Pakistan, a land created at the promise of securing rights of then, minority Muslims regardless of their sectarian beliefs, in the sub-continent, along with other religious and ethnic groups which had numeric infancy, had been bait to various divisions among its citizens, since the very beginning. Diversity was never utilized to its full potential for the benefit of the natives rather it was used as a polish wipe to shine the politics of many and to acquire self-interests based on ethno-religious biasness. The heterogeneity of Pakistan’s demographics can be well understood with the sectarian divide among Muslims who account for 96.28% of a total population of 220 million, 82.8% are Sunni Muslims while the rest are Shiite Muslims (11.8%).The tussle between majority and minority branches of Muslims yet again came on spotlight when mass number of protestors from both poles were seen, holding high the banner of derogatory remarks for each other. Moreover, mind boggling terminologies became a trend on twitter. The sudden escalation in rift came after a series of events from both sects to counter each other’s narratives in chronological order: ‘blasphemous’ books were highlighted by Hafiz Amar Yasir which was followed by the passing of Tahafuz-e-Bunyad-e-Islam Bill in July this year, which legitimized blasphemous accusations, especially on the Shiite sect, adding further weight to a vague and contradictory definition of blasphemy, accusations were followed by an anarchic situation of unrest among both factions including protests and arrests.
To have a comprehensive insight about the current scenario, the triggering event, passing of the bill, must be well understood. Protection of Islam Bill, scrutinizes publishing of religious material, both in hard and soft form as well as prohibits publication of content associated with terrorist groups and attackers. The set of rules mentioned, for the purpose of guidance on how religious content is to be published encompasses: ‘Khatam-un-Nabiyin’ with name of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), as well as mandatory use of ‘RaziTa’Allah with names of four caliphs, companions of Prophet, Prophet’s wives, his all four daughters and three sons and Ahle Bait. Furthermore, title of ‘Sahabi-e-Rasool’ shall be used with names of all companions of Prophet (Pbuh). Along with this, any information/graphics that defame the above-mentioned personalities along with other prophets, angels and Holy Books is also proscribed. Any material that incites inter-faith disagreements, racism, ethnicism and sectarianism is also outlawed. This bill grants powers to Directorate General of Public Relations to inspect, investigate, asses and ascertain publication content, he at his will can refute to grant allowance for publication keeping in mind national interests. Failure of compliance with the bill shall result in up to 5-year jail and a fine that may extend to rupees five hundred thousand. After almost a month after this bill was passed, few Shiite clerics were arrested upon the accusation of use of blasphemous language, according to this bill. It was then, that the cleft between both sections deepened.
With the crevice amplifying, one must ponder on how this peaceful co-existence among various sects was sparked to a certain level of violence and hatred for each other. Critically analyzing the situation, I find incompetency of current government in showing negligence over such a sensitive issue. Backing the statement, first of all, several legislators admitted that they did not bother reading the bill and voted in favor of it. Secondly, the bill is an amalgam of ambiguous language and has no clear definition of the acts prohibited, keeping in view the varying beliefs of masses and their personal apprehensions of personalities, in accordance to their sect. This also abrogates the Article 227 of the constitution, which clearly allows interpretation of Sunnah and Holy Quran as per individuals sectarian beliefs. By the same token, governments eagerness and pace of getting the bill passed is also suspicious enough. The bill if it was official, should have been passed by the cabinet, and if it was a private member bill, there should have been a standing committee made, but to dismay, none was done. Adding to disappointment, matter of such intense vulnerability was suddenly passed and that to when the Holy month of Muharram was around the corner. Another contradiction that this law poses to the constitution is its paradoxical nature with Article 10, which allows right of self-defense to the detainee also known as audialterampartem. This bill not only nullifies Article 10 and basic right of every citizen rather disrupts the power hierarchy and provides authority to DGPR on religious matters of extreme sensitivity.
With the pecking order buckled, several politicians, clerics and common men demand for power distribution among Federal Shariah Court and Mutihida Ulema Council so as it ensure consensus among all sectarian branches before formation of any bill, instead of granting direct supremacy to DGPR. Furthermore, any bill of religious content should be passed with consent of scholars from all schools of thought in order to maintain sectarian harmony. No doubt in the fact that government’s ineptitude led to this disruption of peace, yet keeping in view our strategic location, this lack of capacity at government’s end was fully used by our neighbor, India. India, who is facing worst challenges, economically at the hands of Modi regime, coupled with Covid cases peaking day by day, found this negligence of government a good chance to derail peace in Pakistan and to defame its image elsewhere. The term ‘genocide’ was used in context of protests, arrests and few Shiite killings at the hand of extremists, on twitter, topping the list of trends. India, I suppose, successfully infiltrated the minds of masses with its own definition of genocide. According to United Nations, Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Keeping the UN recognized definition, these mass protests, arrests and counter violence among common man can not be defined as genocidal, by any means. Portraying image of ‘genocide’ happening in Pakistan was a tactic used by anti-state elements to shatter the peace-filled image of Pakistan which was achieved with difficulty specially in the aftermath of 9/11.
Maintenance of durable peace and creation of “Riyast-e-Medina’ is the agenda of PTI government, but it is high time that they understand that this can not be achieved through means of forceful imposition of views of majority over the minority. State build on the notion of being a welfare state, under the principles followed by Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) can not be run through disagreements between factions. It is a prejudiced understanding of those in power that harmony can be achieved through neglecting sentiments of minority. This by no means, mean that anyone can use, any sort of language or graphics as per their own respective fondness and dislike for any religious personality. Being mindful of number of splinters on religious lines government should amend bill in accordance with religious understandings of all, considering none disrespects the other. Shiites having certain level of disassociation for some companions of Prophet (Pbuh) should be understood as their personal belief, yet it should be ensured that they do not disrespect them with foul words. Moreover, a comprehensive, unanimously agreed list should be prepared of mutually respected personalities and mutually disdained names in the history. Any contradiction should be discussed among religious clerics, before it goes to parliament for becoming a law. As far as matter of publishing is concerned, same should be followed. Publishing houses for religious materials should be divided, following their respective sectarian beliefs, yet ensuring they do not disrespect others. In the long run, Riyast-e-Medina should work on inculcating lessons of tolerance and acceptance among youth through platform of education, so that the generations to come are not naïve at mind and are easily used by anti-state elements. With fingers crossed, hopefully, government shall act soon to cater for the disagreements over the bill else it might lay foundation for a wide scale sectarian fissure.