Unity in diversity

Sectarian groups are a threat to the national security of Pakistan

Unity in diversity
The problem of sectarian violence is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan, but the recent sectarian clashes in Rawalpindi have sparked a new debate. Before further discussion, let us establish the questions that need to be answered in order to understand the genesis of sectarian violence in Pakistan.

What is the history of sectarian violence in Pakistan? What are the causes of sectarian violence in Pakistan? Is there any connection between the state and sectarian violence? Is there any foreign hand in sectarianism in Pakistan?

Pakistan was once a country where people belonging to different faiths were living in harmony and were free to practice their religious beliefs. Historically, Sunnis and Shias lived peacefully in Pakistan, and very few incidents of sectarian violence were reported. I do remember that more than 50 people were killed in Thari (Khairpur, Sindh) during the 1960s when Shias were attacked by Sunnis. In the last three decades, violence against minorities and sectarian clashes – mainly between Sunnis and Shias – has changed the history and society of the country.

[quote]The security establishment needs to revisit its belief that religious groups are guarantors of national unity and political parties will weaken the state[/quote]

During the General Zia regime, sectarianism flourished under the patronage of state institutions. Zia used Islamist forces to counter leftist, democratic and nationalist forces in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, Zia’s policy of Islamization created an intolerant society. He imposed orthodox Sunni Islam on Pakistan and made particular Islamist groups very powerful. Today, they are states within a state, and sectarian intolerance is also being used for political leverage, including in elections.

There are two types of religious violence in Pakistan – that against non-Muslims, and that against Muslim sects. In the last three decades, sectarian violence has mostly been between the two main sects, Sunnis and Shias. The brutal ethno-sectarian killing of Hazaras in Quetta is one example. National and international human rights organizations condemn the silence of the Pakistani state and society on Hazara killings. Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are said to be involved in the attacks – two groups that are a serious threat to the national security of Pakistan.

Sectarian clashes have worsened since the beginning of the US war on terrorism in Afghanistan. There are two major reasons why the Pakistani government has failed to control the violence: sectarian groups are very powerful, and have national and international links and support, and the government lacks the will to control this violence because the Pakistani security establishment considers some militant groups as tools of war in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

The sectarian violence in Pakistan also has historical international links. The 1979 Iranian revolution created a sense of empowerment in Pakistani Shias and the Afghan Jihad created ways and links for Sunni groups to get financial support and weapons from Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Pakistan became a battleground for the conflicting ideologies of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Both the countries gave financial support to extremist groups in Pakistan, and it was institutionalized during the Afghan war.

In order to resolve this problem, the security establishment needs to revisit its belief that religious groups and religious political parties are guarantors of national unity and that democratic and nationalist parties will weaken the state. Religious militants are a serious threat to the security and survival of Pakistan.

Secondly, religious leaders need to play their due role in creating harmony amongst the people of different sects and faiths.

Thirdly, the government should take serious steps to stop foreign support for militant groups in Pakistan. Diplomatically, the government should convey to Saudi Arabia and Iran that Islamabad will not allow its soil for any proxy wars.

Fourthly, the government should introduce laws against sectarianism and violence, ban all sectarian militants groups, and arrest members and leaders of these groups. There should be strict monitoring of individuals and organizations to ensure they don’t begin to operate under new names.

The government should educate people about the negative implications of sectarianism on Islam and the national security of Pakistan, and also develop peace and harmony amongst various groups and sects.

The judiciary should also play its legal and constitutional role without any fear. Judicial activism should not be limited only to politicians.

Finally, we as Muslims need to go back to the basic teachings of Islam – peace, love and brotherhood.