Pakistan: Now the Christians, Next?

26 Sep, 2013    ·   4128

D Suba Chandran draws from the recent attacks on Christians in Pakistan to comment on the targetting of minority communities

The latest attack on the Christians in Pakistan is a painful reminder of how intolerant and indifferent we have become as a society and as a State. This is not the first attack on the Christians and other minority communities in Pakistan and unfortunately, this is not likely to be the last attacks on them either. While it will be easier to blame a small group of terrorists and zealots, are they the ones to be blamed?

Since the entire South Asian region is multi-cultural and multi-ethnic at national and sub-regional levels, it would be a prudent exercise to find out why and under what situation the minorities become a target. This would help us – at the societal, national and state levels to understand the contemporary issues and also be forewarned, and perhaps prepared.

While the multiple theories from sociological and political science perspectives talks about how the “other” is created in a plural society, what is needed is not a theoretical discourse, but a practical debate on why this happens and what needs to be done to avoid such a societal calamity.

The question – why Christians are being targeted in Pakistan is perhaps easier to answer. Like the Ahemediya and the Shia communities, they are an easy target for the chauvinist and terrorist elements. They have become an easy target for the following reasons. First and foremost, the “minority” nature of these communities makes them an easy target. In certain societies, where the majority discourse takes place not on secular lines, but on religious beliefs, the discourse is likely to be majoritarian, favouring a particular community. From the news papers to televisions to educational institutions to text books, the debate is lopsided favouring the majority community.

Second, the minority communities do not have a voice, either on their own or someone speaking on behalf of them from the majority community. The Shia community in Pakistan tried to rally around and at times even present a violent discourse, but only inviting more violence. The Ahmediya, Christian and Hindu communities within Pakistan is extremely cautious in rallying around and make a strong protest, for they fear a worse reprisal from the terrorist and sectarian groups which claim to represent the majority community. Though in few occasions as it is happening the Christian community did try to raise its concerns heard, the minority communities are apprehensive and afraid.

Even the sane voices from the majority community – are either feeble or silenced. Remember what happened to Salman Taseer, the then serving Governor of Punjab, for raising his voice to support the minority community? He was assassinated by one of his bodyguards, while the rest was watching the assassin pumping bullets on a serving Governor of the most important province in Pakistan! What happened after the assassination was even worse. When the assassin was brought to the court, a section of the lawyers showered rose petals on him; the prosecution had a tough time making a case against a killer, who had killed no less than a serving Governor of Punjab!

Third, what makes the minority community an easy target is the widespread lack of a judicial process that would bring the killers to justice. How many groups and killers have been prosecuted for the multiple killings of people belonging to the minority community? From the investigation at police level to conviction at the legal and judicial levels, the system is not in favour of the victims of minority communities in Pakistan. While the judiciary has been hailed for being proactive in the recent years under the leadership of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the legal system remains far from the minority communities. Worse, the legislature – at the provincial and federal levels are far from providing any legal safeguards and provisions that would seriously hamper the attacks against the minority communities.

Fourth, the biggest culprit of all, in making the minority communities an easy target in Pakistan – has been the State, especially since the days of Zia. The State, with its multiple police and intelligence network is capable of securing the minority communities, if it wants to. Especially, the police at the local levels, if given a free hand and would like to take the issue seriously, attacks against the minorities would not have become this regular and serious. The State looks the other way whenever minorities are targeted. Worse, at times, the State is believed to be a partner in the crime; the multiple sectarian organizations in Pakistan have been believed to be a part of State’s strategy in a larger war.

The differences between Iran and Pakistan during Zia days, and the struggle for supremacy within the Muslim world by Saudi Arabia and Iran has always been a primary reason for the State to get involved sectarian violence by indirectly supporting, if not directly promoting sectarian groups within Pakistan. These sectarian groups with their connections at the larger level, for example the Taliban and the Jaish-e-Mohammad helped the State to consolidate its interests against India and Afghanistan.

Given the above issues, attacks against the minority communities are not likely to stop in the future. And the larger question is, after targeting the Shias, Ahmediyas, Hindus and the Christians, will these sectarian organizations stop? A recent trend has been the struggle within the Sunni Islam, especially targeting the Sufism. Perhaps the struggle for Islam within Pakistan and internal jihad has already begun; this conflict is likely to get bloody and nasty, given the predominant belief in Sufi Islam all over South Asia. There are adequate hints, not only in Pakistan, but also in the region, there is an attempt to impose a particular version of Islam over the rest of multiple beliefs predominantly represented by the Deobandi and Barelvi.

Especially one school of thought with blessings from certain Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia along with its multiple offshoots such as what is being represented by the Taliban in the Af-Pak region is likely to make the inter-religious and intra-religious faultlines messier and bloodier. In the long run, not only Pakistan, even far flung countries such as the Maldives is likely to feel the impact. The tremors have already started and this is not good news – either for the Sufi Islam or the regional harmony.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir