That Pakistan has been soft-pedalling sectarian groups has never been in doubt. Also never doubted also is the fact that many such groups are the proxies in the terrorist campaign to needle India and Afghanistan.
The remarks of Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan that sectarian organisations and terrorist outfits are not on the same page puts to rest any lingering doubts that Pakistan has been perpetuating sectarianism as a matter of state policy.
Nisar Ali Khan, a strong man of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz has not rolled back his remarks, which the sedate media said, “are not only out of touch with reality but are deeply offensive”.
His defence that Sunni-Shia conflict is 1300 years old is bizarre, to say the least since his ministry is officially engaged ‘in a battle against violent religious extremism’.
Some facts on Nisar-Speak. He had met with the head of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, (ASWJ), Ahmed Ludhianvi, who had visited him as part of a Difa-i-Pakistan Council delegation. Photos of the meeting are in public domain. That ASWJ is a sectarian organisation is a fact as day light. Along with Jamaat-ud-Dawa of Hafiz Saeed, it is a part of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) (Defence of Pakistan Council). Some 36 clerics and right-wing groups, some of them banned officially, formed the DPC in Nov 2011 at the GHQ Shura decided to give a religious colour to “people’s anger” over the killing of 24 Pak soldiers by American planes while on hot pursuit of Taliban. That the Americans had come down on their knees and apologised for the air strike is part of Pak-American folklore.
Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, (ASWJ) has three earlier Avatars – Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Millat-i-Islamia, and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ), which were banned for openly preaching hatred against Shia Muslim minority and claiming sectarian killings. The LJ has recently taken to wings as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Alami (LJ-A) with “a widened ideological and strategic spectrums to develop compatibility” with ISIS and other global terrorist groups.
Sunni vigilantism that has been perpetuating sectarianism is a gift of Gen Zia-ul-Haq rule, which had sought to Islamise Pakistan in the eighties. Present day Talibanisation of the country and ‘the tidal wave of bigotry’ that is sweeping the land of the pure, are an off-shoot of the Zia drive that was bankrolled by the Saudis and weaponised by the Americans in their short-term pursuits. The civilian governments that have followed the military rule have compounded the problem by courting religious extremists for electoral gains.
So much so, as Dawn editorially says, sectarian violence seen in Pakistan is not some lesser form of terrorism but “the very bedrock upon which terrorism of the kind we see in Pakistan is based”.
The short point is not that Pakistan is soft-pedalling sectarian groups. Nor is that the Sharif government like its predecessors has double standards. It is that Pakistani state is not addressing sectarian violence bedevilling the country seriously despite the fact that sectarianism has been seamlessly binding the local and international Islamist groups of all hues.