When Nawaz rocked the Casbah
Agradual but firm pressure is being asserted by the media and the civil society upon the state, the government and the civil-military intelligence agencies - to once and for all -mount a decisive operation against sectarian organisations, involved in a number of acts of terror and bloodletting in Pakistan.
It can be safely assumed that never before in Pakistan has the media and almost all sections of the society so categorically condemned the activities of extremist outfits and demanded an equally categorical action against them. Also interesting is the way those political parties that had largely remained ambiguous in their stance on sectarian and extremist organisations, are also coming under the weight of various quarters to clearify their respective positions in this context.
Such parties do not only include right-wing religious outfits such as the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) or the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), but also parties such as the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N).
The starkest turnaround in this respect was witnessed in Imran Khan's PTI. Until only a year and a half ago, PTI was sending ' emissaries' to rallies led by some of the most controversial sectarian and religious outfits and personalities in the Difai-Pakistan Council. And even though the PTI has stuck to its long-standing policy of holding a dialogue with extremist groups like the Taliban, recently it has come down hard on Sunni sectarian outfits, especially the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LeJ). Soon after LeJ's brutal attack on the Hazara Shia community in Quetta, PTI chairman, Imran Khan, castigated the LeJ by name. Till Khan's vocal onslaught against the LeJ, only centre-left parties like the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP), and the secular Mohajir-centric outfit, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), were the ones willing to play the naming game.
PTI, that is being predicted to become PML-N's fiercest opponents in the coming general election (especially in the Punjab), also went on to lambast the PML-N for having links with sectarian outfits such as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ). The PML-N dismissed PTI's accusation, describing it as a ploy to dissuade the Shia as well as members of the Sunni Barelvi Muslim majority and 'liberals' from voting for the PML-N. But it became tougher for PML-N to respond to PTI's severe allusions when the social media came alive with old photographs of PML-N luminary, Rana Sanaullah, attending and addressing a rally of the ASWJ.
The LeJ that has owned many of the most gruesome attacks on the men, women and even children belonging to the Shia community, is a breakaway group of the Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), which was formed in the Punjab in 1985 by some former members of the mainstream JUI.
After rejecting JUI's electoral politics and the fact that the party had decided to side with secular parties against the reactionary Ziaul Haq dictatorship, these members were also the product of the initial rise of sectarianism fanned by the Zia dictatorship and Pakistan's involvement in the so-called anti-Soviet Afghan jihad.
SSP held strong anti-Shia views and was often involved in violent acts against the Shia community. With the consequent formation of the militant Shia group, the Sipah-e-Muhammad (SeM), in the early 1990s, the SSP was hit back by counterattacks by the SeM until the SSP split, and a more militant group emerged, calling itself the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).
Though SSP and LeJ would eventually be banned in the early 2000s by the Musharraf regime, both have survived through various 'front organisations.' SeM too was banned and seemed to have withered away, but some experts believe it might have been reactivated in Karachi due to LeJ's relentless campaign of murder and mayhem against the Shia.
Though a growing number of media