LAHORE, PAKISTAN – Hundreds of protesters marched to Lahore’s General Post Office on Tuesday armed with letters urging the government to step up its fight against Islamist insurgents.
“Mr. President, we too must fight the Taliban, who have chosen to fight against the state and who routinely terrorize and kill innocent Pakistanis. It is incumbent upon you to mobilize the nation against the scourge of the Taliban before it is too late,” read the letter, which was circulated through email and Facebook ahead of the demonstration.
Though relatively small in size, the demonstration reflects growing concern in Pakistan's urban centers against the expansion of Taliban forces in the northwest. Last week the militants moved beyond their stronghold in Swat Valley into the neighboring districts of Buner and Shangla, some 60 miles from Islamabad (see the Monitor's story here).
Bombs over Buner
A few hours after the protest, security forces began aerial bombing of Buner, according to Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas. Casualty figures are not yet known. The attack expanded the military's latest efforts to confront the Taliban, which began Sunday in a neighboring district, Lower Dir.
The offensive threatened an already tenuous peace deal between the government and the Taliban. A spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM) – whose Taliban-linked leader, Sufi Mohammad, brokered the deal – accused the government of violating it by launching the Dir operation.
'8,000 Taliban. 500,000 Pakistani Army troops. You do the math.'
Wednesday’s protest brought together women’s rights activists, students, and political party workers.
Says Shaista Pervez, an activist: “What the Taliban are doing does not represent Islam, which is a progressive and moderate religion.
“Their vision of Pakistan is totally at odds with vision of Quaid-e-Azam and Allama Iqbal,” she adds, referring to Pakistan’s founding fathers.
The protesters, who derived mainly from the city’s middle- and upper-class, also donned T-shirts and waved placards to reinforce their message. “8,000 Taliban. 500,000 Pakistan Army troops. You do the math,” said one T-shirt. Another was more explicit: “Save Pakistan, kill Taliban."
“We’re basically pro-democracy,” says Hamid Zaman, a spokesperson for the pressure group, Concerned Citizens of Pakistan, which had earlier supported the peace deal in Swat, in which the government agreed to impose Islamic law, or sharia.
“There is nothing wrong with the Nizam-e-Adl [sharia] regulations per se, but it’s how it’s being brought about – at the barrel of the gun,” he says.