“I don’t know what to do with Mehak’s Christmas clothes,” said Sohail Yousaf, father of Mehak who was martyred in the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church attack in Quetta on 17th December in which initially nine people died but the count rose to twenty over time; a large number of injured are still under treatment in various hospitals of Quetta.
Sohail Yousaf is a manager in State Life Insurance Company in Quetta and lost his younger daughter in the attack, his elder daughter is recovering from injuries.
It is human nature that once one has a bad experience they avoid everything related to it, however, Sohail’s family went to attend Christmas service as usual. Sohail shared his feelings with The Nation. “Even though my child died but we cannot leave the celebrations of our Prophet’s birth. We offered prayers and thanked God for being kind to us,” Sohail said.
Recalling the incident Sohail said, “The suicide bomber had exploded himself outside the door of the Church hall where prayers were taking place. When the dust settled some dead bodies were scattered about, while injured people were crying for help and others were trying to escape the scene.
“Mehak (who died in the attack) was 14 years old while my elder daughter was injured. She had pallets in her stomach and her jaw was injured, however after three operations she is recovering.”
It is said that catastrophes unite people and this was the case with Sohail’s family. A Muslim family came to their house with Christmas food and offered condolences with them on the loss of their daughter.
Sohail Yousaf got emotional while speaking about his daughter Mehak, “Mehak was full of life. I loved her mischievous behavior. She was a very good student and had scored 66% in her grade eight exams. I had bought her a dress for Christmas but now I don’t know what to do with it. It’s very painful for a parent to bury his child.”
Gulzar did not let them enter
Gulzar Bhatti, a father of 7 children was a guard at the gate of the Church and was shot in the chest when he engaged the terrorist to stop him from entering. “Gulzar heard firing outside and called the Frontier Constabulary. He tried to engage them for a while and stop them at the gate during which he was shot in the chest. He still ran and locked the church hall doors. That is when the suicide bomber blew himself up. There were about 400 people in the hall, if it was not for Gulzar’s quick thinking God knows what would have happened,” said Malik Zafar Bhatti, Gulzar’s brother explained.
Recalling his relationship with Gulzar, he said that by nature Gulzar was very helpful. “I went inside the Church hall too after the incident. It seemed as if a hand grenade was thrown too due to which many people were injured,” said Bhatii.
Regarding security at the Church, Zafar said only two police men were deployed while there was no FC present.
The Government of Balochistan announced Rs One million as compensation for the families of the deceased and Rs 500,000 for the injured and a similar same amount has been announced by the Federal government.
MPA Anita Irfan of Balochistan said she was still not sure and are waiting for the amount to be given the victims of the attack.
Regarding security at the church Anita said police was deployed on the roof of the church. “Due to their quick response they were able to kill one of the terrorists,” she said.
According to eye witnesses, there was no security at the gates and the FC and medical teams arrived after about 45 minutes. The Christian families have asked MPA Anita to ensure proper security to the churches in future.
Since the past many years a term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has gained currency yet many people are not aware of it. It not only affects survivors of extreme violence but those who have gone through any severe traumatic experience suffer from this. Saiqa Raziq of the Centre for Psychological Support in Islamabad said PTSD develops when a person experiences something extremely traumatic, linked to death or a life threatening situation.
“I have dealt with people especially police personnel who have witnessed stressful situations, who shared their experiences and reached out for help. I have provided mental health services to people in the development sector who worked in natural disaster areas,” said Saiqa.
“There are typical symptoms of PTSD, the patient starts reliving the incident by visualizing the scenes, recall the smell. They avoid people, and places that would remind them of the the incident. Lastly they would have hyper arousal. Such symptoms are found in children as well as adults,” she said.
Attacks on Christians
There have been a number of terrorist attacks on the minorities of Pakistan, especially on Christians. Executive Director National Commission for Justice and Peace Cecil Chaudary shared their data with The Nation on the prominent attacks on Christians since 2001 to date.
1. Catholic Church in Bahawalpur was attacked on 28/10/01, 15 worshippers and a Muslim guard died on the spot, six injured.
2. Grenade Attack on Church in Islamabad killing five persons and injuring more than 40 during prayer on 17/03/02.
3. Attack on Christian hospital in Taxila in which four Christian nurses and an attacker were killed and 21 injured on 09/08/02.
4. Attack on Idara-e-Aman-o-Insaf in Karachi, seven staffers of Committee for Justice & Peace died while one was paralyzed on 25/09/02.
5. Grenade attack at Christian Hospital Bannu. No causalities but the explosion damaged hospital’s windows / wall on 04/10/02.
6. Grenade attack on a Church in Daska on 25/12/02. Three girls died, 18 were injured.
7. Twin Grenade attacks on a Church in Rawalpindi which luckily did not detonate. The police & bomb disposal squad reached the spot & diffused these in 2004.
8. Twin explosions at All Saints’ Church in Peshawar leaving 100 dead and 130 injured on 22/09/13.
9. Attack on St. John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church in Youhannabad, Lahore leaving 19 dead and 70 injured on 15/03/15.
10. Gulsha e Iqbal Park blast 15 Christians died in Lahore on 27/3/2016.
11. Attack on Bethel Memorial Church, Quetta 20 killed & more than 50 injured in a Sunday midday service on 17/12/17.
Leaders of the Christian community in Pakistan have condemned these attacks and held strong protests while asking the government to take steps to promote interfaith harmony and prevent such occurrences in future.