Friday, 30 July 2010

Rising sectarianism in Pakistan

The situation in Pakistan is far too violent. Unfortunately, this was compounded by another tragedy, the crash of an Air Blue flight yesterday. May our prayers be with all the victims.

An article I wrote on sectarianism in Pakistan was posted today on ForeignPolicy.com - you can click here to access the full piece.



Failing Pakistan's minorities

BY TAUFIQ RAHIM, JULY 30, 2010     Share

"I would like to believe that peace is possible because without it, there is total darkness."
These were the grim words that my friend left me with as I returned to Dubai from Lahore on July 11 after a short trip to Pakistan. Family members of his perished in the recent attacks on Ahmadi mosques in the city and he was tasked with identifying their bodies at the morgue. It often seems when reading a Pakistani newspaper that you are in three or four simultaneous war zones. The day I arrived on my most recent trip to the country, Pakistan was hit with its most deadly attack of the year, in its tribal areas, resulting in 102 fatalities.
Amidst the ongoing violence there appears to be a more vigorous targeting of religious groups and sites, particularly in urban areas, culminating in the bombing of a prominent Sufi shrine, the Data Darbar in Lahore on July 1, killing more than 40 worshippers. The number of deaths from sectarian attacks has already reached 302 for 2010, compared to 190 for the whole of last year. It harkens back to 2007, when 441 Pakistanis died in sectarian violence. The difference then was that the targeting was mainly outside of Pakistan's main cities (i.e. the sectarian clashes in Parachinar in FATA). This trend represents an ongoing effort by a number of militant groups todelegitimize the government and further undermine its authority; it also raises the fear of‘sectarianizing' an already volatile climate in Pakistan, which could lead to much greater levels of violence.
On May 28, gunmen raided two Ahmadi mosques, one in the Garhi Shahu area and another in the Model Town area of Lahore. 93 people were killed as they attended Friday prayers.  I visited the Model Town mosque on July 10, where witnesses described the horror of that day and expressed a complete lack of confidence in the authorities ability to protect them from another attack. The attack itself started with gunfire and then a grenade was thrown at the imam's pulpit inside the mosque. Two of the gunmen were apprehended by the worshippers, and prevented from exploding their suicide belts. According to an official of the community that I met with there, the attackers were no more than 16 or 17 years of age. This place of worship now resembles a war zone. While the bullet holes and other damage have since been repaired, new protective features are prominent: barbed wire, bars on all the windows, massive steel doors, barricades, snipers on the roof, and guns everywhere.

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