Conflict Alerts # 176, 15 October 2020
In the news
On 10 October, Maulana Dr Adil Khan, a scholar from the Sunni Deobandi sect and head of Karachi's Jamia Farooqia seminary, was shot dead along with his driver in a suspected targeted attack when armed pillion riders opened indiscriminate fire on the car and fled.
The police investigators have launched a probe to determine the identity and exact motive for the killing, they remain uncertain about the perpetrators of this high-profile targeted killing. The incident drew strong condemnation from several sections including Prime Minister Imran Khan and COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. The Army Chief has blamed "Pakistan's enemies" for trying to provoke sectarian violence.
Issues at large
First, the continuing sectarian violence and the attacks on religious leaders in Karachi. Over the last six years, Karachi alone has seen numerous attacks on religious leaders. Maulana Adil is the third top Sunni religious leader to have been attacked in Karachi within a span of roughly six years. There has been no let-up in the sectarian violence not only between Sunnis and Shias but also between multiple Sunni groups seems to be continuing especially in Karachi and some urban centres of Punjab. Although moderate religious scholars from the two sects tried to ease the situation down, banned sectarian outfits and radical organizations have made use of the tensions to showcase their strength. On the other hand, the duality of these extremist groups' leadership, where the same religious leaders who had been preaching sectarian tolerance earlier have now suddenly taken to the streets with slogans of hatred.
Second, the failure of the State to address sectarian violence. Sectarianism often goes unnoticed by the government unless there is an extreme manifestation of the phenomenon. The government has usually used the 'concealment and appeasement' approach, which was evident from its dealing with the recent upsurge in sectarian tensions in the country. On the other hand, while investigations are carried out, most cases remain unsolved and thus unable to get a judicial verdict. Even when there were violent incidents like the one on the Maulana, the State actors are quick to blame the external factors, than to look within.
The sectarian divide is dangerous, a situation Pakistan cannot afford to be caught in. Attacks like this will undermine whatever efforts are being taken by the State to reduce levels of sectarian violence. It leads to further violence, with attacks and counter-attacks amongst the various sectarian denominations.
Although Pakistan has made much progress in dismantling militant organizations and curbing terror financing. However, the existing measures are not sufficient enough to totally quell the sectarian violence at the national level and in Karachi. While the State finds it convenient to blame external actors, there are multiple factors within - economic crises, demographic changes, failure of education, religious intolerance, marginalized youth, and the escalation of urban violence by militant groups.