It is perhaps one of the great ironies of Pakistan that the founder of the nation spent his first and final Christmas in a church with the Christian community to express his support for the minorities.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-i-Azam, was committed to ensuring that the minorities of Pakistan were fully included as citizens and treated as equals. In a speech he gave in August 1947 to the Constituent Assembly, the Quaid famously remarked, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan ... You may belong to any religion or caste or creed ― that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
It is ironic then that on Sunday, Dec. 17, just over a week prior to Christmas, the day when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and the same day Pakistanis celebrate the birth of the Quaid, two suicide bombers attacked a crowded church in Quetta, killing nine and injuring at least 55.
I have found this attack to be particularly shocking, as I served as commissioner in Quetta in the late 1980s and was thus in charge of law and order in the division. My role then was to protect citizens of all faiths. The idea of a church or any member of a minority community being attacked so blatantly is shocking to me and breaks my heart. As the Quaid expressed, it is the duty of every Pakistani to safeguard all citizens, but especially the vulnerable, like the minorities. I am sorry to see this vision being decimated before our very eyes.
Pakistanis must stop killing Christians. Pakistan as a country claims to honor the message of the Quaid and revere his founding of the nation. Yet Pakistani Christians keep being brutally attacked. In March 2015, twin bombings at two churches in Lahore killed at least 15. Last year, a bombing in a crowded Lahore park on Easter Sunday killed 75. The Quetta attack is a new low though for Pakistan. Could there be a worse insult to the legacy of the Quaid than that of a church bombing in the heart of Advent, one week before the treasured Christmas holiday and his very own birthday?
What is encouraging is that this time around, in a shift in the national tone, many prominent Pakistani leaders roundly and swiftly condemned what happened in Quetta. To cite some examples from the many at hand:
Councillor Dr James Shera MBE, S.Pk, the former Mayor of Rugby, England, and a prominent Pakistani Christian, stated in response, “I am deeply saddened and shocked to hear of the suicide attack in Quetta Methodist church with nine killed and over 50 injured. My deepest sympathies for the families of the injured and whose loved ones lost their lives. May God bless the souls of the innocent people who gave their lives. I wholeheartedly praise the security services for their brave act which stopped harm to many more people who were inside the church. Pakistan is going through various challenges and trials and tribulations where the enemy of state is determined to divide us under the name of religion or ethnic background. We must fight together against this evil and not let them succeed to dent the good name of our country and its people. I appeal to all Pakistanis from ordinary to good and great to unite together and resurrect the Quaid’s Pakistan which is based on equality, justice and freedom for all faiths to practice their faith without fear. We must bring a radical reform and not allow extremism in any shape or form to flourish and weaken Pakistan. God save Pakistan.”
The Pakistan High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland, Syed Ibne Abbas, wrote to James Shera in the aftermath of the attack expressing his condolences to the community: “James Sahib, Terror attack on a congregation at a Church in Quetta is truly appalling. This cowardly act, especially during the Festive season, is heartbreaking. This is our collective loss. Our heart goes out to the families of victims. These beasts who target places of worship are against humanity.”
Dr. Amineh Hoti, who works tirelessly within Pakistan and beyond to build bridges between the faith communities, heartily condemned the attacks: “This mean act of killing people intentionally during Christmas is a heinous act against humanity, against the Abrahamic faiths, and against what the flag of Pakistan stands for. During these cold winter nights when the poor and wounded do not have enough, we need to reach out, heal and pray. May God give human beings the sense and wisdom to love, empathize and reach out to all human beings regardless of their religious and ethnic differences. Amin.”
International voices committed to promoting dialogue among faiths and cultures are also reacting strongly to these heinous attacks. Patrick Burnett, a young Catholic American working to build bridges between faith communities in the US and abroad, anguished in response to the church bombing: “It breaks my heart that on the third Sunday of Advent, when we in the Christian faith are preparing to celebrate Christmas, a season of both great joy and deep reflection, dozens of innocent Pakistani Christians are killed and injured just for celebrating their faith. The Quaid would be deeply angered and heartbroken to witness this fundamental challenge to his expansive and inclusive vision for Pakistan. Building bridges of understanding and compassion between our faith communities could not be more important and urgent than in this global crisis of pluralism.”
On a note which inspires hope for the nation, in response to the attack in Quetta, the Regional Police Officer in Gujranwala, Ashfaq A. Khan, visited a number of the city’s churches to ensure their security infrastructure and procedures were properly in place before the Christmas holiday. He also instructed all his police officers to ensure the full protection of the Christian community during their Christmas celebrations. And alongside the deputy commissioners, Mr. Khan broke bread and shared cake in the churches with the Christian community to ensure the strengthening of ties between the community and the administration.
If more Pakistanis work to follow the examples set by the Quaid, as reflected by the administration in Gujranwala, I am confident we can defeat the scourge that was on full display in Quetta this past weekend. We must all make a concerted effort to heal these wounds and close the gaps between our faiths, before more innocent lives are lost and before the vision of Pakistan is lost. We have two choices in Pakistan ― support and protect the minorities in the spirit of the Quaid or watch the nation disintegrate before our very eyes. It gives me hope that so many Pakistanis are responding so passionately and swiftly to the Quaid’s vision.