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New Wave Of Sectarianism Targeting Shia Community Can Destabilise Pakistan

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At a time when Pakistani authorities have been claiming great gains in the country’s overall security situation, some communities are becoming vulnerable in dangerous new ways. As the campaign of armed terrorism by religious fanatics has been rolled back, sectarian forces of chaos are looking for new ways to push their agenda of a divided society. In this context, the country’s anti-blasphemy legislation is being increasingly weaponized against Muslims of a different school of thought, as well as religious minorities.

Researchers have watched with alarm as upwards of 40 blasphemy-related cases have been registered against various individuals in the past month or so. This latest wave appears to have gained momentum with the vigilante murder of a man accused of belonging to a minority group and having heretical beliefs – the act of killing carried out by a young man within a courtroom itself.

The juggernaut of accusations and cases has now turned towards the country’s Muslim communities too. Of particular concern is the way in which sectarian forces are hijacking the blasphemy legislation to settle old sectarian scores with the country’s Shia Muslims.

A majority of the newer blasphemy-related cases, mentioned above, appear to be aimed at this vital segment of Pakistan’s Muslim population.

One of the most disturbing indications of this new wave of sectarianism is the trending of hate-filled hashtags on social media – for days on end. The target appears to have been members of the Shia Muslim community commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (AS). Social media is being used by sectarian forces to fan the flames of hatred between communities. Previously routine observances during Ashoura commemorations are now being scrutinized by sectarian forces. Shia Muslim orators and zakirs, in particular, appear to have been singled out for offending the sentiments of sectarian forces. Cases have been registered against them on highly troubling grounds – which indicates an effort to criminalize differing schools of thought within the faith.

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This will be very harmful for communal and social harmony in Pakistan – and will provide a fertile playing field to any force that seeks to destabilize this country by fanning hatred between various religious groups. Openly sectarian forces from the country’s majority community have long sought to bully other Muslims into accepting their perspective on theology and history. Accusations of blasphemy provide them with a new vehicle for accomplishing this agenda.

An urgent and open discussion on this issue is necessary, while keeping in mind the sensitivities involved for all concerned stakeholders: the majority and the minorities.

Pakistan cannot afford a situation where some groups use ‘legal’ means to popularize the very same vicious divides which banned sectarian groups tried to widen using direct terrorist violence.

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Naya Daur