THE state’s failure to evolve a strategy for protecting communities that are vulnerable because of their beliefs has resulted not only in an escalation of attacks on them but also in the emergence of new and more vicious forms of violence.
The killing of seven Hazara workers in Quetta the other day confirms the increased use of a standardised procedure for butchering members of the targeted community. The vehicle in which the victims were travelling was ordered to halt and the passengers made to dismount. The national identity cards of the Hazaras, which were supposed to offer the key to their right to life and security, again served as black warrants to what can only be described as their summary execution.
Similar cases had been reported earlier from other parts of Balochistan, such as Mastung, and from Gilgit-Baltistan. These incidents can no longer be attributed to localised sectarian tensions or conflicts between individual actors; they reveal an organised campaign to force Balochistan’s Hazara community to vacate their traditional settlements, if not to exterminate them altogether. If allowed to continue unchecked the anti-Hazara wave of violence could develop into some kind of sectarian cleansing.
These happenings will certainly have a highly adverse impact on the sectarian conflict raging in Gilgit-Baltistan at the other end of the country. The issue there in the beginning was the large Shia population’s aspiration to enjoy their due share in the democratised management of public affairs and the other community’s resolve to resist this legitimate demand to the extent of foregoing its own democratic rights.
Left to themselves the two communities might not have failed to work out a framework for peaceful coexistence and mutual accommodation. The chances of that happening began to be undermined by Gen Zia’s narrow-minded sectarian predilection. By blinking at an external lashkar’s bloody assault on the Gilgit Shias he helped the rise of an interventionist force that has apparently decided not to let the people of Gilgit-Baltistan settle their matters amongst themselves.
These outsiders have never relented in their efforts to keep the sectarian strife going. One is amazed to see that all those who always blame foreign hands for any outbreak of lawlessness have not cared to expose the mischief being done by non-local elements in Gilgit-Baltistan.
And in Balochistan too, for credible evidence is available to show that the campaign against the Hazaras is being carried out largely by militant groups based in other provinces. It has often been alleged that these groups finance their operations out of the ransom money collected from victims of abduction and make regular remittances to their head offices, most of them believed to be in Punjab.
That the government’s failure to apprehend and punish the culprits in most cases if not all is a major cause of increase in belief-related violence is widely understood. The need to probe the causes of this failure has not received due attention. The view that Pakistan as a whole has moved into a new cycle of violence against the weaker segments of society receives considerable support from the affair of the Christian girl rotting in prison on the charge of desecration of the Holy Quran. Nothing reveals Pakistani Muslims’ divorce from sanity as thoroughly as the slogan that the glory of Islam depends on the execution of this mentally challenged adolescent from an oppressed community.
Normally one avoids commenting on matters that are in the stage of investigation but those calling for justice to be done have as much right to have their say as those calling for the girl to be punished before her guilt, or even her ability to consciously commit the offence she has been charged with, is established. The case has acquired additional significance as it displays a new pattern of minority-bashing.
We are familiar with the abuse of blasphemy laws for settling scores with business rivals or to facilitate individual efforts at grabbing the property of members of the weaker communities. The sack of Shantinagar and attacks on Christian churches in Khanewal some years ago and the more recent pillage of Christian quarters in Gojra were attributed to vengeful mischief by the losers in the race for economic advancement.
There was no indication that the law was being abused to force a minority community to vacate the land under its possession or that communal interests of the majority were involved.
A design of this nature has been exposed by the case of the young Christian girl. Her persecutors wanted her community to move off the land occupied by it. Whether those behind the outrage wanted the land to build a colony or a plaza or whether the pious ones only wanted to be rid of some contemptible neighbours is yet to be established. The latter cause is surely much more shameful and distressing than the former. In it can be seen the germs of a segregationist trend the consequences of which will be too horrible to be viewed with equanimity.
Several factors could have contributed to Pakistan’s accession to new heights of holy terror. Only the purblind will fail to see a link between the killing of Hazaras in Quetta, the target killings in Karachi, the persecution of the blasphemy accused, the Peshawar explosion that took a dozen lives, and the beheading of 12 soldiers in the tribal belt. Instant justice by self-appointed judges and executioners is apparently an offshoot of extremist theories, such as the rule of takfir, that have been introduced into Pakistani people’s religious thought by the so-called revivalists of foreign origin.
The law-and-order paraphernalia possesses neither the mind nor the means to meet the threat from these elements; their challenge calls for a well-thought-out and consistent intellectual response. An example of this kind of exercise was furnished by an Islamabad-based NGO, the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, when it held a series of discussions among religious scholars on the phenomenon of Muslims killing fellow Muslims by branding them as renegades.
The proceedings are available in a publication Mas’ala Takfir-wa-Kharooj; and it is a useful introduction to a subject that is likely to have a considerable bearing on our lives. Much more needs to be done in this vein in addition to the promotion of pluralist values from various perspectives, if Pakistani people are to be saved from becoming a horde of savages.