Pakistan should draw the right lessons from the epoch-making geopolitical developments underway in the Greater Middle East Region (GMER). Unbridled ambitions to dominate the region and rampant ethno-sectarianism have caused unbridgeable divisions amongst the Muslim states of the GMER. The US-Israel Combine has pitilessly exploited these weaknesses to split and literally subjugate them. The Persian Gulf resultantly divides the GMER on ethno-sectarian lines, between Arab and non-Arab, between Sunni and Shia!

Pakistan is faced with a similar predicament. One of its most critical internal fault-lines is the scourge of ethno-sectarianism which stubbornly refuses to die. This vulnerability has been exploited by the Indians through a ruthless 5GW and hybrid war against it. India’s multidimensional assault on Pakistan has included fanning ethno-sectarian issues too. It unabashedly sponsors separatist ethno-terrorist outfits like the BLA, BRA, BLF, PTM, Sindhudesh Liberation Army etc. Sectarian/sub-sect disharmony too has been the bane of Pakistani society. The presence of proactive militant wings of sectarian groups/sub-groups like the Lashkar e Jhangvi, Sipah e Sahaba, Sipah e Muhammad etc provide ample hunting grounds for the Indians to exploit. Ironically, these militant wings are fighting others’ wars on Pakistani turf against fellow Pakistanis! This environment is further vitiated by Indian sponsored and abetted terrorism. The RAW-NDS cabal operates from Afghanistan (and RAW from Iran too) and sponsors, funds, trains, equips, directs and launches terrorist groups like ISIS-K, TTP, JuA, IMU, etc into Pakistan for sabotage, subversion and terrorist activities.

This conundrum thus portends a vicious three-dimensional threat to Pakistan’s solidarity, integrity and economic well-being (BRI-CPEC). Each threatens to harm Pakistan through its own singular fanaticism. Their menace will assume perilous dimensions were they to crossover (Indian machinations) and start operating in each other’s domains—for or against one another, with or without concurrence or consent! Either way, they make for an explosive concoction which could create grave existentialist threats for Pakistan!

For the moment, the ethnic, sectarian and terrorist groups are largely operating independent of one another. Pakistan must ensure that it stays that way. Such crossover activities have taken place in the erstwhile FATA during the mid-to-late 80s. Terrorists acting on behalf of the erstwhile KGB-RAW-KHAD Combine would move at night to fire mortars, rockets and heavy machine guns into a village of one of the sects and then move and repeat the process in a village of the other sect. This would create a perception where both sects would feel that the other had attacked them and would lead to unmitigated inter-sect violence. Similar exploitation is possible even today. The Indians could still play one sect against the other, covertly or even overtly through their sleeper cells or through the ethnic and/or terrorist outfits operating from Afghanistan and Iran. In any case, these terrorist organisations have their own religious/sectarian idiosyncrasies and would not be too averse to oblige.

Pakistan must guard itself against this triple jeopardy, the ethno-sectarian-terrorist threat. It must not allow any one of them to reinforce the efforts of the other one or both. They must be isolated and neutralised, piecemeal. In particular, it must not allow the ethno-sectarian elements to be exploited by the Afghanistan or Iran-based terrorist elements. It must ensure that the sleeper cells do not foment further trouble by arousing ethno-sectarian emotions. The success of Operation Rad ul Fasaad thus becomes imperative, inevitable. Pakistan must establish and assert its writ and control over all ethnic and sectarian activities in the country. It must continue to carry out effective counterterrorism operations inside the country. The fencing on the borders with Iran and Afghanistan must be completed, post haste.

Of the three, the sectarian threat is the most crucial to overcome.

A well-structured, duly authorised joint body must be formed under the Ministries of Interior and Religious Affairs, with a clearly enunciated articulation of command. It must comprise relevant government officials at the federal and provincial levels, representative members of all sects/subsects and experts from all LEAs and intelligence outfits. It must have sub-bodies at the division, district and lower levels for better oversight, control and management. It must be made responsible for fostering peace and harmony between the sects. It must also be the first forum where all complaints or disputes of a sectarian nature could be heard and resolved. It must have oversight and primary authority to adjudicate over such sectarian issues. It must pre-empt sectarian disharmony through a well-considered plan of action. It must ensure that no sect feels undone by the (mis)deeds of the others. Dispute resolution must be provided promptly and on the scene of occurrence. Matters may only go to the formal legal/judicial processes after having failed at this level.

Leaders of all religious/sectarian parties must be made aware of the latent dangers inherent in such sectarian strife in the current strategic environment. Jointly, they must promote and ensure inter-sect harmony. They must be held personally responsible for the (mis)conduct of their followers. Pakistan must legislate control and strict governmental oversight on all types of Madaris in the country. The Single National Curriculum is a step in the right direction and must include inter-sect harmony as an important part of the syllabi. All foreign funding to the Madaris and sectarian outfits must be outlawed. Any clandestine foreign or domestic funding that promotes or instigates sectarian disharmony must attract the provisions of the Anti-Money Laundering and Terror Financing laws; and where required, a proper diplomatic response. The Government of Pakistan may take it upon itself to fund these Madaris equitably, if possible. Media must be denied the leeway to fan or arouse sectarian differences, rather it be (t)asked to deliberately promote sectarian harmony. Distribution of all forms of hate or derogatory material and instigation of inter-sect violence must attract the harshest provisions of the relevant anti-terrorism laws.

United, Pakistan is invincible. Sectarian harmony reinforces all its strengths. The enemy must not be allowed to create and/or exploit any cracks in our unity. Pakistan needs a whole of the nation approach to forestall these threats with rabid sectarianism being the prime one!