By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan
Dec 12, 2013
Extremism and terrorism are the biggest threats to the state of Pakistan. These threats have grown, both internally and externally, over the years and now a stage has been reached where this menace is challenging the national integrity and social harmony of Pakistan. The people of Pakistan have spent decades in a state of restlessness, in the hope that someday they will see the back of these un-Islamic and inhuman practices. Unfortunately however, every new day brings yet another security challenge to the state as well as the people of Pakistan. Apart from the terrorist activities of TTP, a growing trend of sectarian divisions has emerged as the most pronounced and significant challenge for the state and society of Pakistan. It would appear that the possibility of a safer, secure and stable future environment is rapidly eroding for the people of this God-gifted state.
According to a survey on sectarian violence in Pakistan, from 1989 to 2013 a total of 2847 incidents have occurred in which 4652 people have been killed and 9030 people wounded. In 2013 alone, over 106 incidents of sectarian violence have taken place in various parts of Pakistan, which has resulted in the death of 467 people and injuring a further 753 people. During the first quarter of year, the Hazara community of Quetta remained atop the hit-list of opponent extremist groups, and most certainly on the basis of sectarian differences. Furthermore, there have also been sporadic incidents of sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan and other parts of Pakistan. These have included bomb blasts and suicide attacks on places of worship, mosques, Imam Bargahs and processions/religious gatherings.
A recent incident of sectarian violence also took place in Raja Bazar Rawalpindi. This incident was ‘exceptional’, in the sense that it provoked and charged the participants of a Shiite procession, who in turn attacked the Mosque and adjacent Madrassa, killing over a dozen people and wounding about fifty. They also put the adjoining market on fire, resulting in the destruction of goods worth billions of rupees and the infliction of costly damage to public and private property. Dozens of copies of the Holy Quran were also burnt. As a judicial investigation of the incident is currently underway, however, it would be premature to say whether the incident was a planned violent activity or an instinctive mob reaction.
This sort of an incident, however, is undoubtedly a new addition to the sequence of sectarian violence in Pakistan. It is indicative of a ‘new pattern’ and a very dangerous one at that. Furthermore, all evidence thus far designates the local administration as directly responsible for not ensuring the security of the procession and the route, especially in critical areas such as the neighbourhood around this mosque, which has always needed additional security placements. Why police showed laxity at such a sensitive part of the route is really a point of concern and a fact to be ascertained by the judicial inquiry and thereafter the Government.
The unfortunate incident that took place in Rawalpindi on the 10th of Muharram was just a signal of the divide within the society in Pakistan. The real issue however is the increasing strength of the menace of sectarian violence, and its rapid growth rate, fast swallowing the traditional peace and harmony within Pakistani society where Shia and Sunni schools of thought have always lived with great concord and respect for each other, at times going as far as intermarriages. Why was that social connection allowed to erode and subsequently degraded to the current level of antagonism? How is it that a class of so-called ‘clerics’ (that have created various divisions and ‘schools of thought’ to serve personal motives) is busy in propagating and projecting a biased, volatile form of Islam without any check by successive governments, who have allowed these elements to grow to an intolerable and unconquerable level?
In order to cover for our internal weaknesses and errors, we have been blaming external factors for far too long. We cannot prevent external forces from funding and supporting these extremist elements for their own vested interests, but it remains a harsh reality that it is not foreigners who are physically carrying out these bomb-blasts, suicide attacks or any other terrorist activities inside Pakistan; it is the locals, carrying out violent activities for the mutual destruction of each other, in stark contradiction of basic Islamic teachings.
There is an urgent need for re-evaluating our strategy in this regard, so that rather than washing our hands of all responsibility and blaming external forces of causing sectarian divides, there is introspection into the root causes of the problem, and the attraction towards violent activities for local populations. At the Governmental level, we can learn from our brother Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, where sectarian violence is simply not tolerated. Anyone found involved in even a minor anti-state crime, let alone instigating sectarian divides or drug smuggling, are given exemplary punishments – the death penalty in most of the cases – which acts as a very effective deterrent. It is high time Pakistan took a leaf from their book and reduced its capacity for accepting and absorbing sectarian violence.
It is also a reality that many political parties have linkages with hard-line religious organizations, which in turn act as the vote bank for them. These parties, for their part, fund such organisations and maintain a sympathetic approach for their disreputable and extremist activities. Even if this is not directly sponsoring extremism, it indirectly supports militant groups of a particular school of thought, which are busy in creating divides among the people along artificial fault lines. These outfits are rapidly widening the cracks in Pakistani society, through coercive manipulation or by making use of force. No rational state can accept such linkages and neither should we. Any religious outfits in Pakistan that are found involved in undesired activities should be disallowed.
For Muslims, there is but one God, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is one, the Holy Quran is one; why then should we stand divided in various religious groupings? In the Holy Quran, (3:103), Allah Almighty has clearly ordained Muslims to “hold tight to the Rope of Allah (His covenant that is our allegiance to “La ilaha ill Allah Muhammad ar-Rasulullah”) all together, and be not disunited among yourselves.” Elaboration of this directive is found in the Hadith of Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who said, “Shall not I inform you of a better act than fasting, alms and prayers? Making peace between one another; enmity and malice tear up heavenly rewards by the roots”. With such a clear directive from Allah Almighty and his last Prophet (PBUH), there should not be any ambiguity as to how Muslims should spend their lives. There is no basis for division or difference on the basic teachings and beliefs in Islam.
In one of his Hadith the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “Do not envy one another; do not inflate prices one to another; do not hate one another; do not turn away from one another; and do not undercut one another, but be you, O servants of Allah, brothers. A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim: he neither oppresses him nor does he fail him, he neither lies to him nor does he hold him in contempt. Piety is right here-and he pointed to his breast three times. It is evil enough for a man to hold his brother Muslim in contempt. The whole of a Muslim for another Muslim is inviolable: his blood, his property, and his honour.”
These religious parties do not serve any purpose for Pakistan and the Muslim community within it. Religious divides and the role of religious parties in propagating them has always been a source of pessimism in Pakistan. It is high time that the Government puts a ban on activities that create religious divides and churn out hate-speeches.
If the Government is sincere in its efforts to eradicate sectarianism in Pakistan, it should ban all violent religious outfits without discrimination. Even at this belated stage of our history, where much has already been lost, let us take the initiative to make the right choices correct for attaining a secure, peaceful, socially well-knitted, economically prosperous and politically stable Pakistan. This can be done by sincere, selfless, devoted and dedicated leadership, capable of standing on its own feet; without the help of misled, extremist religious forces and without foreign sponsorship. Anything short of this will allow the current state of affairs to continue unabated, risking the very survival of the state.
The Father of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah has also given us a very clear motto of ‘unity, faith and discipline’. As a nation, we have to understand that “United we stand, divided we fall.” The basic philosophy of this phrase is that, we can only succeed, if we are united in all respects, and this is particularly applicable to the sectarian account. It is very easy for our rivals to destroy us, if there is a split among us. Since sectarian divide is the worst and most dangerous of all forms of extremism, therefore let us immediately dispel this menace at all costs, for a united and strong Pakistan.