Conflicts and more conflicts

Courtesy:- Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi

Pakistan faces multiple domestic conflicts that weaken Pakistan as a nation-state, compromising its capacity to function effectively within its territorial limits and making it difficult to project itself positively at the global level. It is becoming increasing problematic for Pakistani state and society to fulfil its obligations towards its citizenry and the international community.


Two societal problems are undermining societal coherence and political and economic stability in Pakistan. These problems are ethnic violence and religious-sectarian divide.

Ethnic conflict has manifested in its ugliest form in Karachi where killings of innocent people by unidentified killers have become a routine affair. The provincial government is unable to control the situation partly because it lacks the professional capacity to cope with violence and partly because its machinery has also been affected by ethnic polarisation. The administrative machinery is not always in a position to function as a coherent and determined non-partisan administrative machine.

Ethnic polarisation in urban Sindh, especially in Karachi, has become so deep-rooted that the whole political discourse and the suggested solutions for the trouble have become ethicised. The Urdu-speaking leadership projects itself as victim of aggression by other communities, especially the Pashtuns or Pakhtuns who are accused of causing violence in Karachi against the Urdu-speaking populace. They are often described with several negative adjectives. This campaign is spearheaded by the MQM whose leaders periodically name some ANP activists as the terrorists. Similarly, they also accuse the PPP activists in the Lyari area as the source of terrorism and blame a section of the PPP leadership, mainly with Sindhi-speaking background, of patronising these elements.

The MQM faces a host of charge for disturbing peace and harmony in Karachi and engaging in violence against the Pashtun population and the PPP activists. The ANP leadership is quite blunt in criticizing the MQM and holds its activists as the sole cause of violence in Karachi. Similarly, the PPP leaders criticise the MQM for violence in Karachi.

These conflicting narratives of what is happening in Karachi are indicative of fragmentation of the society on ethnic lines. Each group has created an exclusive narrative that blames the rival ethnic group for conflict and violence. Each ethnic group holds firmly to its partisan narrative as the final truth and it wonders why others cannot see this “truth”.

Islamic-sectarianism affects the psyche in a similar divisive manner. The violent manifestation of sectarianism can be seen in Quetta where the Shia-Hazara people are the main target of violent attacks by hard line groups with Wahabi-Deoband traditions. Some organisations have claimed responsibility for killings in Quetta. Recently, Gilgit-Baltistan experienced bitter sectarian violence, leading to imposition of curfew and summoning of the army troops to restore law and order. The Kurram Agency has also experienced bitter sectarian violence for over a decade.

From time to time, the incidents of sectarian killings are reported from Karachi and occasionally from other parts of the country. There are occasional incidents of violence among the hard liner madrassah based Deobandi-Wahabi and Barelvi groups or fights take place for control of mosques.

The growing ethnic and religious-sectarian conflicts are dangerous trends that need to be discouraged at the official and non-official levels. The people at large criticise both trends at the theoretical level. Even the groups that are known for pursuing ethnic and sectarian agenda also condemn these trends. However, these people and groups do not consider their actions as promoting ethnic or sectarianism. They claim that they stand for the truth and justice for their community and that they only respond when the rival group uses violence against their followers. The major problem for this mindset is that the truth of one community is falsehood for other community. There is hardly any shared truth.

There are people, especially with strong religious orientations, who deny the existence of the evil of sectarianism by providing all kind of historical and other explanations that have caused sectarian conflict in Pakistan.

No doubt that criminal elements use the labels of ethnic and sectarian entities to cover up their activities. They become activists in such organisations or avail of the confusion caused by sectarian or ethnic violence to pursue their criminal agendas that may include land grabbing, material gains or political competition or struggle for establishing or protecting domain of control.

Nevertheless, the divisive trends based on ethnicity and sectarianism cannot be denied. Criminal or anti-social elements as well as foreign adversaries cannot exploit the situation if these problems do not exist in the society. These divides are exploited but anti-social elements or foreign adversaries cannot totally manufacture such divisive trends and sustain them as a motivating force for violent activity.

Any ideology, worldly or religious, taken to its extreme, creates intolerance and societal conflict. In Pakistan, the state joined societal groups to promote Islamic orthodoxy and militancy in the 1980s. Religious orthodoxy and conservatism was bound to bolster sectarian or denominational identities because of the tendency to view Islam from one’s denominational identity and interpretation. Some of them adopt hardline and intolerance towards those who do not share their religious perspective. Similarly, the greater emphasis on ethnicity as a political tool began in the mid1980s, although one could trace its roots to the earlier period. This caused the fragmentation of the society and weakened nationwide political networking and activities.

In Pakistan, the notion of citizenship of a nation-state has been undermined through state education and the media, going back to the 1980s. The madrassahs were already doing it but, from the mid-1980s the state education also emphasised the notion of being Muslim rather than citizen of Pakistan. This sharpened not only the division between Muslim and non-Muslim but also increased religious-sectarian consciousness.

The current fragmentation of Pakistani society can be slowly checked by encouraging socio-political alignments and groupings that cut across ethnic and sectarian divides. This needs to be done in the areas that experience ethnic or sectarian violence from time to time.

The prominent and known personalities of different ethnic groups or sectarian identities should create joint groups and visit together the communities that are affected by violence. Such joint visits by leaders of all communities will contribute positively to reducing ethnic or sectarian violence. Joint inter-communal and inter-sect efforts by the known and established leadership can help to heal the divide. The basis of interaction and appeal for peace should be citizenship of Pakistan rather than religion, sect, ethnicity, region or any other identity.

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