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ICC (02/21/06) – The sketches of Muhammad published in Denmark have caused great anger among the Pakistani Muslims. Since the beginning of the year, this anger against the caricatures was simmering but now there is no sign of a cessation of the rage against the sacrilegious sketches. This week, the anger took the form of mayhem. Violent protests are now staged in every city, Denmark is cursed everywhere, and America is seen as the main supporter behind this “heinous conspiracy” against Islam and the Muslims.

As the pressure mounted on the government, on February 10 it announced a ban on drug imports from 45 countries where these cartoons were published. All religious leaders, political opposition, and others wanted to hold protests. The religious leaders told the government that the protests would be solemnly peaceful but the blasphemy protesters vowed that they would hit western interests as well as other targets.

Lahore became the battleground

On February 14, while some were celebrating Valentine’s Day, Muslims who were boiling with rage came out to protest. More than 50,000 rallied on the call of a fanatic and extremist organization, Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat (meaning Safeguarding the Respect of the Prophethood). More than 22 religious organizations participated. The angry protestors congregated at the rendezvous Datta Darbar and then marched towards the Assembly Hall which is situated on the busiest and the most important road of Lahore , Mall Road. Most important banks, the State Bank, the Anglican Cathedral, the Catholic Cathedral, the Punjab Assembly Hall, McDonalds, KFC, Governor’s House, St. Anthony’s High School, Cathedral High School, St. Paul Communication Center, Caritaas Office, and many other most important centers and offices are situated on this road. Just a few yards away from the Anglican Cathedral, the largest electronic market is situated.

More than 50,000 rallied and marched towards the Punjab Assembly. The protestors were equipped with Molotov cocktails, clubs, sticks, and even some were equipped with machineguns. Throughout the way the furious mob pelted every building with stones. A small number of unarmed policemen tried to stop them but they, too, were attacked by the mob. Protestors first burned tires, flags of Denmark and of the US , and effigies of President Bush and of Fasmussen. The protesters wanted to cut ties with EU countries and proclaim death to blasphemers. They ransacked buildings and then set them on fire. The buildings of western companies were specially targeted and KFC, McDonalds, Citibank, and other such buildings were plundered, pelted with stones, and incinerated. The international telecommunication company Telenor’s office was attacked. Hundreds of mobiles, computers, and other devices were looted and then the office was set on fire. Local banks including Askari Bank, MCB, NBP, and travel agencies including the one that housed more than 300 Korans were burnt. Two men were gunned down and five were injured during an effort of looting a local bank. The protestors set alight the Punjab Assembly Hall, beat the police, and set vehicles and motorcycles on fire. Anything that was linked to Valentine’s Day was destroyed. Even the two ambulances and one fire brigade vehicle were set alight. The cameraman of ARY ONE was severely beaten by the angry mob. The protesters tried to enter the US Consulate but it remained safe as it was heavily guarded. The mob also attacked the SSP Zulifiqar Gondal.

The savage and violent mob remained unabated and uncontrolled until the Pakistan Rangers arrived in the evening and brought the chaotic condition under their control. After the violence abated, ambulances and a fire brigade reached the place and six hundred were arrested. The government banned protests everywhere in the city and nominated a few places where protests could be held.

Nevertheless, such angry and violent demonstrations continued to the next day. On February 15, students of Jimaat-e-Islami in the Punjab University staged a protest. Again, the protestors got out of control and the police had to open fire. One man was shot dead in this protest and three were injured. Now heavy contingents of the Pakistani Rangers and police are guarding all important installations in the city and so far after the incident the police have further arrested 300 people who tried to stage protests in the city without the government’s permission in permitted areas.

Islamabad

While the angry mob was vandalizing buildings at Mall Road in Lahore , angry demonstrators in Islamabad were also unleashing their anger. The protestors tried to enter into the Diplomatic Enclave. This is the area where all embassies and such other buildings are situated.

Peshawar

At least three persons died and more than 124, including 18 policemen, were injured as tens of thousands of mobsters torched 26 vehicles and scores of offices of local and multinational companies along with departmental stores in different parts of the city during one of the worst ever riots in Peshawar on February 16. The protestors torched a KFC franchise, two petrol stations, 16 Daewoo buses, and attacked several banks, a police check-post and offices of Norwegian mobile phone firm Telenor, and hundreds vehicles.

Paramilitary Frontier Constabulary and Frontier Corps were called out as police arrested around 450 amongst tens of thousands of protesters who clashed with the force for the whole day before dispersing at about 4pm.

Many have been charged under terrorism for damaging public and private property.

Karachi

On February 16, a crowd of up to 50,000 rallied in the main commercial district of the sprawling Karachi city, and some torched effigies of US President George W. Bush and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Fasmussen. Protestors wearing green headbands shouted slogans of “Here I come, O’Muhammad PBUH”, “Death to blasphemers”, “Oh Prophet, we are your servants. We are here to sacrifice our life to preserve your honor” as thousands of policemen and paramilitary troops looked on. The crowd was dispersed, in contrast to the violence seen in Islamabad , Lahore and Peshawar . The rally was addressed by Maulana Munib-ur-Rehman, Shah Freed-ul-Haq and Sarfaraz Naeemi. It is important to note that the Lahore police issued warrants for Sarfaraz Naeemi because he was one of those who staged protests in Lahore but he addressed the procession in Karachi two days later which means that he is still at large.

Armed troops were stationed on the roof-tops and roadsides of the city. About 5,000 police and paramilitary forces, wearing helmets and wielding guns and shields, were deployed along the three-kilometer route of the rally to prevent the violence that has plagued other protests throughout the country. A branch of a US-based bank, and an office of the German company, hung blank flags to mask their logos, as did a Christian hospital and several cinemas on the rally’s route.

Government and Opposition

On February 15, President Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and the federal cabinet issued stern warning to “hidden hands” behind incidents of violence, arson, and destruction of shops and businesses in the country. The federal cabinet condemned the publication of the blasphemous material in western newspapers and asked them to offer apology to the Ummah and ensure that such acts would not be repeated in the name of freedom of expression.

On February 16, the issue of blasphemous cartoons dominated the National Assembly proceedings with the opposition lawmakers asking the government to take “firm steps” to force those responsible to offer an apology and assure that religious sentiments of the Muslims would not be hurt again.

The government has already banned drug imports from 45 states. Now Pakistan has recalled its envoy from Denmark . Moreover, the government has clearly announced that there will be no restriction on demonstrations.

Minorities and their Apprehensions

On February 7 and then on February 16, the Christians rallied protests and urged the government to call back its ambassadors from the European countries concerned and break diplomatic, trade and bilateral ties in protest.

Despite the efforts that have been made by the Christian community in Pakistan , the community is very apprehensive and nervous about the situation. They think that because of the whole situation they may incur the wrath of the Muslims who are already eager to injure and impair them.

Conclusion

The violent protests have rocked the government, and the whole country is still in the grip of anxiety and abounds with rumors. Although normalcy has begun to prevail in Pakistan , the angry mood that dominates the people of Pakistan is alarming to the Christians because they are equated with Westerners here. In the recent demonstrations, the government has been unable to control violence. If riots break out then Christians will be very defenseless and the government may not be able to help them.