It is certainly a move to be appreciated that the National Assembly has amended several bills to curb sectarianism and terrorism. It is, however, among many things that are too little too late. Part of the bill says that “terrorism, sectarianism and extremism have gripped the entire country and these acts have become the order of the day. The country is passing through an extraordinary situation...” It baffles the mind what is so particularly new about the situation and why it took so long to develop a sense of urgency on the matter.
Among the amended bills is also one on forced marriages of women and girls belonging to a religious minority. The bill dictates that the punishment of forcing a woman into marriage will not be less than three years. While these amendments are needed and necessary, how can one forget the complicity of the state itself in allowing an environment conducive to the forces of extremism to grow and prosper. Sectarianism has ‘gripped the country’ since at least the early 90s. The state itself has supported extremist groups that are not only a direct threat to life for many but also a threat in terms of everyday instances of discrimination and oppression such as in cases of forced conversions. The state itself has stood by, watched and applauded as city after city was affected by targeted killings and Ahmadis were discriminated in every sphere of life, while Shias were targeted in groups.
As important as these bills are, they cannot be taken as a sure sign of better times to come if MPAs and MNAs themselves are seen at rallies and ‘conferences’ of extremist groups. In fact, most recently, it was the interior minister who said in Parliament that “banned sectarian organisations could not be equated with other banned terrorist organisations”. With such a mindset, one wonders how long it will really take to wake up and smell the coffee. It is, again, appreciable that these amendments have been made but perhaps the more real change needs to come in the minds of those in the corridors of power, both civilian and military.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2017.
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