Pakistan Holds Meeting On Combating Terrorism
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And in Pakistan, a deadly attack on the country's most popular Sufi Shrine is causing an uproar. The attack last week in the city of Lahore, targeted a place of worship central to the lives of millions of Pakistanis. It's jolted the nation and once again showed that security forces have trouble protecting the public. From Lahore, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.
JULIE MCCARTHY: Women and children, Sunday, performed the ritual cleansing before prayers at the Dada Darbar Shrine. The faithful would not be deterred by the attack that killed more than 40 worshipers late Thursday night, at this place venerating a saint who helped spread Islam through South Asia in the 11th century.
Thousands gathered Sunday to pray for the victims of the twin suicide bombings at the shrine that sits at a congested intersection in the heart of the city. Afterward, religious scholars met to demand that the Provincial Government of the Punjab break all ties with militant organizations, and urged the Provincial Law minister, who had campaigned this year with known extremists, to resign.
The Punjab government led by Shahbaz Sharif, brother of Pakistan's main opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, is on the defensive. Critics say the reluctance of the Punjab government to take decisive action against extremist groups has created the impression that it was in collusion with them, a claim the Sharif brothers deny.
But signs of growing impatience are evident on the streets. One banner says an attack on the saint of God at these shrines is a deep conspiracy against Islam. And a second banner says the supporters of terrorism are also worthy of hatred. There's also a growing sense from members of the public that the steps and measures being taken to curb the militancy, to shut it down, are just not tough enough and they aren't working.
Twenty-six -year-old Ichbal Hussein(ph) says the provincial government is not in collusion with the militants, but rather, is afraid of them. He says if the authorities, however, do not step up actions to combat the militancy, the country will slip into chaos, handing it to the extremists.
Mr. ICHBAL HUSSEIN: (Through Translator) They will shred Pakistan into pieces and the government is after its own interest. They are not thinking of the people. They are not thinking of the public. Look at the inflation; the inflation is rising. People are committing suicide.
(Soundbite of protestors at rally)
MCCARTHY: Demonstrators condemn the lack of security at religious sites. But most of the Pakistanis interviewed, said that even if Islamist extremists were behind the carnage at Data Dabar Shrine, the root cause of the violence was America's war in Afghanistan. Its drone missile strikes in Pakistan's tribal area, were the chief reason, according to Nadim Hadr(ph).
Mr. NADIM HADR: That is why, because it is a side-effect of drone attacks. These people come here and they take revenge and it is not good for all the people and for a stable Pakistan. I like protest, personally. Why are the drone attacks are continued?
MCCARTHY: The attack on the Data Shrine is the second major assault on a religious center in a month, part of a troubling pattern of violence in the Punjab that underscores the growing militant menace in the country's heartland.
Sheikh Waqas Akram is a member of the National Assembly from the Punjab, which he says is a nursery of militancy. Waqas receives nearly daily death threats for taking on extremists, but he says thats the price that must be paid.
Mr. SHEIKH WAQAS AKRAM (Member, National Assembly, Punjab): You got to be brave. You got to fight these people. You cannot compromise with these people. If you compromise, you're one of them.
MCCARTHY: Over the weekend, Muslim lead party chief, Nawaz Sharif, called for a national conference to hammer out an improved strategy to tackle terrorism. The prime minister accepted the proposal, a sign that the verbal sparring between the national and provincial governments may be giving way to some coordinated action against the militancy.
Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Lahore.
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