Way of the Ter­ror­ist

Places of wor­ship in Pak­istan con­tinue to be be tar­geted by ter­ror­ists. It will be a long time be­fore any ac­tion suc­ceeds in elim­i­nat­ing them and es­tab­lish­ing last­ing peace.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Ma­lik Muham­mad Ashraf

Of late Pak­istan has wit­nessed a spate of at­tacks on places of wor­ship of dif­fer­ent sects and com­mu­ni­ties. The phe­nom­e­non, ac­cord­ing to cer­tain cir­cles, seems to sug­gest that the men­ace of sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence was poised to raise its ugly head and was sim­mer­ing be­low the sur­face. The ques­tions be­ing asked now ar­eas to what im­pact the Na­tional Ac­tion Plan has had in quelling the at­tacks and what more can the gov­ern­ment do to stop the at­tack­ers? To an­swer th­ese ques­tions, it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand the prob­lem in its his­toric per­spec­tive.

Sec­tar­i­an­ism is a na­tional prob­lem re­lated to faith and per­cep­tions of the peo­ple with all the sen­si­tiv­i­ties in­volved and re­gret­tably fu­elled by the xeno­pho­bic ser­mons of re­li­gious schol­ars en­joy­ing rev­er­ence and fol­low­ing among those peo­ple who sub­scribe to a par­tic­u­lar re­li­gious sect. The bur­geon­ing hate syn­drome among dif­fer­ent re­li­gious sects which has been nur­tured and sus­tained over a long pe­riod by the clergy ei­ther un­der the pa­tron­age of the pow­ers that be or as a re­ac­tion against the ex­cesses per­pe­trated by the ri­val re­li­gious groups and sects, has se­verely un­der­mined na­tional unity. The scars and wounds in­flicted by this phe­nom­e­non are so deep and painful that there seems to be no quick-fix so­lu­tion to stop or elim­i­nate the men­ace and es­tab­lish the much-needed sec­tar­ian har­mony in the coun­try. That is the rea­son one in­ci­dent at a place leads to a chain re­ac­tion through­out the coun­try. The is­sue is no more a ques­tion of law and or­der to be dealt with by the dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tions as and when it oc­curs.

Ba­si­cally it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the state and the gov­ern­ment to en­sure communal and sec­tar­ian har­mony. But in­stead of ful­fill­ing its obligations in this re­gard, the pak­istani state has en­cour­aged the rise of both Is­lamism and its sec­tar­ian man­i­fes­ta­tions. As a re­sult, the Shia-Sunni ri­valry which dates back to the time of choos­ing the suc­ces­sor of the Holy Prophet

(PBUH), has as­sumed a mil­i­tant hue in Pak­istan.

Dif­fer­ent re­li­gious groups and sects were al­lowed to op­er­ate freely to im­ple­ment their di­vi­sive creeds; some of them were also used by the rulers against other sects through agen­cies based on po­lit­i­cal considerations. This was spe­cially done dur­ing the Zia regime, when there was an at­tempt to scut­tle the bur­geon­ing Shia in­flu­ence in the back­drop of the Ira­nian revo­lu­tion and the at­tempts by the Ira­ni­ans to ex­port the revo­lu­tion to other coun­tries. This led to the emer­gence of sec­tar­ian Sunni groups like the Si­pah e Sa­haba Pak­istan (SSP) which was founded in 1985 by Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. The SSP re­jected the no­tion of free­dom of re­li­gious ob­ser­vance if it meant that the Shias would be free to crit­i­cize the early caliphs and com­pan­ions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH. Ac­cord­ing to Zia ur Rehman Farouqi, who suc­ceeded Haq Nawaz Jhangvi as the head of SSP, true faith lay in fol­low­ing the path of the Prophet’s com­pan­ions; any­thing else was hearsay.

The em­pha­sis on fol­low­ing the Holy Prophet ( PBUH and his early com­pan­ions was sim­ply a sub­tle way of con­demn­ing the Shias as heretics. The SSP en­joyed sup­port of the Deobandi ulema and JI and also had covert re­la­tions with the ISI. Its cadres at­tended Afghan Mu­jahideen train­ing camps and came back to kill Shia lead­ers in Pak­istan. Th­ese as­sas­si­na­tions re­sulted in a se­vere back­lash by the Shias who formed the Si­pah e Mo­ham­mad Pak­istan in 1991.

A wave of tit-for-tat killings of ulema and at­tacks on each other’s wor­ship places oc­curred, ac­cen­tu­at­ing a mu­tual ha­tred be­tween the two sects. The SSP split into two groups and one of its off-shoots, called Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, con­tin­ued its anti-Shia dis­po­si­tion. This group founded by Riaz Basra in 1994 com­prised mostly the Afghan Ji­had vet­er­ans and was closely as­so­ci­ated with the Tal­iban and Al-Qaida. Since the col­lapse of the Tal­iban regime in Afghanistan, the group has been tar­get­ing the Hazara (Shia) com­mu­nity in Balochis­tan.

The sec­tar­ian con­flict, un­for­tu­nately, has not been con­fined to a Shia-Sunni ri­valry alone; it has also erupted be­tween dif­fer­ent com­pet­ing Sunni or­ga­ni­za­tions. As Deobandi and Wa­habi groups swelled their ranks through state pa­tron­age and or­ga­nized mili­tias, the tra­di­tion­al­ist Barelvis found them­selves marginal­ized and thus formed a mil­i­tant or­ga­ni­za­tion of their own called Sunni Tehrik in the mid-nineties. This ri­valry has con­sumed hun­dreds of hu­man lives through mu­tual acts of ter­ror­ism. The des­ig­na­tion of the Ahmediya sect as a mi­nor­ity through a leg­isla­tive act in 1974 by the Bhutto regime in the wake of coun­try­wide protests and later Zi­aul Haq pro­hibit­ing the Ahmedis from call­ing them­selves Mus­lims, also strength­ened the cul­ture of sec­tar­i­an­ism, lead­ing to hor­ren­dous sec­tar­ian killings and at­tacks on places of wor­ship, like the one in La­hore on May 28, 2010 and in Mar­dan on Septem­ber 3, 2010. Re­port­edly, more than one hun­dred wor­ship­pers were killed in both th­ese in­ci­dents.

Sec­tar­i­an­ism, along with ter­ror­ism, is one of the big­gest threats to the sur­vival of Pak­istan as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try. In the wake of 9/11, some sec­tar­ian out­fits have made a com­mon cause with the ter­ror­ists (TTP) and vice versa. So the at­tacks on places of wor­ship are not purely sec­tar­ian in essence. Apart from the sec­tar­ian groups vent­ing their ha­tred against other sects, the ter­ror­ists also find it a con­ve­nient method to achieve their ob­jec­tive of ter­ror­iz­ing the peo­ple as well as ac­cen­tu­at­ing sec­tar­ian fis­sures to keep the coun­try di­vided and vul­ner­a­ble to their machi­na­tions.

Pak­istan’s In­te­rior Min­is­ter Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, in brief­ing the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee of the Par­lia­ment on In­te­rior, rightly said that ter­ror­ists were fo­cus­ing on soft tar­gets and at­tack­ing mosques, churches and Imam­bar­gahs to divide the na­tion. This re­ac­tion was very much ex­pected in the back­drop of Zarb-e-Azab. Ev­i­den­tally, theat­tacks do not have a sec­tar­ian or xeno­pho­bic hue as per­ceived.

Un­for­tu­nately sit­ting gov­ern­ments all over the world suf­fer from the syn­drome called ‘dis­ad­van­tage of in­cum­bency’ and there­fore are a con­ve­nient tar­get for crit­i­cism. The same is the case for the flak be­ing hurled at the PML(N) gov­ern­ment about its han­dling the is­sues of ter­ror­ism and sec­tar­i­an­ism. This is notwith­stand­ing the fact that the gov­ern­ment has been try­ing to quell th­ese prob­lems with an un­prece­dented se­ri­ous­ness and po­lit­i­cal will. The im­ple­men­ta­tion of the NAP which is the out­come of the col­lec­tive wis­dom of all the po­lit­i­cal forces and is un­grudg­ingly backed by the mil­i­tary estab­lish­ment, is the best pos­si­ble re­sponse to deal­ing with th­ese prob­lems, both on the mil­i­tary and ide­o­log­i­cal level. The gov­ern­ment and the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship have ex­hib­ited un­stinted re­solve for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the NAP and some pos­i­tive re­sults are al­ready vis­i­ble. Sec­tar­ian killings of Hazaras in Balochis­tan have been ef­fec­tively checked, North Waziris­tan has been al­most cleared of ter­ror­ists and the co­op­er­a­tion of the Afghan gov­ern­ment in tack­ling ter­ror­ism has been achieved.

The in­fra­struc­ture of the ter­ror­ist out­fits in North Waziris­tan and sec­tar­ian en­ti­ties in Balochis­tan have been dis­man­tled but how far-reach­ing the im­pact of th­ese de­vel­op­ments will be is still not clear,. There needs to be a more faith­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion of the NAP with the co­op­er­a­tion of all stake­hold­ers. While the gov­ern­ment and se­cu­rity forces are pur­su­ing the de­sired ob­jec­tives with un­ruf­fled com­mit­ment, the pos­si­bil­ity of a back­lash of their ac­tions can­not be ruled out. Real­is­ti­cally speak­ing, it may take years to elim­i­nate the headache but the con­tin­ued and un­stinted sup­port of the masses could per­haps re­duce the time.

The writer is a free­lance colum­nist.

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