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A plan of inaction?

Were you able to hear, in the deep confines of your conscience, the Shikarpur explosion on Friday afternoon? And if you did hear it, what damage has it done to your faith in the destiny of this nation?

The bomb blast that took place in a mosque/imambargah in a major city in Sindh is, again, a tragedy foretold. It is the most recent act of sectarian terrorism. But its magnitude is awesome. Nearly sixty persons were killed and so many were injured. That it happened in a place of worship, while the victims were offering their prayers, follows a pattern.

Now, irrespective of how ordinary citizens throughout the country have felt the pain of this tragedy, we need to know how the rulers are taking it. There is, of course, the usual drill. It begins with the statements that are readily issued. In this case, the chief minister of the province and other senior officials were visiting Shikarpur and arrangements have been made for the treatment of the injured. Compensation for the families of the dead and the injured has duly been announced.

But there is something more crucial than these somewhat theatrical administrative moves. That deadly detonation poses a question to our rulers. You may imagine the smoke rising from that sacred site and taking the shape of a huge question mark across a darkening horizon. You may phrase this question in many different ways. My version of it would be: what have you done after December 16, 2014, to suppress sectarian terrorists and reduce their capacity to mount such devastating attacks?

We have lived with sectarian terrorism for many years. The chronicle of the Hazara community in Quetta is well beyond the measure of a Greek tragedy. Our rulers have played Hamlet by putting off any decisive action against the terrorist outfits. That prevarication was surprising because the terrorists would shamelessly claim responsibility and our intelligence agencies could surely trace them and their collaborators.

This has happened in the case of the Shikarpur bomb blast, too. Look at how Jundullah spokesman Fahad Marwat has been quoted by the media: “Our target was the Shia mosque and they are our enemies”. It is known that Jundullah is a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban. The message is that these groups are alive and well and able to cause such a massive destruction.

Does this mean that the massacre of our schoolchildren in Peshawar on a day of ignominy in our history has not changed many things, particularly in the civilian domain? We have repeatedly been assured that the present operation is meant to root out all traces of terrorism and religious extremism. At least on paper, the 20-point National Action Plan covers vast ground and includes a campaign against sectarian militancy. There is also a reference to militants operating in and from Punjab.

Sadly, there is little evidence of any decisive campaign against sectarian terrorism and against the seminaries that have nurtured this monster. One is inclined to suspect that the present rulers, the high functionaries of the Nawaz Sharif government, have retained their soft corner for the religious extremists. Either they are afraid of the monster that the establishment has created or they have sympathy for the cause that the terrorists have pursued.

If this is an unfair or unfounded indictment, where is the confirmation of a stunning and massive attack on forces of bigotry and fanaticism that have fuelled religious militancy? For instance, what moves were made immediately after the Shikarpur atrocity? It is verily a national tragedy. It calls for something very drastic and decisive. It has come after the Peshawar massacre and after the National Action Plan. It challenges the capacity of our rulers to not just act but to also think. What have they been waiting for, for God’s sake?

The agony of the Shikarpur killings is deeper for those of us who had seen it coming. I could search out references to the growing influence of religious extremists in Sindh from my previous columns. It has been a systematic raid in a region that takes pride in the legacy of its saints. Seminaries that preach sectarian hatred and intolerance are rising in different places like fortresses.

Much of the responsibility for this drift falls on the Pakistan People’s Party that has ruled Sindh and was also at the helm in Islamabad for five years before the May 2013 elections. But its powerlessness – or spinelessness – was certified by how it reacted to the assassination of its own leader, Salmaan Taseer. We wonder what plea it would offer if it is put in the dock.

There is a graphic portrayal of the overall situation in Pakistan in a report released in New York on Thursday. The annual report of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), covering more than 90 countries, has termed 2014 a “tumultuous year” for our country in which, among other things, “sectarian attacks continued with impunity”.

I do not have the space to include extensive quotations from the Pakistan chapter of the HRW report. The gist of the assessment of human rights situation is, as one headline on the report has highlighted, that the government of Nawaz Sharif has failed to protect religious freedoms of the country’s ordinary citizens.

However, read these words: “Violent attacks on religious minorities, fostered in part by the institutionalised discrimination of the blasphemy laws continued. …. Sectarian violence, particularly attacks against the already beleaguered Shia community continued to claim a high toll in 2014. … The militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi continued attacks on Shia Hazaras in Balochistan and the government failed to successfully prosecute and imprison suspects, in part due to sympathy for the group within the security forces”.

There is a reference to Karachi being a “hotbed” of sectarian violence, with at least 750 sectarian targeted killings in the city from September 2013 to September 2014. I know you have no more tears left to shed on these matters. Our political crisis is no less scary. One manifestation of it this week was the resignation of the Punjab governor Chaudhry Sarwar and his observation on the power of the land grabbers and the mafias.

One could argue that the HRW report relates to 2014 and Pakistan, in a sense, changed on December 16 of the year. But has Pakistan really changed when its rulers remain the same and when they are unwilling to confess their sins of the past? The Shikarpur tragedy is saying something that our rulers need to hear and to understand. To be or not to be, that is the question. May God help us.

The writer is a staff member. Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

Ghazi Salahuddin, "A plan of inaction?," The News. 2015-02-01.
Keywords: Social sciences , Political parties , Political stability , Political aspects , National issues , Political issues , Religious extremists , Human rights , Security forces , Violence , Militants , Taliban , Terrorism , Fahad Marwat , PM Nawaz Sharif , Chaudhry Sarwar , Shikarpur , Sindh , Pakistan , HRW