On Tuesday, the Interior Minister appeared before the Senate to answer questions on the fate of the missing activists, yet he only managed to infuriate the senators present. Their response of a walkout – the parliamentary standard rebuke – was not only justified, but tame considering the gravity of the Interior Minister’s statements. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan deserved a tongue lashing that would reorient his senses by force, and further consequences for his highly irresponsible statements.
It should be evident why such a drastic response is necessary; Pakistan’s sitting Interior Minister claimed that “banned sectarian organisations could not be equated with other banned terrorist organisations” and hence, the former deserved some sort of leeway. He went on to say that the Shia-Sunni conflict was 1300 years old, and thus not the current government’s problem, and that past governments had allowed sectarian groups to contest elections too. What is infinitely worse is the fact that these statements were not made due to some misguided yet genuinely held belief, they were made to protect himself from criticism for his meeting with Ahmed Ludhianvi, the chief of banned sectarian organisation Ahle-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ).
The plain fact is that most of what he said is clearly wrong. Claiming that sectarian organisations are not “purely terrorist” is to ignore the countless acts of violence that they have committed – from bombings to murders of prominent minority members. Organisations such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba didn’t gain notoriety by just spreading divisive and anti-minority propaganda, but by backing up this propaganda with violence such as such as the 2013 Quetta bombings which killed over a hundred members of the Hazara community.
This is the textbook definition of terrorism, and in fact the National Counterterrorism Centre – a government department – lists them as “terrorist organisations”, yet the Interior Minister feels there is a difference. Even the Afghan Taliban professed sectarian ideals. ASWJ may not be currently holding a gun – which it has at several points in the past – but it is the spiritual successor of these groups, the vanguard of this toxic ideology and the precursor of future terrorist groups – there is a reason why these groups are banned, and not just disapproved of.
Furthermore, dismissing the Sunni-Shia strife as “a 1300-year-old conflict” is not only highly insulting, but is tantamount to saying that the government has no role in it. We expect out Interior Minister to strive towards ending this conflict, not to say that that it has always been so and always will be. In the end, such remarks only legitimise the the actions of the violent majority.
Such a flippant attitude by the Interior Minister towards Pakistan’s most divisive conflict – that too only to protect himself – is highly regrettable. It is high time Mr Nisar starts serving the whole nation, all of its people and sects – not just his party and himself.