past, I have visited my grandparents’ village in Kashmir several times. There was nothing to do, nothing to see, no one with whom I could speak . I felt suffocated, itching for the chance to get out of there as soon as I could.
That feeling of misery and boredom would evaporate as soon as we would arrive in Lahore. The few days I was able to spend in the city made me feel as though I could breathe again. It was the only place in that country that could lift me out of the depression that would engulf me.
It is the city which sleeps during the stifling heat of the day and awakes to the bright lights of the cool nights. Forget praying, the people eat five times a day. Food is their religion.
Among the modern buildings are the remains of the long-gone empires, from the Gothic British architecture, to the red monuments typical of the Mughal era.
Lahore was red on Sunday. It was red with the blood of innocent people. 72 people have been killed and over 300 injured in a blast in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park on Sunday. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) faction Jamaat-ul-Ahraar has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The sound of the blast was heard around 6:30 pm, with rescue teams dispatched to the site. These included 23 ambulances and rescue vehicles. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar said the group targeted Christians who were celebrating Easter at the park.
According to reports the blast took place a few metres away from the children’s swings. The authorities escorted people out of the park, which is one of the busiest recreational spots in the area.
Just stop and think about that for one moment. Swings where children had been sitting, laughing, having fun, enjoying themselves. A spokesman for Taliban faction, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said in a statement:
“The target were Christians. We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore. He can do what he wants but he won’t be able to stop us. Our suicide bombers will continue these attacks.”
Everyone has grievances. But once you kill innocent people you have lost your argument. And you just know that there are people out there who will try to excuse their behaviour or try to get the government to negotiate with this group. But how does one negotiate with a group that is prepared to take not only other lives, but those of its own members? How much do you even concede to them — until Pakistan is ruled by sharia?
The militants have since sent taunting tweets to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, saying war has “reached his doorstep”. In a televised address on Monday, Mr Sharif pledged to avenge the attack — more than 5,000 people have been arrested.
As Pakistani journalist Kunwar Khuldune Shahid has pointed out, it took the massacre of Peshawar schoolchildren in December for the government to announce a formal counter-terrorism policy. This time, a suicide attack in a children’s park in Lahore has “jolted them into action”.
Meanwhile, the capital city Islamabad was filled with rioters in support of Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri was recently hanged for killing the former Punjab governor for wanting to reform the country’s blasphemy laws.
A strong military action is required — it certainly took the government long enough. But guns and bombs can only get us so far. What is also needed is a policy to combat the dangerous ideology behind these atrocities, otherwise it is not a case of if a another terrorist attack happens, but when and where.
Iram is a journalist based in Greater Manchester and the founder and editor of Sedaa.