One month ago this week, on September 22, two suicide bombers from Taliban-linked terrorist outfit Jundul Hafsa attacked All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, killing 87 Christian worshipers and injuring 170 others. It was the deadliest attack on Christians in the history of Pakistan. Though the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) did not accept responsibility for the attack, spokesperson for the TTP Shahidullah Shahid condoned the attacks as being in conformity with Sharia.It was the deadliest attack on Christians in the history of Pakistan.The brutal attack hit one of Pakistan’s most vulnerable populations. Christians in Pakistan are just one small portion (3 percent) of Pakistan’s religious minority population. When Pakistan emerged in 1947 as a nation state, it was based on a religious national movement. Despite the ethnic and linguistic plurality of Pakistan, it has always been a communally monolithic society where Muslims constitute 97 percent of the population (77 percent Sunni and 20 percent Shia sect). Religious minorities include, in addition to Christians (1.58 percent), also Hindus (1.68 percent, of which 75 percent are considered to be Dalits), Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and Bahais, and northern tribal groups. The 0.22 percent Ahmeddiya sect officially joined the ranks of the “non-Muslims” in 1974. However the overwhelming majority of the Muslim population and constant projection of the identity of Pakistan as Islamic underscore its diversity. Most of the members of the minority groups mentioned have suffered physical attacks, aggression, assaults, social stigmatization, psychological insecurity, and/or economic marginalization of some sort. Fast forward to 2013 and the religious minority is now 3 percent going on zero.Before 1947, Pakistan boasted a thriving 18-22 percent minority population. General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization in 1979 and forced implementation of certain provisions of Islamic law in Pakistan resulted in an even more marginalized minority community. Sectarian violence has increased by leaps and bounds and this culture of violence which in turn has led to the crippling intolerance facing Pakistan today. Fast forward to 2013 and the religious minority is now 3 percent going on zero.
We talk of terrorists, of the number of people being killed by them (almost 300 innocent lives affected in one week if we talk of Peshawar) and of our “sovereignty” in relation to drone attacks that coincidentally are also taking out these militants. Through all these discussions there is only one conclusion to be reached; that the country is STILL completely divided. We are not only being held hostage by a group of people in the frontier, living in caves and killing people indiscriminately at will. The extremist mindset has gained the upper hand — and now includes people we find in our midst. Those people who talk about education for women, minority rights, child abuse and the many issues facing our country are outnumbered by those who talk about a misplaced sense of nationalism garbed under Islamic exclusivism.
The problem is that there will come a point when all plurality in this country will die because the people countering the image of Pakistan as only being synonymous with terrorism, will either migrate for fear of their lives or die at the hands of these inhumane miscreants. The result is a homogenized society and culture with no regard for plurality of thought or an exchange of ideas.Innocent people are being butchered and massacred by these factions.The unfortunate bit, as said before, is that despite the tragedies that have engulfed the nation many Pakistanis will willingly shut their eyes and point at voodoo third parties; Israel, the United States and India being the usual suspects. Regardless of who is funding the terrorists, what grand scheme is being hatched by the United States for world domination and other such long term issues, the point to realize is this: Innocent people are being butchered and massacred by these factions. As Kamal Siddiqui, editor of the Express Tribune said in an op-ed, “In some ways, we are now caught up in our own trap.”
In my books, if you kill, you pay for it. Apparently the state functions somewhat differently. It is more of a you kill, you get blood money from the bereaved family, pretty ladies in heaven and jihad on earth. Forget about the fact that you maimed women and shot at little girls, that’s okay, because even if the State catches you, your brothers will bomb a few more places and then the state will release you. And the state will also gift wrap a couple hundred innocent lives for you to blow up the next time. The terrorists care for their terrorists. If only we had the same sentiment towards our people.
Post 9/11, Pakistan has been at the epicenter of terrorism and religious fanaticism. Whilst the entire country has suffered the consequences, the minorities are oft forgotten and their plight brushed under the carpet. The growing tide of fundamentalism is indicative of a state and society that cannot tolerate that which is different. The state has labeled those who are different under one category of non-Muslims as opposed to recognizing each different religion constituting that community. This denies an identity, creating a further divide. I am not a non-Muslim. My identity is not dictated by negative constructs.I am not a non-Muslim. My identity is not dictated by negative constructs.
It’s time the state stops making Musalmaniyat the yard-stick to measure its citizens by. This is not a Muslim versus Christian, how many lives lost on each side, whose sacrifice is greater type of discussion. The attack was on a church. “The terrorists” zeroed in on a target. That this target was a religious minority’s place of worship automatically shows the intent to divide. A greater sense of responsibility ought to lie for protecting minorities in the country. Regardless of what lens we view this through, 1) that of minority rights and protecting religious minorities in particular or 2) that of everyone is Pakistani at the end of it and there is no need to highlight the religious element, the fact remains that terrorists targeted these people for coming out to pray.
The treatment accorded to the minorities in any state depends on the ideals of the majority. It is not surprising then that in a religiously oriented society the ideals of the majority are colored by the religion they follow and the politics flowing from therein. In Pakistan, the planned and vicious desecration of graveyards of minorities, systematic attacks on Shia processions and Hazara pilgrims or, the willful persecution of poor women through forced conversions is indicative of a fractured and fragmented society. It might be a cause for religious intolerance, the denial of the right to practice one’s religion freely or even could boil down to plain racism in the case of the Christians in Pakistan. The result is a religious minority community that feels alienated day by day from a state that has forgotten the very premise of the social contract it entered into with all of its citizens.
With regards to the terrorists, whichever faction they belong to, the use of force must be proactive and needs to track terrorists in every form to their hideouts. We should follow the Sri Lankan model of using full force for once and continue until the surrender of the last terrorist. Our security establishment seems to consider it as an irresponsible choice, which entails killing our own countrymen. But are these terrorists not taking lives of innocent people, our own people on a daily basis?