The Rising Sectarianism

Editorial: What is your name?
The News, September 05, 2008

Sectarian conflict is nothing new in Pakistan or anywhere else for that matter, and wherever there are sects within the same faith there will at some time have been conflict. Today, the sectarian bloodletting in Kurram agency has a death toll that looks like it will top 1,000 within a week with no sign of a let-up. Such is the ferocity of the conflict in Kurram that some commentators are suggesting that it is 'ethnic cleansing' -- not so; it is sect and not ethnicity that drives the bloodlust. Across the country at various times in the recent past both Shia and Sunni groups have bombed one another's mosques and imambargahs at will and now we see what appears to be the selective kidnapping of Shias – abducted in Bara tehsil of Khyber agency.

Selective kidnapping is not new either but what is particularly disturbing about the most recent kidnapping is its scale. Between 40 and 50 recruits of the Hangu Police Training College were the targets and if recent history is anything to go by their chances of a safe return to their families are slim. The Taliban have regularly kidnapped military and paramilitary personnel in NWFP and the tribal areas in recent years, often killing those they found to be Shia before releasing the rest of the group; a simple asking-of-the-name or examination of identity card being enough to sort the quick from the soon-to-be-dead. Mangal Bagh, head of the banned Lashkar-e-Islam and de facto ruler of Khyber agency says that none of his men are involved in the abductions and he will do all he can to trace the missing recruits – an offer that is at best hollow and at worst a sickening mockery.

The canker of sectarianism now spreads the length and breadth of the country, with no minority able to feel safe or secure. Prime Minister Gilani has proposed a cross-sect jirga in an attempt to short-circuit the Kurram conflict and we wish him well in his endeavours – but suspect that a single jirga no matter how well-intentioned is going to do little to resolve matters. The families of those taken in the latest iteration of sectarianism can do nothing beyond say their prayers and hope – and the Hangu Police College might give some serious thought to providing protection for its recruits as they move from place to place in the future.

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