Spate of sectarian violence
Differences between Shia and Sunni sects over perceptions about interpretation of Islamic injunctions can be traced back to 1400 years, yet both sects have been living peacefully throughout the world including Pakistan. However, since mid-1980s there has been frightening upsurge in Shia-Sunni sectarian violence in Pakistan, both in terms of scope and intensity.
Frequent clashes between the two sects have left hundreds dead and thousands injured, including doctors, engineers, Iranian diplomats, senior government functionaries and important religious leaders on both sides. In Quetta, scores of members of Hazara community have been killed. However, the country was rocked on Wednesday by explosions and targeted attacks in main cities in the four provinces, claiming lives of at least 30 civilians and security personnel. Two of the attacks - one in Rawalpindi and the other in Karachi - were sectarian, targeting Muharram mourners in or near Imambargahs. At least 23 people were killed and 35 others injured in a suicide attack in Dhoke Syedian area of Rawalpindi alone.
One cannot verify the veracity of the TTP's statement accepting responsibility for various acts of terrorism; nevertheless hostile agencies' role has worsened the situation, as enemies of Pakistan are at work to weaken Pakistan by dividing the nation along sectarian lines. Before 1980s, sacrilege of or targeting mosque or Imambargah was unheard of in Pakistan, but later attacks in FATA, Hangu, Quetta, Karachi, Lahore, Parachinar, Charsadda, Peshawar, Dir, Kohistan and Jamrud made the people wonder as to how human beings could descend to such acts of barbarism. There are reports that the US and India are also fueling sectarian strife in Afghanistan to achieve their objectives. In Iraq also, the occupiers had taken advantage of sectarian differences where thousands of people were killed in sectarian clashes. In Pakistan, the gory incidents in Kohistan and Quetta were also part of their sinister design.
At this point of time when Pakistan is facing threats to its internal and external security, religious scholars, ulema and political parties in Pakistan should realize the need for unity, and they should persuade their followers to shun sectarianism because disunity has brought ignominy to the Muslims the world over. Having that said, there is a widespread perception that foreign powers are using Pakistan as a turf for fighting their ideological wars, and are supporting sectarian outfits by providing funds/weapons to fight their proxy wars in Pakistan. Now the question arises as to how to get rid of extremism and terrorism? It needs administrative and economic measures to remove the root causes of extremism and terrorism. Various governments in the past took measures including banning of the organizations that created hatred and chaos, but this twin-menace of extremism and terrorism could not be controlled. Since sectarian violence has jolted the entire country and it is no more an occasional phenomena, it would have to be fought on a long-term basis.
In 2007, bloody sectarian clashes erupted in Parachinar, and the death toll reportedly had crossed 40 while the hospital sources confirmed serious injuries to more than 80 people. The violent riots between the Sunni and Shia community had broken out when a particular sect reportedly resorted to uncalled for firing over the procession taken out by the rival sect in connection with the 12 Rabi-ul-Awwal that led to the bloody episode. The violence of the present magnitude of sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis was never witnessed before 2003. In 2004 fifty people were killed when a bomb exploded in Ashura procession in Quetta. In 2006, a bomb blast at grand gathering of Sunni Tehrik to celebrate Eid-e-Milad-un-nabi killed its leaders. It is not the intention here to blame one sectarian group or another, as in a degenerated society there is no dearth of enemies of peace, corrupt and plunderers. Nevertheless, the redeeming feature is that majority of the Muslims firmly believe that Islam is a religion of peace, and they do not participate in any manner in the violence.
Yet, there is no denying that activists of the extremists' organizations are involved in the heinous act of killing their opponents. Islam exhorts peace and amity and does not endorse 'disorder' and chaos on earth under any circumstances. Holy Quran proclaims that "Allah loves not those who create disorder" (Quran 5:64). As suicide bombing, killing the followers of other sects create chaos and bloodshed in peace time, it is against the teachings of Islam. We should understand that when Muslim ummah is divided, enemies of Islam take advantage of their internal conflicts. As already mentioned, alien agencies are at work who cannot stomach the nuclear capability of a Muslim country. But there are internal weaknesses also.
Despite endowed with enormous resources, Pakistan faces economic challenges due to inaptness and incompetence of its leaders, as Pakistan has to depend on other countries for meeting the trade deficit, current account deficit and even fiscal deficit. This dependency syndrome has made Pakistan vulnerable in many respects; therefore the government must act fast to make Pakistan a self-reliant country.
Unfortunately, factionalism especially sectarianism has decimated the national cohesion, which is being exploited by anti-Pakistan forces to create conditions that discourage domestic and foreign investment. Since all sects including Sunnis and Shias believe in one God, one Prophet (PBUH) and one Holy Qur'an, the violence against each other is not understandable. Present situation in Pakistan demands that measures be taken to eliminate extremism in every form and manifestation; of course ulema will also have to play their part to inculcate the spirit of Islamic brotherhood among their followers.
If Pakistan has to become a progressive modern Islamic welfare state as visualized by its forefathers then as a nation we must get rid of the extremism and sectarianism because the deteriorating law and order situation impedes investment. Only increase in investment can open up new opportunities of jobs for the unemployed' and of course increase in revenues will help the government to allocate adequate funds for providing education and health facilities to the teeming millions.