December 1, 2013

Muharram in this country is a month of sadness, and it is not just the shahadat of Imam Hussain that is being mourned. Somehow, there is an air of expectancy – of violence on sectarian grounds.

Each year, there are announcements of extraordinary security along the ashura processions; this year, armed forces personnel were especially deputed to ensure a peaceful ashura. There were helicopters hovering in the skies to monitor the situation in the big cities. Yet, the state could not prevent an untoward incident in Rawalpindi that caused loss of life and property and led to additional rioting in a few other cities.

Each year, one or more such incidents in the month of Muharram make it an exceptionally sad month.

But that is not how it used to be. There used to be a time when there was tolerance for the other sects and a peaceful coexistence. So how and when and why did that change to bring us to this current state of sectarian hatred and violence? This is the subject of today’s Special Report.

The history of sectarianism is as old as the history of Muslims. To be honest, it is not peculiar to Muslims alone; most religions are divided on the basis of sects and have a violent sectarian history too. But we have focused on the recent history of Pakistan where there were peculiar reasons to fan sectarianism on the basis of some important developments in two of our closest neighbours – the 1979 revolution in Iran and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

The way the country bled in the 1980s and 90s on the basis of sectarian hatred owed itself to these two developments. It is important to understand the role of state and successive governments in dealing with sectarianism. This is what we have tried to do in today’s Special Report, looking particularly at the madrassas, the administrative response and the attempts at curbing sectarianism, including the hardline extremist groups.

The prognosis does not look too good. Our expert Arif Jamal warns us “the Sunnification of Pakistan is a threat to both Pakistan and world peace”. We hope the policymakers pay heed to these warnings and make this place more peaceful than it currently is.