The bloodshed that has become the daily norm in some of the major cities of the country and the concomitant sense of insecurity that perpetually stalks the entire citizenry have their origin in the long past. The latest manifestation of the deadly intolerance of others’ faith or just their way of life was the bomb blast that occurred at a Shia colony in Karachi, laying at least 48 dead and injuring over 150 others on Sunday. Many more are feared dead but the figure would only be known when the debris of the two tall buildings of flats ruined by the 1,500kg explosive device had been removed.

No single reason could be pinpointed to explain how and why the malady has mushroomed into such a scary phenomenon. Perhaps, the germs of intolerant feelings had always existed in society, in utter disregard of the injunction, “there is no compulsion in religion," but it existed only in a small section and rarely found a violent expression. It was hoped at that time that as knowledge, the driving force in modern-day living, spreads and as interaction among different communities becomes more common, such feelings would dissipate in course of time. Sadly, however, religiosity was adopted as a state policy during the rule of a retrogressive-minded military dictator Ziaul Haq. The anti-Soviet Afghan war provided a veritable boost to such sentiments, as seminaries produced hoards of students believing in fanatical connotations of jehad to prepare them for the fight. With the end of the war, they returned to Pakistan having absorbed the gun culture and ready to use force to snuff out any difference of opinion in religion.

The point in giving a historical perspective of violent intolerance is that while these misguided forces began asserting themselves ever more vigorously, the rulers that followed Zia did nothing to curb the tendency. Despite regular reminders of the vicious intent of these groups, none of the succeeding governments thought the issue out and set out a cogent approach to eliminate the plague. What was needed was a policy, with short-term, medium-term and long-term goals, to effect change in the mindset. What the people see, instead, is the leaders’ utter lack of understanding of the problem; they try to answer the wails of the bereaved with meaningless messages of condolence and wipe their tears with the insulting recourse to monetary compensation for the loss. Today, the entire nation is in a state of mourning for the dead in Karachi, Balochistan and elsewhere and shock at the callousness of the leaders who, clearly, are only concerned with winning votes in the coming general elections. They should rather be hanging their heads in shame at their failure to ensure security for the citizens, irrespective of their religious, political or racial affiliations, the basic raison d’être of the state. It is time for us all to stand up and fight the evil by whatever means possible, and not confine ourselves to simply condemning these episodes that they, indeed, also call for; or else, their tragic memories would continue to haunt us, carrying serious implications for the country and for us.