A military operation is underway. The militants are living through their last hour, we are told. And yet, the mind wonders why they would target Christians? A minority, already persecuted, doesn’t have much to do with any operation against the TTP. The militant group’s various factions are quick to accept responsibility but nobody questions these claims, with no serious investigations undertaken, and underneath the media buzz, a burning question remains unanswered: why would the TTP attack Christians? If it’s not the TTP, then who is it that we are dealing with? At times, it appears that the TTP may have become a convenient closet for us to bury our skeletons in.
Of many shades of militant violence in Pakistan, the one against minorities is unique and must be treated separately. Till now, apart from fleeting recognition in the National Action Plan, there has been no policy-level — or even discourse-level — discrimination between sectarian violence and raw terrorism. All suicide bombings and militant attacks are viewed from the same lens. And that is precisely why sectarian and minority violence still persists without a solution in sight.
Pakistan, first of all, requires a clear demarcation of what constitutes sectarian or religious violence and what does not. Till we don’t map out and separate the various layers of violence in Pakistan, formulating an actionable policy would remain a far-fetched dream. Secondly, and most importantly at this stage, is the narrative around sectarian violence that has to be carefully crafted. There has to be a shift in debate from security-led stability to stability through peace and development — an essential for any long-term inter-religious stability. We have, over time, become accustomed to quick fixes to our long-standing problems. On issues like sectarian and minority violence, there aren’t any quick fixes. Any solution will have to take its due course. Hence, peace through development spending on education, health, sports and entertainment will produce more sustainable results than simply using brute force.
Third, the country desperately needs a realistic and implementable de-radicalisation programme. It’s astounding that a country that has been in a state of perpetual war since the late 1970s is yet to come up with a de-radicalisation strategy. Almost two generations have been born and raised in a war-stricken Pakistan. Images of violence, weapons and militancy have been the norm for successive generations and are causing an unconscious radicalisation. While the military has invested in a de-radicalisation programme for captured militants in Swat, a mass-level programme is needed for the entire country, starting from schools and universities, on the subject of sectarian and minority violence.
The reason I believe this is important is because sectarian differences and intolerance among religious communities is prevalent amongst all classes and sections of society — literate and illiterate alike — providing greater space for miscreants to take up arms and pursue violence against marginalised sects and minorities. For instance, the treatment of Ahmadis in Pakistan is a classic case of reduced space for a minority to practise its beliefs openly. The case of the Christian community, which perpetually lives under the fear of the misuse of blasphemy law, is similar.
What, then, is needed is a change of mindset of the general public on the subject of sectarian violence. I firmly believe that if the educated lot becomes tolerant in Pakistan, the militants will have no space to act against minorities. Lastly, to achieve all the aforementioned suggestions and provide protection to minorities, it is fundamentally important to have our governance fixed on the subject. Swift coordination and synergy between the federal government and provinces, different security agencies and government ministries is essential. Without a fully operational coordination on the subject, even the most impeccable and well-intentioned policy is likely to fail.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2015.
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