Is there only one province?

Is Rawalpindi’s condemnable incident a ‘tragedy’ because it happened in Punjab? Is it a tragedy because, for once, Sunnis were killed and not Shias? 

Pakistanis have been facing tragedy almost daily for the last few decades. Violence rages in our cities, towns and villages. What started off in Karachi during the mid-1980s has now spread throughout the country. It has become routine to pick up half-blown bodies from the wreckage of a bombing, rush the haplessly injured to hospitals and witness the funeral of the dead the next day. Violence is caused in our society due to sectarian intolerance, drugs, arms peddling and various other mafia activities. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) war against Pakistan is a major cause of violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Karachi. The police, rangers and other agencies’ involvement along with political parties like the PPP, PML-N, MQM and ANP fuels the fire and increases the complexity.

Between 10 and 50 people are being massacred on a daily basis, sometimes more, e.g. the Hazara killings in Quetta, for senseless reasons. Karachi, on many occasions, has seen daily bloodbaths while the rulers and military leaders have slept well in their beds. KP has become an inferno that causes death and untold destruction almost daily. The much-touted ‘operation’, ongoing for more than two months in Karachi, is proving to be the eyewash it was predicted to be. How can those same policemen and rangers, who are partners in crime of the mafia, MQM, PPP and ANP, be deployed to eliminate them? In recent weeks, the crime graph is again rising. Two bomb blasts in the Ancholi area have taken eight lives and left scores injured in a sectarian attack. We may assume that the interior minister recognises these facts but his politics and prejudices seem to compel him to mock Karachi’s people as others have done before him.

On Ashura, a procession was passing by a Deobandi mosque in Rawalpindi’s Raja Bazaar; emotionally charged Shia devotees in the procession heard a Deoband cleric making an inflammatory anti-Shia speech on the public address system, in spite of a ban on its use for that day by the authorities. This deliberate activity to abuse and mock Shia beliefs provoked some mourners to hurl stones at the mosque at first, which were probably returned with equal fury. The situation got out of hand as the inadequate security watched and lost some of their weapons to the furious crowd. The arms were fired by the mourners and the mosque overrun and destroyed, with nine persons losing their lives. It is obvious that most or all those who lost their precious lives were Sunni among whom some were Deobandi belonging to the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ).

For an incident in which nine persons lost their lives, we have nationally declared this to be ‘the tragedy of Rawalpindi’ as if, God forbid, a major catastrophe had struck. Over 50,000 lives have been lost in the war on terror alone and thousands have been victims of sectarian and crime related deaths, and we call this incident alone a tragedy? Is Rawalpindi’s condemnable incident a ‘tragedy’ because it happened in Punjab? Is it a tragedy because it happened next to the GHQ? Is it a tragedy because, for once, Sunnis were killed and not Shias? Or is it because ASWJ’s Deobandi died and their mosque destroyed? The unfortunate answer to all these questions is ‘yes’.

We all saw how quickly the whole government reacted, curfew imposed, the army deployed, not only in Rawalpindi but all over Punjab, to contain the fury of ASWJ. The whole thing was blown out of proportion for precious Punjab. Where is the army when Karachi cries for it? Where is the prime minister when KP is burning? One has to say with a heavy heart that this is not the federal government of Pakistan but merely a parochial and visionless provincial government of Punjab. As usual, Punjab is using the rest of the country as a colony unabashedly and unashamedly. The Punjab-dominated power structure has been the real tragedy of Pakistan since the 1950s.

The deployment of the army is considered a last resort, but for Rawalpindi it was the first; why? It is not a huge city — reinforcements could easily have been called from Islamabad. The army is not available when the Hazara Shia population is being decimated by the Lashkar-e-Jhangi (LeJ). Is that because the army only protects Sunnis and not Shias? 

To say that we have become intolerant is an unbearable understatement of enormous proportions. Since General Zia exploited, encouraged and benefited by furthering the flames of intolerance, there has been no looking back. All those who came thereafter have been too busy buying chateaus and Mayfair properties, setting up Raiwind and Bahria town palaces and satisfying their inflated egos at the expense of an impoverished nation. In the last 35 years, Pakistan’s Islam has been turned into a Saudi version that preaches intolerance of other sects. Madrassas set up during Zia’s days have multiplied where suicide bombers, sectarian killers and extremists of all kinds are indoctrinated by mostly unqualified and ignorant bigots. Sectarian intolerance has become entrenched in our society to the extent that the predominantly Sunni ruling classes, bureaucracy, military and the law enforcing agencies are prejudiced and partisan, while the minority Shia are at the receiving end. Therefore, Shia killings are facilitated; the extremist LeJ and other marauders are never caught. One can see the reason why this ruling conglomerate of Sunnis has over-reacted to the killing of nine Sunnis by Shias. 

Since the unfortunate incident in Rawalpindi, we are suddenly seeing the public projection of ASWJ and its leader Maulana Ludhianvi on major national television channels. We are told that they are ‘peacemakers’ in this sectarian flare-up and all and sundry are treating them as ‘ambassadors of peace’. The dramatic fallout of the Rawalpindi incident was nothing but a scheme to rehabilitate the ASWJ as a political force. Have we all forgotten that the old name of ASWJ is the banned organisation Sipah-e-Sahaba? The ASWJ, we are told, believes in a Deoband fatwa that apparently has declared Shias as infidels. How, then, can these sectarian marauders be projected as saviours? Does the media have such a short memory, or is it buckling under pressure? We are aware of the Mian brothers’ close connections with this lot and how the PML-N announced seat adjustment with the ASWJ and then backed out due to public outcry. We are also aware of these hate mongers being provided safe sanctuaries in southern Punjab to rest and recuperate after creating mayhem in the other three provinces. 

No matter what our religion, no matter what our sect or our ethnicity, all humanity is sacred — all are God’s people, each life is as precious as the other and must be treated as such. God demands equality, justice, love, and care amongst the human race. Our present and past are in complete contradiction to the Quran and the teachings of Islam. We need to reflect seriously on our weaknesses because we cannot progress as individuals or as a people unless we respect and protect the freedoms and rights of others. Islam puts a premium on human life, while we have devalued it. Islam’s whole focus is to make a better human being of us, while in the last 66 years we have seen a serious erosion of human values.

by Farooq Sumar
The writer is a businessman and a former chairman of the National Textile Foundation.