Sectarian violence has become a daily phenomenon some areas are hit harder than others. Reasons are complex but a common thread runs through them all i.e., religion. Although sectarianism is rooted in religion it is often linked to cultural, historical and political differences as well. Sectarian violence is among the critical threats to Pakistan's internal security and stability. Besides sectarian-related attacks and targeted killings by violent sectarian groups, sectarian discrimination is also increasingly and penetrating individual attitudes and behaviors in Pakistan.

The recent tragedy in which 11 people were killed and over 60 injured is also the outcome of sectarian clashes that erupted in the garrison-city last week. Likewise, communal clashes also erupted in Multan and Hangu while deaths were reported in Kohat. One could expect protests, but destroying property and killing people are uncalled for. All this is due to the extreme stands some fanatic religious scholars are taking who advocate bigotry and dogmatism and hence depict Islam in a negative way. Islam is indeed a religion of peace and harmony, and advocates love, moderation, enlightenment and respect for humanity. The fact of the matter is that Islam is against bigotry and dogmatism; it advocates religious liberalism with no parallel in human history; it preaches love for humanity and respects the rights of all human beings.

Unfortunately, religious education in Pakistan is divided along sectarian lines and is one of the causes of sectarian violence in the country. Secondly, the political dynamics of sectarian violence is also very active. Many of the banned sectarian organizations wear political hats and take part in electoral politics, whether with different names and independent candidates or through making alliances with mainstream political parties. Another important factor of sectarian-motivated violence, which usually has not received as much attention, is the administrative side of the problem, or how local administrations deal with issues involving different sectarian groups, such as disputes over mosques, routes for Ashura and Eid Milad-un-Nabi processions, etc.

Therefore, interaction and dialogue among religious scholars belonging to different schools of thought, or sects, are direly needed to remove widespread misperceptions among religious sects about one another. There should be zero tolerance for violent sectarian groups and their leaders. Many examples prove that religious and sectarian disputes are initially local in nature and their prudent handling by administrations can nip them in the bud.

The government should strive in consultation with all the stakeholders to provide an opportunity to study viewpoints of different religious schools of thoughts. Religious education should be promoted instead of sectarian education. Pakistan is already facing many hardships, therefore no room should be left for the opportunists to exploit the situation. Hence, sectarian harmony is the need of the hour and it should be maintained at all costs.

SYED ALI QASIM,

Lahore, November 22.