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Even for a country where violence has long become routine, the orgy of killing in Pakistan at Friday’s prayers in Lahore is particularly distressing. Men armed with guns, hand grenades, wearing suicide vests, killed nearly 80 people and wounded more than 100 at Garhi Shahu and Model Town in the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up as security forces began closing in.
It is important to say a few words here about the victims. They were members of the Ahmadiyya sect of Muslims, regarded as heretics by many other Muslims, particularly hard-line Sunnis. Pakistan has a four-million-strong Ahmadiyya community, officially regarded as non-Muslims. They have long been persecuted and the discrimination continues to date. In 1984, Pakistan’s military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq issued an edict that prohibited Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim, or ‘to pose as Muslims’. General Zia then enjoyed the patronage of the United States president Ronald Reagan. At the time, Washington was providing Zia with billions of dollars of military and economic aid, and arming and encouraging Sunni Islamic fundamentalism, to fight Soviet communism in Afghanistan.
Ahmadis, in fact, claim to lead the revival of peaceful propagation of Islam. The sect’s founder Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) declared himself the Mujahid (divine reformer) of the fourteenth Islamic century. To their hardline Muslim critics, among the most objectionable aspects of Ahmadiyya beliefs is their view on the death and return of Jesus.
The massacre on Friday at Ahmadiyya mosques in Lahore is yet another reminder of the folly of feeding bigotry and intolerance that always leads to unforeseen disastrous consequences. Today, the same fundamentalists the Americans fed, and their children, confront their erstwhile masters. They kill fellow citizens who do not conform to their interpretation of Islam. And those who do.