- The state must act and stop a possible descent into chaos
A sudden escalation in hate speech and violence against the Shia community is alarming and has all the makings of leading towards full-blown sectarian violence that will create instability in the country. These concerns were voiced by PPP Senate leader Senator Sherry Rehman, as she urged the PTI government to take immediate steps in order to arrest this dangerous trend. Massive rallies arranged by hardline Sunni groups like the JUI, banned outfit Sipa-e-Sahaba and TLP among others, were held on successive days in Karachi last weekend with thousands gathering on major highways of the city, chanting anti-Shia slogans, calling them infidels and heretics. Chairman of Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman demanded that it be made mandatory to declare one’s sect in the next census. TLP’s Karachi chief, in keeping with the party’s more violent leanings, took a more extreme line, declaring that Sunnis could behead people for blaspheming.
All this has not happened overnight and there has been a build-up towards igniting this old fire, most notably legislation passed by the Punjab Assembly a few months ago, a bill that many MPAs had not even read but voted in favour for, perhaps due to its title: the Tahaffuz-e-Bunyad-e-Islam (Protection of Foundation of Islam) Bill. Apart from proposing ridiculous changes to Punjab’s textbooks, it maintains that the Sunni interpretation of Islam was the only one that would be acceptable, causing much outrage in the Shia community. Quite expectedly, close to 42 blasphemy cases have been registered in August, mostly against Shias. According to some reports there have been at least 20 cases of targeted killing with Shias being executed. Pakistan had remained in the fold of some of the worst sectarian violence in the region during the 1980s and 1990s with a proxy war of the Saudi-Iran Sunni-Shia conflict being fought in the country. Around 20 percent of the country’s population is Shia and for decades extremist outfits, some state-sponsored, have carried out a cleansing, with minor Shia groups like the Hazaras virtually wiped out, mostly killed with others having fled the country to safety. The NAP (National Action Plan) that criminalizes hate speech must be implemented in letter and spirit. Demonstrations where such incitement to violence takes place must be stopped. Shias are again in the same crosshairs and it is up to the state to put an end to it