Lahore laments 'shameful' attack

Residents of Pakistan's "city of poets" left soul-searching after deadly attack.


     The prevailing mood in Lahore is one of sadness, not anger or calls for revenge [AFP]

    After Tuesday's shocking attack Pakistan is in a period of reflection and quiet.

    It is difficult to underestimate the effect this attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team has had. As you can imagine, it is the talking point on every street corner.

    This attack has been made all the worse due to its location: Lahore.

    Lahore is a open-minded place often called the "city of culture". Its airport, in marked difference to others in the country, is not named after a politician but after a poet - Alama Iqbal.

    There is a saying here: Lahore, Lahore Hai. Translated it means Lahore is Lahore.

    "I feel a real sense of shame, these people were our friends, guests in our houses... How could such a thing happen?"

    Ali, taxi driver, Lahore

    It is shorthand for what many over the years have called Pakistan’s most welcoming city. An acknowledgement that there is nothing like it.

    Pakistanis are proud of this city and it inhabits a unique place in Pakistan, one where Christian churches are common and the facades of old colonial buildings hide hints of the past.

    It is a multicultural city with pockets of ancient Sikh, Hindu and Christian communities sitting alongside the predominantly Muslim one.

    But even as a Muslim city Lahore is unique. It has what can only be described as a soft "red light district" of sorts, a place where dancing girls provide entertainment for their clients, tapping into an ancient tradition that stretches back to the Moghul empire.

    Although the reality of this is less romantic and, perhaps, more business orientated.

    The girls dance in the shadow of a grand mosque as round the corner families spend their time on Food Street, eating and talking late into the night.

    It is here, in these ancient streets, that Lahore's poets wrote of how the city was free and welcoming. It is a tradition that Lahoris keep alive.

    Lahoris 'unnerved'

    Ali is a taxi driver who has worked Lahore's battered roads for the last 30 years. Normally a chatty fellow, the attacks have unnerved him.

    "I feel a real sense of shame, these people were our friends, guests in our houses... How could such a thing happen?" he tells me.

    It is a common theme developing throughout the country, that this attack has not only hit politically but at core of something Pakistanis, in particular Lahoris, excel at; hospitality.

    Pakistanis are normally resilient people being used to seeing suicide bombers on the streets and war within their borders. 

    The attack has been interpretated as an attempt to further destabilise Pakistan [AFP]
    Despite all of that, ordinary Pakistanis at the airport, in their homes, in cafes and restaurants will always try and welcome a stranger with open arms and an open heart. 

    At a newspaper stand I get a sense of the upset and its fallout. Covered in the city's dust the headlines are, nonetheless, stark: "Terror at Liberty" and "Mumbai Terror Visits Lahore".

    Newspaper columnists bemoan the tragedy. One newspaper simply stating: "Even our most esteemed guests are no longer safe in this country."

    That the attack took place here, in this city has, at least in the mind of political analyst Imtiaz Gul, underlined the precarious situation Pakistan finds itself in.

    "It's a clear message, that there are forces out to destabilise Pakistan and they are  doing what they can to create instability and insecurity," he says, before adding that "nowhere seems to be safe".

    And that is perhaps the ultimate goal of all terror. To strike at the heart of what ordinary men and women hold dear, and one thing Lahoris and Pakistanis hold dear is cricket.

    Anyone with even a vague familiarity with the subcontinent knows that cricket is more than just a sport. It is a national passion.

    The Sri Lankan cricket team visit had lifted Pakistans spirits and here in Lahore much was being made of who would win this crucial game. After all, both Pakistan and Sri Lanka were playing well and, as the old sporting adage goes, the game was on.

    Lahore forever changed?

    As we now know, that anticipation was not to last and Lahore is now in mourning.

    Seasoned residents of the city are sure that this city of culture will bounce back, but in one café there is a sense that things have changed. 

    It is not anger and calls for retribution that prevails, but rather an all-pervasive sadness.

    "We Lahoris, we are made of stern stuff. But this? I can only shake my head... What have they got to gain? What did they achieve?"

    Saleem, Lahore resident

    Over a cup of green tea, Saleem talks to his friends.

    "We Lahoris, we are made of stern stuff. But this? I can only shake my head... What have they got to gain? What did they achieve?" he asks.

    Whoever the attackers were and whatever their goals may have been is now the subject of intense debate on the national stage.

    Yousef Raza Gilani, the Pakistani prime minister, has said they will not stop until those who have "humiliated his country are caught".

    They are strong words but for Lahore, perhaps, they are empty.

    Lahoris are heartbroken and as befits a city of poets, it is soul-searching that seems to be the order of the day, not revenge.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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