National Reconciliation & Education Critical for Defeating Sectarianism in Pakistan
Sectarian and Ethnic Violence Escalates in Pakistan
Hassan Abbas, a former Pakistani government official who is now an academic and a senior adviser to the Asia Society, told Trend Lines that relations between South Asia’s Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities have historically been cordial, but that the recent uptick in sectarian attacks is linked to growing tension and violence in the region more generally.
“Religious bigotry, ignorance, ethnic tensions and regional tensions are driving this trend,” Abbas said in an email interview. “Many religious institutions with political agendas are teaching lessons of hatred while sectarian tensions in Middle East are also having an impact,” he said. “In both Quetta and Karachi, where recent terrorist attacks happened, ethnic rivalries were also at play.”
“Despite being a relative minority within the larger Muslim community, Shiites are very well represented in Pakistani politics, military and media,” Abbas explained. “Though secular in orientation, Pakistan’s founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah and many of his close political associates were Shiite, and this was never an issue.”
But the situation deteriorated in the aftermath of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, as “religious radicals from around the world moved to the region and influenced religious discourse in problematic ways,” Abbas said.
“Religious extremists within the Islamic context are first and foremost sectarian fanatics,” he said. The groups that carry out terrorist activities in pursuit of political goals are “narrow-minded and ill-educated in their understanding of Islam,” he argued.