The Farcical Ban.

I find it incredibly ironic that the Government of Pakistan has now decided to carry out an “operation” against banned outfits that are operating in the province, following the deaths of at least 15 people in sectarian clashes in the city of Karachi in June alone. Banned outfits, like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a virulent anti-Shia party, which was banned during General Musharraf’s reign, and later re-emerged under the new name Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jaamat, have been operating with impunity not just in Karachi, but in various parts of Sindh, notably Khairpur, the district where the Chief Minister of Sindh, Qaim Ali Shah hails from.

In March this year, when we visited Khairpur, one could see SSP flags fluttering in the skies in Khairpur, along with their graffitti on the walls, near their sizeable madrassah. The SSP leader Ali Sher Haidri had been killed in August last year in Khairpur. According to local accounts, many of the area’s residents did not know how large the madrassah even was, until the police tore down the walls.

In August last year, following Allama Sher Haidri’s death, SSP held a protest outside the Karachi Press Club. Interestingly, even though they officially changed their name, the banners and the press release they handed out to journalists, bore the name SSP, signifying that the ban really made no difference – nor were the authorities taking any notice of the fact that SSP still operated freely. Slogans were shouted against the Shia community, and participants of the protest rally declared them as infidels. (See pictures from the August 2009 SSP protest here) Hate literature, inciting violence against the Shia minority is freely available outside SSP mosques for all and sundry.

What is disappointing, although typical in Pakistan, is that it takes the death of more than a dozen people before the government acts against banned outfits. The fact that “banned outfits” (I’m sorry, changing a party’s name does not signify a change in its ideologies or beliefs) operate with impunity, and have been doing so for several years, signifies that the government and the police is either blind, deaf and dumb, or that it has too much on its plate, or is, perhaps, hoping that the SSP stays under the radar, so that they don’t have to deal with them.

The problem is, sweeping problems under the carpet has never worked out well for Pakistan.

In other news, Hafiz Saeed is back. Dawn notes:

“It was the second public activity of Hafiz Saeed, accused by India of masterminding the Mumbai attacks, after being released from house arrest on court orders. He had taken part in a pro-farmers rally in Lahore last month. The two appearances suggest that Hafiz Saeed is seeking to return to the centre-stage after having been kept on the margins of politics in the wake of the Nov 2008 attacks in Mumbai. ”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. As a Pakistani Shia muslim, I want to MY government to recognize that this is my country as well, and that perpetuating Hate is not only deplorable but requires action as well. A reactionary government may as well be a useless one.

  2. Ironic that while the Qur’an condemns sectarianism in the stongest terms, those who claim to believe in it are divided themselves!

    Sectarian violence that we witness today is the outcome of a long process. While doctrinal differences have always existed within a faith, and under the umbrella of one religion, there are offshoots and denominations (e.g. in Sikhism there are the Khalsa Sikhs and Nirankaris, in Christianity there are Catholics and Protestants, among Muslims there are Shia, Sunni, and further Deobandi, Barelvi etc) the trouble arises when these sects resort to violence and hatred against the other.

    The way to control this violence is for the government to legislate on incitement to religious hatred, and promotion of hate speech, and enforce on those who flout the legislation.

    More importantly it should not be the patron of any particular sect but remain neutral.

    Until and unless a law banning incitement to religious hatred is introduced and enforced in letter and spirit, the problem is unlikely to be handled.

    Inter-sect dialogue and meetings and joint prayer/worship at local/regional level and introduction of a national school curriculum where students are taught in a balanced manner the beliefs of other sects and denominations than their own will also result in creating sectarian harmony in communities.

  3. I’d like to know what criteria is used to decide which organisations are banned and which are let off scott-free. There are a lot of “allamas” who, you’ll find, if you listen to them over a period of time, have pretty virulent opinions of sects other than their own; and they use their forum to spew hate-inducing rhetoric. If these people were saying such things sitting in their living rooms, it wouldn’t make such a difference, but they appear on t.v. and in public gatherings and people listen to what they say. Most of these personalities aren’t banned, which is why I asked the question. Does it take a public anti-shia or anti-sunni or anti-hindu demonstration to make a public personality or an organisation worth banning? I know everyone (in theory) has the right to free speech but shouldn’t there be some accountability? After all, there are laws against such things in other countries.

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