Feb 23, 2009

Sectarian menace

Sectarianism has become a menace that has plagued Pakistan society for a long time. In another burst of sectarian violence, at least 30 people were killed and 157 injured in a suicide blast during the funeral procession of Shia leader Sher Zaman, who was gunned down a day earlier, in Dera Ismail Khan. A curfew was imposed after the blast and the army was called in to quell the riots that began erupting after the incident. The NWFP police chief Malik Naveed Khan has formed a special task force to investigate the attack and file a report in 10 days. Meanwhile, the police claim that they had arrested three of the four people suspected of killing the leader Sher Zaman.Over the last three decades, there has been a major escalation in sectarian tension in Pakistan, the number of sectarian killings and armed sectarian groups. It now threatens the very fabric of society and poses an even more serious challenge to the state. The origins of sectarian violence in Pakistan can be traced back to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when a large number of Islamist groups and Madrassas cropped up inside Pakistan in the name of jihad. As a result, instances of sectarian violence started erupting all over the country. Each act of sectarian killing provoked a cycle of revenge killings. Whenever one sect is attacked, the other sect faces the repercussions. While the perpetrators of these acts of sectarian violence are elements who aim at destabilising the country, the members of both sects that get killed and injured are often innocent civilians. The recent attack in DI Khan is not the first incident in the region. In January 2009, the murder of the Chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party Hussain Ali Yousafi on a crowded road of Quetta, resulted in eruption of riots. In December 2006, at least four people were killed and six injured in DI Khan when gunmen opened fire in the funeral of a Shia scholar Professor Nazakat Ali Imrani. In most cases, the organisations Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba have been blamed for the attacks but no solid action has been taken against them. In 2001, under international pressure, the Musharraf regime initiated a crackdown on various terrorist organisations throughout the country. However, most of the organisations resurfaced under different names and started operating right under the government’s nose. Militancy in a society is in nobody’s interest. Allowing these elements and their networks to grow unchecked will result in getting an already troubling situation totally out of control. The attack in DI Khan is lamentable and has exposed the level of efficiency of the security and the performance of the intelligence agencies in the country. It is even more distressing to see signs of the Taliban influence spilling over in these settled areas, as it would inevitably result in an explosive situation. The occasional crackdowns and arrests of some of the militants in the absence of other measures are unlikely to have any significant impact. If the government is serious about curbing sectarianism and extremism, it must remain consistent with its policies instead of merely making tall claims. The crackdown on the extremist outfits in 2001 should have been followed by strict monitoring. An effective network of intelligence gathering would have restricted the operations of these terrorist organisations.

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