Monday, April 19, 2010

An intolerant nation [Editorial]

---Daily Dawn, Pakistan
FROM THE PAPER > Editorial
An intolerant nation
   Dawn Editorial
   Monday, 19 Apr, 2010

We are reaping the harvest of the seeds of hatred sown in the seventies and eighties. Pakistan is becoming an increasingly intolerant nation where religious and sectarian minorities live in fear and are awarded little or no protection by the state. Difference is unacceptable to the obscurantists who want everyone to toe their line. And if that takes intimidation, torture or even murder, then so be it, for no option is unavailable to the self-righteous who believe that they alone have seen the light.

This mindset is not limited to the Taliban who kill in the name of religion. There is no shortage in Pakistan of sectarian and other militant outfits that feel justified in murdering Shias, Christians and Ahmadis — or indeed anyone who doesn’t share their views. Most of these organisations have their genesis in the Zia era, a dark chapter in the country’s history which is responsible for rending our social fabric and fanning the flames of intolerance.

Take the case of Friday’s bloody events in Quetta. First the son of a prominent Shia leader was shot dead outside a bank. And when his body was taken to hospital, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the emergency ward. Responsibility for the deadly attack was taken by the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, an offshoot of the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan.

It is even more extreme in its views than the outlawed SSP (now called the Ahl-i-Sunnat Waljamaat) and has a history of killing Shias and destroying their property in various parts of Punjab. The Lashkar-i-Jhangvi is active elsewhere in the country as well, as evidenced by Friday’s killings in Quetta. Consider also the plight of Ahmadis living in Faisalabad. As this paper reported on Saturday, the government is looking the other way even as they are robbed, threatened and killed. This terror spree is attributed to the defunct SSP which became emboldened when some Ahmadi students were expelled from a medical college after being falsely accused of blasphemy.

Instead of taking the accusers to task, the authorities punished the victims. Meanwhile a shadowy cleric has apparently decreed that robbing and killing Ahmadis is permissible.

The Punjab government needs to act, and act now, to protect Faisalabad’s Ahmadi community and other minorities in the province. But that is perhaps asking too much of an administration whose law minister consorts openly with known extremists. Organisations such as the SSP and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi are proscribed only in name. Their strength remains undiminished and the leader of the Ahl-i-Sunnat Waljamaat is granted audiences with provincial chief ministers and at least one governor. This double-game must end if extremism is to be curbed.

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