Sectarian strife

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
The renewed clashes in the Hangu district of NWFP, where 40 people have been killed within three days, brings back memories of the terrible fighting in the area, along sectarian lines, that has already claimed hundreds of lives in recent months. Tribes, broken up into Sunnis and Shias, have once more been battling each other. Tensions seem to have risen with the advent of the Muslim month of mourning – Muharrum – an occasion that has repeatedly triggered violence over the past decade. This is of course immensely sad, given the sanctity of the month for Muslims of all sects.

So far, tribal elders attempting to mediate between the fighting tribes have failed to restore peace in Hangu. Even if they do achieve a breakthrough, one fears that it will be short-lived. This, after all, is what has happened each time in the past. Periods of peace have been followed by resumed phases of intense fighting. The sectarian violence in areas such as Parachinar in the Kurram Agency has resulted in what amounts to a brutal ethnic cleansing. It is said large pockets of Shias have been entirely wiped out or else have fled, fearful of death. It is unfortunate that this should still happen in a day and age that is described as ‘civilised’.

We have seen too many episodes of repeated sectarian violence. The government needs to step in and act. It is senseless to simply ignore what is happening or hope that it will just go away. Even if another period of peace is enforced, the risk is that at some point in the future the underlying tensions will erupt once more. What we need is a policy to address the root causes of sectarian hatred. Through curriculums, through the immensely powerful media and by enforcing the laws that exist to safeguard against the dissemination of hate, a concerted effort to turn back the clock must be initiated. It is true that sectarian strife was a reality in Hangu even decades ago, but the degree of violence has increased markedly since then. It must be stopped before it tears apart the fabric of a society that has forgotten the need to tolerate each other and to live together in peace, regardless of belief, race or other similar factors.

 

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