ISLAMABAD: Over 950 people have been killed in sectarian attacks over the past three years across Pakistan, according to a report compiled by the interior ministry. What is more alarming, however, is that the trend is on the rise and the government seems to have failed to control it.
According to the report, 197 people were killed because of sectarian strife in 2011, a number which witnessed a sharp spike to 370 in 2012. Year 2013 brought no relief as the violence claimed 387 lives.
Province-wise, according to official figures, Balochistan tops the list where 528 people belonging to different sects — majority of them Shias — were killed. Balochistan has seen most heinous attacks against the Shia Hazara community in the recent past.
Next on the list is Sindh, where the ministry put the number of casualties at 207, followed by Punjab (86), Gilgit-Baltistan (62), the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (62), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (22) and the Islamabad Capital Territory (three).
According to the ministry, Azad Kashmir is the safest place in sectarian terms as the region saw no killing on sectarian grounds.
The ministry has listed five steps that the government is implementing to curb sectarian violence. Ironically, none of them appears to be going to stop mindless persecution of people in the name of religion.
Most of the suggested measures have already been used as a policy — but to little avail. The first is keeping a close watch on clandestine activities through police, intelligence departments and other law enforcement agencies.
Second, the government has recognised the threat posed by violent sectarian elements as a threat to internal national security in the new National Internal Security Policy. It claims that the government will deal with it comprehensively.
As its third step, sectarian killing will be deemed as an offence to be dealt with by the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO). The government hopes that this will ensure prompt investigation and adjudication.
The government has already extended the life of the PPO by another 120 days through a resolution passed in the National Assembly, but its future remains uncertain as opposition parties say they will not support it unless significant amendments are made to it.
Fourth, the government says it will ban sectarian organisations that preach hate. Since the present government came into being, not a single organisation has been banned, although many banned groups have appeared with new names.
The last action suggested by the interior ministry, headed by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, is to take action against publication and distribution of hate literature. For decades, experts have been suggesting that such writings need to be controlled. Whether the government will be able to succeed where all others have failed is anybody’s guess.