IN the death of Sunni Ittehad Council chairman Sahibzada Fazal Karim earlier this week, the country has lost a staunch opponent of militancy and terrorism. He was not only an outspoken critic of the TTP for carrying out suicide attacks on mosques and Sufi shrines besides killing innocent people; he also condemned its supporters in political parties and religious groups. The SIC chairman was one of the few religious leaders who openly denounced the Taliban for trying to kill young Malala Yousafzai for speaking out in favour of girls’ education in defiance of TTP threats. The founders of the Difa-i-Pakistan Council, an amalgamation of religious and jihadi outfits, could not persuade him to join the alliance because it contained certain banned sectarian groups in its fold.
Deeply committed to his views, it took him little time to part ways with the PML-N on whose ticket he had returned to the National Assembly from Faisalabad in the last election and to the Punjab Assembly in 1993 and 1997. He found the PML-N leadership wanting in its denunciation of acts of terror and suicide attacks, and was not happy with its alleged links with a militant sectarian group in Punjab. His Barelvi beliefs dictated his political life ever since the time he fought elections from the Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan’s platform in 1993. But he consciously refused to be dragged into a sectarian discourse, preferring to advocate religious tolerance — even though he led a vociferous campaign against government efforts to change the blasphemy law in 2010. His demise may have deprived the country of a religious leader who raised his voice against suicide bombings, terrorism and sectarian violence, but it is to be hoped that others of his ilk will be guided by his example.