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No silver lining

December 25, 2012

THE celebrations that mark Christmas and the Quaid-i-Azam’s birthday this time of year are also a reminder of Pakistan’s failure to rein in the religious intolerance Mr Jinnah advocated against. In 2012 an extermination campaign targeting Hazaras and other Shias took hold from Karachi and Quetta to Kohistan, Mansehra and Gilgit-Baltistan. The peaceful Bohra community was targeted in attacks that were perhaps the first of their kind. Mobs egged on by irresponsible clerics demanded that victims of indefensible blasphemy allegations be handed over to be murdered without trials. While stories of the mass migration of Hindus to India may have been exaggerated, the community complained of discrimination and forced conversions. Churches and Christian homes continued to be attacked and the Rimsha Masih blasphemy case turned out to be linked to a broader campaign to rid her area of Christian families. This month alone saw the razing of a Hindu temple in Karachi, the desecration of Ahmadi graves in Lahore and the lynching of a man accused of blasphemy in Dadu. Decades after being founded as a country in which each individual was meant to have the right to follow his or her chosen beliefs, Pakistan has failed to treat religious minorities as equal citizens of the state.

Nor is the intolerance limited to minorities. A broader divide has also taken root in Pakistan — that between peaceful religiosity and an extremism that violently opposes any practice it doesn’t believe in. Those behind the attacks on polio workers, Malala Yousafzai and Bashir Ahmed Bilour are out to annihilate anything and anyone standing in the way of their version of an ‘Islamic’ state. Muslims are more often than not the victims of violence related to blasphemy killings, carried out not by suicide bombers but by ordinary Pakistanis fed a steady diet of intolerance. Add to this the increasing brutalisation of Pakistani society, in which guns are plentiful, human rights unimportant and the legal system slow and ineffective, and intolerance translates even more easily into violence. More than six decades later the dawn we hoped for has not arrived, and any celebrations this time of year cannot escape that painful fact.