Pakistan Under The Curse Of Sectarianism – Analysis


Pakistan is a state religiously comprised of multi-ethnic Muslims. Ninety-six percent of Pakistan’s people are Muslims and the majority is divided into many sects, mainly Sunni and Shias. Sunnis are estimated to account for 75 to 85 percent of the country’s Muslim population, and Shiites are believed to number between 15 and 25 percent.

It should be clear that, like the terms ‘Muslim’, the terms ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia’, Shia encompasses groups with widely differing views. There are many Shia sects, such as the Ismailis, the Bohras and the Ithna Asharis (twelvers). Sunnis include such groups as the Sufi-inspired Barelvis, the Deobandis, and the Wahhabi-like Ahl-e Hadith. In such society dissident ideas and experiments can be under taken with/without the threats of violence. This is not just a case with Muslims in Pakistan but in all religions of the world: Christianity in Catholics and Protestants; Jewish religion in Hasidism and Zionism; Hinduism and Buddhism religions also full of sects and sub-sects.

Pakistan was created in the name of Islam which means it became an Islamic state by drawing its guidance from the principles of Quran and the traditions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). On the other side if we will see the ideology of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. i.e. speech of 11th August 1947 that, “The new state would be modern democratic state with sovereignty resting in the people and the members of the new nation having equal rights of citizenship regardless of their religion, caste and creed.”

This appears to be a controversial vision of Pakistan given by the father of nation. Does it mean that Jinnah wanted a secular state and not a religious one? It looks that he was secular in his personal and political ideas so then who were the forces that pushed Pakistan towards the establishment of particular system of religious belief and conflict within Muslims?

The long history and evolution of sectarianism in Pakistan has been well documented and analyzed. The role of Ulemas/Mullahs, dictators, and civilians leader is not hidden at all. On the other hand we can not deny the effects of two regional events which had a profound effect on the rise and growth of sectarian conflict in our country ‘the Iranian revolution’ and the ‘anti-Soviet Afghan jihad’.

After the 9/11 attacks Pakistan accepted the offer of the US to fight against terrorism. Gen Musharraf had no other way but to accept the cooperation offer by US and decided that Pakistan would extend full cooperation to the international community in its fight against terrorism. In that situation where the whole religious parties were very much inspired by the Taliban form of government in Afghanistan and Musharraf went against them which created problems within the country, so in this regard sectarian organizations such as Sipah-e-Sahaba, and Lashkar-e-Jangavi and many others were banned. Since the situation has not come under control, the Mosques, Imam Barghas, religious places of minorities and the shrines of Sufi clerics have been attacked.

It is generally believed that sectarian conflict is only between the majority Sunni and minority Shia traditions, this definition is misleading. These two groups are not homogenous, having their own sub-sects. These, too, are in opposition to each other, the divide between different Sunni sub-sets being equally wide as the divide with Shias. Even though most of the violence branded as ‘sectarian’ is violence between Deobandis and Shias, the sectarian terrain is wider.

With the passage of time the sectarian violence has worsened progressively with the new waves and methods of violence. Prominent figures and hit-men, members of each other’s sects whether they are politicians, doctors, poets, intellectuals and renowned personalities, businessmen or worshippers in mosques or religious processions have been on the target list. Violence is also targeted at government functionaries, police officials and other professionals, for either their sectarian identity or involvement in sectarian cases.

There are some people with little knowledge who have resorted to the Kufr slogans against each other. Some Sunnis have called Shias Kafirs and some Shias have called Sunnis Kafir. Some people use these slogans for their own political aims and objectives. It is the duty of recognized scholars from among the Sunnis and Shias both to condemn such slogans. We may explain our respective positions but we must not abuse each other. We should respect each other’s life, property and institutions. There is no place in Islam for religious or sectarian violence. No doubt that the sectarian violence in Pakistan cannot be the act of any sensible Muslim. This is either done by some foolish Pakistanis or by the enemies of Pakistan. It is painful, shameful, criminal, most disgusting and horrible to see Muslims being killed in a Muslim country in their Masjid. It is the responsibility of the Government of Pakistan and all the people of Pakistan to see that those who committed such crimes are brought to justice immediately.

Though the sectarian violence has reached alarming proportions, still we can control this menace by initiating certain measures both internally and externally. First and foremost, effective governance is required. Second, the state needs to increase its role in education. Official sources claim the literacy rate to be 60 percent, but independent sources place it at less than 40 percent, the lowest in South Asia. It is unfortunate that the state spends only two percent of its GDP on education. Third, Iran and Saudi Arabia’s funding to the Madressas should be checked. All in all the individual participation is also required. If our policy makers, politicians, public figures and media personalities do not make a concerted effort to preach and practice tolerance, Pakistan will continue to head down an explosive path.

Dr. Imran Ali Sandano

Dr. Imran Ali Sandano is an author of "Sufism and Peace: A Counter Strategy of Extremism" and "Separatist Movement of Balochistan: A Non Traditional Security Threat" books. Currently, he is working as Senior Research Fellow at Nontraditional Security and Peaceful Development Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China. His areas of interest are nontraditional security issues, terrorism, and conflict resolution, diplomacy, and Sufism. Dr. Sandano is a regular writer of different newspapers and weekly magazines. He holds PhD degree in Nontraditional Security Management, M.Phil degree in Peace and Conflict Studies, Masters in International Relations. He can be reached at [email protected]. Tweeter iiimran110.

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