Umar Riaz


Samuel P. Huntington in his celebrated theory of the Clash of Civilisations declared in 1996 that the Islamic Civilisation has bloody borders and ‘bloody innards’. Sectarianism embodies those bloody innards within the body of Islam. Almost all current religious schools of thought and denominations are universal in theory and sectarian in practice. They might be exclusive or inclusive, but there is none which is not distinctive or not possessive of its group identity. In our country, the sectarian fault lines are too deep, fissures too vast and consensus on exclusion too solid. These sectarian faiths have political, social and violent capital at their disposal and they wield all three, or any one, depending upon the situation.


The recent election of a sectarian leader has stirred fresh debate on the conundrum of sectarianism. The elected MPA from Jhang has been associated with an organization accused of scores of assassinations and terrorist incidents. The Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) which recently operated as ASWJ is banned and its members subject to surveillance under the Anti-terrorism Act, but legislative representation will earn them legitimate right to speak on behalf of their constituents. Election is also manifestation of acquisition of political capital using the already existing extensive social capital; a fact missed by those surprised by this victory.


Social capitals of sectarian outfits operate through two ubiquitous institutions; the mosque and madrassah. Everyday millions of faithful start and end their daily routine by visiting nearby mosques belonging to specific sects, being addressed by prayer leaders who are graduates of sectarian madrassahs and decry other sects as heretics of varying degrees. Besides mosques and madrassahs, the social capital is also organized around educational, welfare and tribal networks. Not all the sectarian social capital is channelized into violence but when it does, it becomes a cascade. Deoband school of thought from which SSP draw its members wields considerable social capital in KPK/FATA, South Punjab, Karachi and Quetta. In KPK, Balochistan and FATA, the social capital is utilized by JUI-F while in Punjab they are socially overshadowed by majority Barelvi sect who boasts its own strength on social capital with mosques and shrines. Ahl-e-hadith or wahabi movement is also socially organized in mainly urban centers of Punjab along with elaborate, old and sizable Shia following for whom the mourning processions and gatherings (majalis) provide a social platform. The Jamaat Islami has its own social presence amongst students, traders and other influential groups of middle class.


Social capital cannot sit idle for long and is reflected in political capital sooner or later. JUI and Jamaat Islami (JI) were the earliest to harness it on political front with varying degree of success. Both are now established political forces and well integrated in the national constitutional dispensation. Barelvis and Ahl-e-hadith have only limited role with JUP slowly losing political clout and Ahl-e-hadith dependent on main party for a symbolic political representation. Sunni Therik in Karachi has diverted its capital more into violence instead of mainstream politics. Tehrik Nifaz e fiqah Jafria (TNFJ) also operate as socio-political voice of followers of Shia faith but has never been able to capitalize on the vote bank fully.


Violent capital is the third dimension of sectarian networks. The violence takes the form of social violence as seen in seen in sunni-barelvi mobilisation post-Mumtaz Qadri and occasionally in the form of local sectarian clashes. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) which is also a staunchly Ahl-e-hadith outfit, also boasts of violent capital focused on the Kashmir front. Fortunately, all Ahl-e-hadith or wahabi sectarian organisations in Pakistan have not indulged in sectarian violence despite being theologically averse to the Shia sect on the basis of teachings of the founder Mohamad bin Wahab and fierce rivalry between Wahabi Saudi Arab and Shia Iran. Occasionally though, many disgruntled lone wolves from the politico-religious parties end up in the hands of terrorist networks when they find politics too timid for their version of change.


SSP was the founder of organised violence and terrorism in Pakistan and was formed with sole aim of inflicting damage on rival minority shia sects by assassinations and armed attacks. Talibinisation was the next brutal phase and the rise of Taliban in Swat valley and elsewhere was a transformation of social capital into violent capital. Dera Ismail Khan became a hub of sectarian terrorism and attracted multiple attacks by both LeJ and TTP duo, a design being repeated in Quetta presently. Swat Taliban under Sufi Mohamamd existed as socio-political movement for a long time with whom a number of agreements were made, but the rise of Fazlullah dashed any hopes of peace that were left. Both the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the militant wing of SSP, are not without social capital. This social capital helps them recover, regroup, re-organise and recruit; this social capital facilitates their escape from law acts as a deterrence to law enforcement.


The state response in the form of National Action Plan (NAP), and routine law enforcement, is invariably focused on the violent capital of sectarian organisations. This violent capital is the direct but occasional outcome of their social capital which is remains intact in the form of networks covering both religious and communal relationships. These relationships grow out of a sectarian cascade and ensure relevance amid mainstream socio-political groups who cannot ignore their social capital even if they do not ascribe to their violent means. Any effort at monitoring or reforming of these social assets invariably attracts resistance from the entire cohort belonging to the sectarian landscape.

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