Religious Extremism: Pakistan’s Achilles Heel

The recent attack on a group of Ismailis in Karachi once again highlighted the fact that Pakistan is under a serious threat of religious extremism. It is not the first chance when people belonging to a particular religious affiliation have been targeted and killed. Such incidents are common and in fact have been on rise in Pakistan in last many years. After the new Army Chief General Raheel Sharif assumed office, there has been a marked shift in Pakistan’s policy in dealing with the threat of the territorial terrorist threat that is largely manifested through the violence of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. The Army launched a full fledged offensive against the group last year and since then the violent actions have considerably come down. But unfortunately no such luck with the incidents of religious extremism. In fact, the theater of action for acts of religious extremism has only widened during the past few months. The port city of Karachi has been the latest target of these organisations. Karachi has been undergoing its own share of violence in the last three decades, but it was largely based on ethnicity. The city has also witnessed its share of wars between various gangs who are notorious for acting in acts of extortion. But these problems involving extortion gangs can be tackled by a better and well trained police force. The Pakistani Rangers, which is entrusted with the security of the city, has pushed the dominant political party MQM, which is known for its acts of violence, into a corner. But that is not the main scourge facing Pakistan or even Karachi. The country faces the biggest challenge by way of religious extremism, an idea cloaked in a distorted understanding of religion. Analysts might have various reasons underlying this throwback to darkness, but that is one reality that stares Pakistan in the face.

Pakistan has often suffered for a lack of credible and thinking leadership. The long years spent in the Afghan Jihad to gain a strategic depth in that country have backfired. Though its obsession with Afghanistan has substantially come down, the country still remains too obsessed with India. But the demons created by the Afghan jihad are not going anyway quickly. They are scattered throughout the country and are bleeding the core of Pakistan. The safety of common people and the security of the country has become a question mark. It is a plant that the Pakistani state has itself watered and any journey back will be messy and bloody. But it is a journey that Pakistan needs to undertake.

Pakistan is yet to face a situation as desperate and a hopeless as Syria, Libya or Iraq. That Pakistan has not yet turned into such a messy situation is largely thanks to its Army. But with the Army spread so thin, fighting at various fronts, it is time for the Pakistani civilian leadership to take a strong stand against the menace of religious extremism before it snowballs into something more violent and serious.

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