Rising sectarian tension prompts calls for govt to act swiftly

Updated 19 Sep 2020

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The matter was referred by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to the Senate Standing Committee on Interior. — APP/File
The matter was referred by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to the Senate Standing Committee on Interior. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: Escalating sectarian violence in the country set off alarm bells in the Senate with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) urging the government to swiftly act to arrest the dangerous trend.

Speaking on a point of public importance regarding the alarming escalation in hate campaigns and sectarian violence against the Shia community in Pakistan, PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate Senator Sherry Rehman said: “Twenty per cent of Pakistan’s Muslim population is Shia. We are reeling under a new surge of sectarian violence which is targeting Shias across the country and threatening new rounds of instability.”

She said there has been an alarming surge in targeted killings of Shias over the last month. “According to some sources there have been 20 such cases where Shias were targeted on the basis of their faith, but it’s extremely shocking that this issue is not being raised,” she added.

Observing that the wave of sectarian violence in Pakistan was extremely dangerous, she said: “All of us agree that to become a peaceful democratic society we cannot let such extremism and intolerance exist within us. It is crucial that the government gives a policy statement and takes action.”

“Rallies targeting Shia Muslims are being orchestrated by proscribed terror groups on our roads where hate slogans are chanted. This is an extremely sensitive matter which needs to be dealt with immediately. Our people have sacrificed a lot to eradicate terrorism from Pakistan,” said Ms Rehman.

Sherry in Senate points to surge in killings

Stressing religious tolerance, she said, “This is Jinnah’s Pakistan who said ‘you are free, you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state’. The federal government needs to protect these basic rights as Shias are also the citizens of this country. Their rights are enshrined in our constitution like every citizen. Muslim or non-Muslim, every citizen should have the equal protection of the law.”

“Our Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) always respected and protected anyone who was vulnerable and gave them space. We seek to be a progressive, inclusive country and such incidents will only tarnish our image in the world,” she added.

The senator said all citizens have equal rights under the Constitution and it was a collective duty to ensure it. “Whatever the risk, it’s important that we raise our voice for the vulnerable and take action over it. It is also responsibility of majorities to ensure all citizens are protected and guaranteed their constitutional rights.”

“This issue is a part of the National Action Plan, but nothing is being done about it. We all need to sit together and come up with an action plan to curb this issue before it escalates even more. The federal government also needs to urgently address the alarming increase in sectarian violence,” she said.

In response, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl’s Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haidri said what was happening was a reaction to disparaging remarks against Sahaba (Companions of Prophet Muhammad PBUH).

He regretted that no action was taken over the objectionable speeches with disrespectful remarks against Sahaba in televised gatherings in Karachi and Islamabad on Ashura. He said belief in all the Sahaba was part of “our faith”.

The matter was referred by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to the Senate Standing Committee on Interior.

The house was prorogued sine die.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2020