Is Another Wave Of Sectarian Violence Unfolding In Pakistan? - II

This is the second part of the article. Read the first part here

Religious parties in Pakistan attract only a small share of the vote bank. In the general elections of 2018, 12 religio-political parties received a combined vote count of just above five million (9.58 percent) out of the total 54,319,922 votes polled across the country. This was a decrease in their vote count from the 2013 elections.

Yet, the religio-political parties in Pakistan act as powerful pressure groups and shape the politics of the country.

There are four major players of religious activism in Pakistan. Of these, Maulana Fazl’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and the Jamaat-e-Islami are mainstreamed parties who have been struggling to shape their anti-establishment image for many years, while also focusing on anti-Ahmedi campaigns. Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan has emerged as another major player in just a few years (TLP bagged the largest number of votes among religious parties in 2018). Rizvi’s politics revolves around anti-Ahmedi, anti-Deobandi/Wahabi and anti-Shia activism while he also never spared any political party in his firebrand sermons. The fourth major player works under the name Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, although it is well-known that it is the façade of the proscribed anti-Shia organisation Sipah-e-Sahabah

Some other Sunni, Ahle-Hadith and Shia parties have their influences in particular belts. Some other non-political organisations and conglomerates also work in Pakistan, as well as an alliance of madrassah boards, that is in charge of providing education, food and shelter to millions of students across the country.

The history of religious activism in Pakistan goes as far back as the creation of Pakistan itself. Its culmination point was the agreement between 31 Ulema from different sects (Sunnis Barelvi/Deobandi, Ahle-Hadith and Shias) on 22 points to shape the future of Pakistan on religious lines. This agreement was reached during a convention in Karachi in January 1951.

Later, the country witnessed another wave of religious activism during 1970s under Tehreek Khatme Nabowat, which concluded after the declaration of Ahmedis as non-Muslims in parliament on September 7, 1974.

The next religious crusade started during Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law and continued until Parvez Musharraf’s. Shia-Deobandi violence was the center of disturbances at this time. Thousands including heads of religious parties, Iranian cadets, police officers, doctors, engineers, teachers and other known personalities were killed during this violent episode.

A relative calm was witnessed during Musharraf’s era which has continued until the developments in the recent few weeks.

The recent surge of sectarian conflict has so far been limited to harsh verbal statements. The fresh activism focuses on a two-pronged strategy — primarily anti-Shia and secondly anti-Ahmedi.

The JUI-F and the Jamaat-e-Islami are focusing on the anti-Ahmadi narrative. Both the parties organized multiple Khatme-Nabowat Conferences in different cities during the past month. The two parties have repeatedly made demands of the removal of “Qadyanis” from key positions in Pakistan.

Amid the uproar, the “All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community” has launched a new report entitled “Suffocation of the Faithful: Persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan and the rise of International extremism” on July 20 (almost a month and half before Khatme-Nabowat day which is marked across the country on September 7 in remembrance of the declaration of the community as non-Muslim by the parliament of Pakistan).

The 150-page report was co-authored by Amnesty International; APPG for Pakistan Minorities; Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS); British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA); and a number of notable lawyers, human rights activists, academics and journalists. It clearly brings forward the claim that the minorities are being persecuted in Pakistan under state-sponsored campaigns.

As a response to the report, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly passed a unanimous resolution on September 7, terming it a conspiracy against Pakistan and Muslims. The next day, the Punjab Assembly also unanimously passed the resolution.

Some analysts claim that the religious parties in Pakistan act as the B-team of the country’s powerful military establishment. Many say that the Deobandis and Ahle-Hadith are sponsored by an Arab state, while our neighboring Islamic country backs Shias to secure their vested interests in Pakistan.  Some say that sectarian groups received funding from India while many others view sectarianism as a great agenda and conspiracy being hatched by America, Israel and India only to destabilize Pakistan.

Among these hypotheses are also some that directly link the new surge of anti-Shia activism to the expected local government polls in Punjab and other provinces, and the elections in Gilgit-Baltistan. Some go as far as to say that the recent unrest is deliberately created to divert the opposition from its onslaught against the present regime.

Still, hope remains as one hears reliable reports of the country’s most important institution hosting a meeting of some 300 clerics representing all schools of thought in Islamabad few days ago, and giving instructions to the effect that a joint declaration be prepared within two weeks, pledging to keep intact the religious harmony in the country. As per plan, the joint declaration will be moved in the parliament for approval, and once the National Assembly and the Senate adopt it as law, its strict implementation will be made in letter and spirit. The participants at the meeting in Islamabad included Mufti Muneebur Rahman, Mufti Taqi Usmani, Maulana Abdul Malk, Syed Ziaullah Shah Bukhari and Allama Arif Wahidi representing the Barelvi, Deobandi, Jamaat-e-Islami, Ahle-Hadith and Shia repectively.

It looks like the religious organisations’ consensus on a declaration and its passage in the parliament is set to have a direct bearing on the future of the country.

This is part 2 of a two-part story. Part 1 can be read here.

The author is a Lahore based journalist. He writes about religion, politics, culture, agriculture and 1947’s Indo-Pak partition. He can be reached @imiftikharalam