By Mehr F. Husain
22 November 2013
IT COULD not have been more symbolic.
On the tenth of Muharram, which landed on a Friday, what was meant to be an act of spreading Imam Hussain’s (AS) message of peace and humanity ended in bloodshed. The tragedy of it is that for Pakistan, it exposed exactly how dangerous the security situation is. More importantly, it highlighted how weak the government is as it failed to provide protection to its citizens, despite receiving warnings about a terrorist attack.
So what happened? No one knows. What started off as a peaceful Ashura procession suddenly turned into a war of sects with people dying, even more injured and the destruction of shops in the local bazaar. Exactly where was the police personnel that was categorically told to supervise the procession and avoid such a situation remains unclear. The army had to be called in to take control of the situation.
WHILE conspiracies and rumours surrounded the situation, the government responded by slapping on a curfew on Rawalpindi and launching an investigation. But it was too late. The Shia- Sunni clashes in Rawalpindi had a spill over effect causing riots in other areas such as Hungu and Kohat where curfews were also imposed. The problem is that curfews, while effective in bringing about some form of order, are not the solution.
They should not have been imposed at all, had the government provided adequate security in Rawalpindi which is a red zone of sorts since the Ashura procession was to cross a mosque was known for its anti- Shia sentiments.
Rumours or not, the fact that the police did not or was unable to control the violence indicates a broken chain of command.
The security agencies knew the route and they also knew that the procession was to cross this particular mosque so would it not have made sense to utilise security personnel and exercise all security measures to the max? Currently, rumours are abound that the miscreants who fuelled the violence are supposedly “foreign” and the entire situation was a “ conspiracy”. Pakistan has had more than its fair share of violence conducted by home- grown terrorists as well as foreign agents to know that it needs to plan even more vigorously for such situations.
Given this government’s promise to bring peace, it is even more necessary that stricter security controls be a priority.
Shia- Sunni hatred is not new. Over the decades it has been created into a problem and fuelled by hate- mongers, resulting in deaths of innocent people.
In the Rawalpindi incident, while the security agencies failed, there are many questions as to who instigated it and why. Allegedly, it was a planned attack with details being leaked on a twitter account inviting people to try and stop the procession.
F OR all talk of blocking blasphemous content on social sites and actual sites themselves such as YouTube , it is time the government reassessed its stand on moral policing because if social media is to be monitored then one needs to reassess exactly who has access to it and how effective is it. At the root level, the Rawalpindi controversy seems that the issue stems from institutions preaching sect- based hatred. Allegedly, the cleric at the mosque was giving a speech aimed at riling up the Shias — an allegation that has been denied. But the fact of the matter is that anti- Shia talk does take place and it does stir up sentiments.
Right or wrong, Shia or Sunni, evil or good, it did not matter in this particular situation and it should not have.
What mattered was that in a country struggling with violence on a national basis every effort should be made on the civilian government’s part to contain it. For all talk of establishing peace, it is clear that the government needs to tighten things on ground level. It also needs to establish a stronger security policy which is free of religious influence because the alleged reluctance of security personnel to do their job at a sensitive time is simply cruel.
Mehr F. Husain is a journalist based in Lahore
The Shia- Sunni clashes in Rawalpindi had a spillover effect, causing riots in other areas as well