The morning of May 13 marked another horrifying incident in the city of Karachi, with an attack staged on a bus transporting scores of citizens, for the reason that their religious beliefs didn’t match those of the attackers. The attack adds to the already existing plight of people of certain communities in the country, who have been victims of targeted assaults in various parts of the country. Instead of looking for the hand of foreign agencies, political factions or international conspiracies to help place blame, there is a need for deep introspection and proactive counter-measures as the safety of our people depends upon it.
The attack was followed by a cry for the sacking of Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, on grounds of incompetence. Social media was abuzz with many claiming that the attack was an attempt by foreign agencies to destabilise the region given the recent announcements on economic corridor that will link China and Pakistan. Others claimed that this was an attempt by a political party to challenge the establishment in Karachi. There were also claims, emanating from a pamphlet apparently left at the scene, that the Islamic State (IS) was responsible for the attacks. Local news further claimed that a Taliban splinter group which vows allegiance to the IS, Jundullah, had accepted responsibility for the massacre. Jundullah has carried out attacks in Pakistan before and was responsible for the Peshawar church bombing, as well as the Shikarpur massacre earlier this year.
Within these constant searches for the perpetrators of such crimes lie an inherent irony: it was us.
This was not just an attack on a bus or mere civilians; it was the classification of people of a certain community as lesser humans, Pakistanis and citizens. Behind the inspiration to carry out such attacks lies an embedded ideology, which has been propagated by the state. The state takes upon itself the responsibility of distinguishing between who is to be a Muslim and who is not. The state has no divine right in making such a distinction, yet it continues to fuel the rhetoric of sectarian conflicts by distinguishing between citizens on the basis of faith.
The state, being an Islamic Republic, fails to conform to the Islamic principles of coexistence. Instead, it offers a narrative of having pride in being better than the ‘disbelievers’, leaving the interpretation of disbelief open. The state ideology shift, which occurred mostly during and after the Zia regime, encourages divides within society on the basis of faith. This divide also expands to service provision, including the provision of security. The ideology is inherently misrepresentative of the state, as its own founding father belonged to the sect massacred in Karachi.
The state also turns a blind eye towards sectarian militants who openly incite violence. It has been responsible for not only failing to extend the ongoing operation against terrorism to these outfits, but it has also refused to end the continued hate speech that is spread through pamphlets, seminars and even places of worship. Stringent checks on the activities of sectarian militant groups are necessary to curb the mentality of ideological superiority. Various sectarian groups, formed on the basis of self-acclaimed ideological superiority, also continue to hold political posts and offices. The complex relationship of the state with these sectarian groups is better understood in the context of their role in Kashmir and various parts of the country where they have a pro-state agenda and narrative. However, complicit support to militant sectarian groups is directly responsible for the exponential increase in sectarian militancy in recent years.
The right to security is universal, and given the constant security threats that people of certain sects face, it is imminent that affirmative action be taken to protect their lives and property. The National Action Plan and the war against militants need to be extended to include the targeting of sectarian militant groups. The acts of hate speech which incite violence need to be halted through checks on the workings of sectarian outfits, which openly preach such beliefs through posters and banners in the heart of Punjab and throughout the country.
The martyrs of yesterday’s attacks must cease to be mere additions to the rising toll of religious extremism and sectarian conflict. The current situation in Iraq, Syria and Yemen should pose as the perfect motivation to bolster efforts against a sectarian conflict which could soon engulf the country worse than it continues to do so right now. Law-enforcement agencies alone cannot be held responsible for the attacks that occurred. The ideology and motivation of such crimes must also be examined, understood and bottled against.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2015.