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Harmonizing Sectarianism By: Bassam Javed

The last few months saw an organized spate of violence against a particular sect in the country. Probable causes could be many like triggering sectarian strife between different sects. Fortunately, we as a nation have confronted such attempts earlier in our short history but they could never jolt the very foundations of our polity.Tolerance and acceptance of respective communities’ religious rights and practices always avoided the showdown between them. The sectarian beliefs have existed for centuries but these two traits, tolerance and acceptance, kept the communities closely associated with each other not only in matters of state but also in their daily chores of lives. Murdering fellow Muslims as if the God Almighty has given some the license to kill cannot be condoned in any way. Sequel to the gory attack on bus passengers wherein they were off loaded, identified and killed on a highway leading into the province of Gilgit Baltistan, another car bomb exploded in Parachinar on 10th of this month killing and injuring scores of people. Banned militant outfits claimed responsibility for these vicious attacks former having been claimed by LeJ and the latter by TTP. The efforts of our enemies that want to destabilize the country through sectarian strife belie the reality of age old Shia-Sunni coexistence and cooperation. Notwithstanding the same, the likelihood that sectarian strife may actually get worse, if not confronted vigorously on immediate basis, in the time leading into the month of Moharram. How to achieve this aim? The logical answer would be the necessity of a sustained dialogue between the two communities.

There is a lot of diversity that exists even within in the respective Shia Sunni communities mandating sustained dialogue between the two to alleviate chances of letting the differences exploited by extremists into a strife affecting the security and integrity of Pakistan. It is natural that whenever human beings interact with each other the element of mutual respect settles in. The process helps to isolate extremist bodings by understanding each other better through frank exchange of beliefs instead of hearsay on various conflicting contents. The theological differences between Shia and Sunni are old and must be left for Almighty Allah to judge.

Intolerance and sectarianism in any society are essentially repulsive traits. Islam also forbids religious fanaticism and bigotry. The prevalent sectarian scourge has roots in religious militancy exacerbated by massive funding and sponsorship by extremists and other vested interests. Sectarian violence specially in the last two decades is slowly causing fissures in our society for the religion of Islam is fast getting politicized by vested interests in Pakistan to garner sectarian aspirations. The history of the last three decades tells us that outside powers like the United States and some Middle Eastern countries influenced militarization of religious identities for gaining proactive role in Afghan jihad. The results of these outside powers’ intervention in Afghanistan had drastic affects on the security of Pakistan as the militants crossed over into the country and dissipated deep within the Pakistani society. The country now suffers from internal security threats from religious extremism and sectarian violence.

Pakistan is already beset with a host of strategic threats. Various aspects like United States ditching of Afghan freedom fighters of yesteryears and renaming them as Taliban, decade old presence of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, agreement with Karzai regime to extend US/NATO stay beyond 2014 and naming of HN as a terrorist organization while working towards getting Taliban factions on the same table, have afforded religious outfits transit from novices to today’s religious zealots. To top it all, discriminatory laws, wrong policies and vested interests are negatively affecting religious tolerance. Hate speeches, like the one for which leader of a banned outfit was booked by law enforcement agencies only to be released on bail after a few days, are slowly eroding our intellectual and cultural heritage and polity.

The sectarian bodings in our society, nurtured over three decades of neglect may take decades to eradicate. The time is short and we need to tackle sectarianism on priority basis for the curse if not stemmed today may potentially lead to balkanization. It is heartening that few of our civil societies have started working towards conflict resolutions. Philanthropists, literary community, media, journalists and even the young volunteers must come forward to supplement their efforts to facilitate Shiite-Sunni dialogue to remove discriminating practices that fuel sectarian strife. Extensive electronic media network that we have on ground in Pakistan can contribute even more through sustained campaigns to bridge differences with messages of tolerate and respect for each others’ beliefs and practices. Shiites and Sunnis have lived together for ages. They are not unknown to each other and in fact a large percentage of them have nothing to do with the recent wave of sectarian violence perpetrated by the extremists of the two communities. It is time that we as a nation focus on steps that helps root out religious extremism and intolerance from our society and lead this country to be counted as a responsible country within the comity of nations.

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