PESHAWAR- Pakistan is reeling under a new surge of sectarian violence targeting Shiite and other religious minorities across the country, threatening new rounds of instability in the Muslim majority nation.
The rising trend is being fueled in part by state organs and authorities who cosset and align with radicals bent on violence instead of upholding their duty to protect marginalized communities.
Over 96% of Pakistanis practice Islam, of which anywhere between 75-95% of adherents are Sunni. Shiites comprise somewhere between 5-15% of all Muslims while Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis combined make up around 3% of the population.
Over the last month, four people including two Shiite Muslims, one Ahmadi sect member and a US citizen who renounced the Ahmadi sect have been brutally gunned down for apparent religious reasons.
Over the same period, around 50 people mostly belonging to the Shiite sect were booked under draconian sections – namely 295-A and 298 – of the blasphemy law as defined under the Pakistan penal code for allegedly “insulting the companions of Prophet Muhammad.” Penalties for insulting Islam under the law range from fines to death.
Encouraged by the mass filing of blasphemy cases against Shiite orators by the local administration, thousands of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) Islamic group activists took to the streets last week in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi against the minority.
Both extremist outfits had clear backing and support of security agencies and authorities. The rally pelted an imambargah (Shiite religious place) with stones as unruly radical Sunni mobs went berserk in the Imamia Lines Area.
The participants shouted “Shia kafir”, or “Shiite unbelievers”, and demanded the government impose a new ban on Shiite religious processions in the city.
In June, Nadeem Joseph, a Christian who bought a house in a Muslim locality in Peshawar, saw his home stormed by an Islamic radical mob. Radicals fired indiscriminately into his residence killing Nadeem and critically injuring his Christian mother-in-law Elizabeth Masih.
Mehdi Hasan, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), told Asia Times that both state and society must be true to national founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s vision, in which religion or belief is a personal matter and not a basis for differences among citizens.