The city now has the "whiff of St Petersburg circa 1914"by Maria Misra / April 21, 2016 / Leave a comment
The bombing of families and children, Muslims and Christians alike, at the Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in Lahore on Easter Sunday that killed 72 and left 340 seriously injured, has provoked an outpouring of despair in much of the western and some of the Pakistani press. In the Financial Times Fatima Bhutto, niece of the assassinated former leader Benazir, declared that the “Easter carnage” had delivered a “fatal diagnosis” for the country. Pakistan, she claimed, was a failed state. But having just returned from Lahore, I think this reaction is a little extreme.
Obviously the situation is worrying: as the elite enjoy their plush lifestyles behind high walls, and educated liberals feel ignored, one does catch the faintest whiff of St Petersburg circa 1914. Even from their chauffeured four-by-fours it is difficult for the affluent not to notice the Islamist banners and slogans, sported by many motorised rickshaws, demanding piety and an end to the imperialism of the United States. Armed and omnipresent security is also impossible to ignore—though Lahore is not Homeland.
The extreme shock following the Easter bombing reflected just what an unusual event it was. Compared with the frontline against militant Islamism in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) bordering Afghanistan, Lahore, capital of prosperous Punjab, has been relatively peaceful. Indeed, there have been suspicions that Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister, whose political stronghold it is, had cut a deal with the Islamists to spare Lahore.
Intensifying this sense that the Islamists are becoming bolder was a recent event relatively neglected in the western press, though to Pakistanis it seemed a more ominous omen of state weakness: the dharna (sit-in) by 2,000 men organised by a different Islamist group, the Sunni Tehreek. Intended to force government retreats on the liberalisation of blasphemy laws and the protection of women from domestic violence, the dharna laid siege…