Muhammad Amir Rana is a security analyst and the director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, an independent Islamabad-based think tank. He has worked extensively on issues related to counter-terrorism, counter-extremism, and internal and regional security and politics. He has also worked as a journalist with various Urdu and English daily newspapers between 1996 and 2004. He is the editor of Pakistan Annual Security Report, English research journal Conflict and Peace Studies and Urdu monthly magazine Tajziat.
On April 16, 2012, Herald asked him to hold a live blog where people could pose their questions about sectarian violence. The blog has been edited for space, clarity and grammar.
6:59 Comment From Mohammad A Dar. First of all why do sects exist? Where are the sources of sectarianism? Can you elaborate please?
7:04 Amir Rana. The problem is not sects but the intolerance and violence. Without going into the historical background, ones needed to develop sectarian harmony and security response, major responsibility goes to clergy and the state
7:04 Comment From Naveed. Are state and religion are two separate domains? Is Pakistan trapped in sectarian violence mainly due to intermingling of these two domains?
7:13 Amir Rana. For a democratic state, yes. But inPakistan, religious discourse is complex, which primarily focuses on Islamisation of the state and religious-socialisation of society. Cut and short, religious parties have influence on policy discourse, which constrain state to come up on religious issues with clarity. The result is obvious; sectarianism has become a structural problem.
The solution seems difficult but through developing an intellectual discourse and alternative narratives may help
7:13 Comment From Junaid. Is it true that your book A to Z Jihad was banned in Pakistan and that agencies picked up the copies of the book from the book stores?
7:15 Amir Rana. It was not banned but of course there was pressure and my publisher has refused to publish its Urdu version
7:15 Comment From Sadia. Is it likely that the Hazara and the Ahmadi communities will become non-existent in the near future? (Either through forced exodus or violent targeting). Do they have any reason to be hopeful?
7:17 Amir Rana. In the absence of a proper counter terrorism strategy, targeted communities and sects are justified to see the design behind the sequence of events. It’s the criminal negligence by the state which forces people to adopt such narratives.
7:18 Comment From Imran. How complicit do you think the security apparatus is in the current sectarian violence gripping the country, both directly and indirectly? Also, what are your thoughts on arrested criminals being released by the judiciary for lack of evidence or weak prosecution? This is especially true since on one hand political/corruption cases are taken up by the court despite lack of interest or evidence from the prosecutors while the same is not applied in terrorism cases.
7:21 Amir Rana.Pakistan still has neither a national security policy nor has developed any counter-terrorism mechanism. Security forces do response to security threats. But these responses are not part of any comprehensive strategy. The coordination among different law enforcement agencies, operational capabilities and of course judicial response considers three major components in any counter-terrorism policy. Unfortunately we are facing multiple issues on all these three fronts.
7:22 Comment From Aaliya. What sort of policy initiatives do you think can or must be undertaken to begin the fight to maintain our country’s diversity and peace, and stop these ethnically and religiously motivated killings? What should be the next steps?
7:24 Amir Rana. Simply a three level approach:
1. Counter-insurgency in TA
2. Counter-terrorism policy
3. Counter-radicalization policy
7:24 Comment From Hazara Tigers. Are the agencies involved in killing of Hazara tribesmen intended to weaken the independence movement of Baloch nationalists?
7:26 Amir Rana. There is no concrete evidence available but one thing is certain that the state has failed to address critical security challenges.
7:27 Comment From Seema. Most of our agencies are involved in pushing our society towards sectarian violence. What is DPC?
7:32 Amir Rana. The custodians of the strategic-depth narrative are united on the DPC platform and are trying to revive the pre-9/11 discourse. There are no illusions about the fact that their narrative does not deal with the issues of the common man: poverty, injustice and economic and social deprivation. One reason which DPC or its master thinks that they can control the few violent extremist group, which have disconnected with pre 9/11 jihad narrative and joined Al-Qaeda, though this is difficult.
7:32 Comment From Safdar Sial. What hinders the state to effectively respond to violent sectarianism?
7:36 Amir Rana. Apart from nexuses among militants, it is also important to understand the political dynamics of sectarian violence in Pakistan. Many of the banned sectarian organisations wear political hats and take part in electoral politics, whether with different names and independent candidates or through making alliances with mainstream political parties, which obviously create more space for them. The second confusion on policy level, faith fellows of sectarian outfits remained engaged in Afghan and Kashmir. This is another factor. Third, a weak perception of the state institutions and law enforcement agencies
7:36 Comment From Sadya. What’s your take on the forced conversions of Hindu girls? Should we expect to see massive sectarian radicalization in Sindh too?
7:39 Amir Rana. Increased influence of radical groups, mainly JuD, Jiash and Al-Rasheed trust in the Hindu community areas of Sindh and Balochistan is quite concerning. It’s not merely an issue of radicalization but is also a threat to diversity.
7:40 Comment from Akhtar CH. Sectarian violence is occurring mostly in Sindh, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan, all PPP majority government provinces. Why is the government finding it so difficult to control it?
7:45 Amir Rana. I think sectarian violence patterns are different. Kurram agency, Kohat, Karachi and southPunjab remained critical even before 9/11. During last three years the trend has become traditional. In 2010, more than 60 per cent of the total casualties of sectarian violence were concentrated in the cities of Karachi,Lahore andQuetta. In 2011, the ratio of such casualties in these cities stood at about 40 per cent of the overall sectarian-related casualties in Pakistan.
7:48 Comment From Seema. Do you think the DPC has no connection with the particular Sectarian Sunni outfit, and was Hameed Gul not part of that mission who created Monsters of Mujahideen?
7:50 Amir Rana. Structural patterns of sectarian violence had taken the shape in 80’s. It’s true that sectarian violent tendencies dominate in low income groups, despite economic factors, low level of religious knowledge (mainly education) make them soft targets for sectarian groups.
7:50 Comment From ozzie. Shouldn’t it just be called Genocide? This is a systemic targeting of minorities in Pakistan.
7:52 Amir Rana. It seems so. Not only state responses but societal behaviours also are shaping this trend.
7:52 Comment From SHM. Why has the provincial government in Punjab allowed sectarian based groups to flourish in their province?
7:56 Amir Rana. During there last tenure PML (N) government had taken strict action against sectarian outfits and even blamed for extra-judicial killing of the militants. Now the Punjab government is scared with the sectarian outfits’ nexus with Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Secondly now it is not merely a security issue but on the narrative level the Punjab government has not proved itself visionary and courageous.
7:56 Comment From Fyaz. As you know the sectarian division is deep rooted in our society, and ‘Islam” had a long history of wars among Muslims, the situation is the same here in Pakistan. What is the state or establishment’s role in promoting sectarian violence in the country? If the state allows and permits the violent sectarian organization to operate in the country and issue the Fatwas against the other sect then where is the solution? What should be the state’s role to handle this as followers of this organization do not obey the law of the state?
7:57 Amir Rana. I think of course criminal negligence of the state is an important factor.
7:58 Comment From Murad Aftab. Is a major cause of sectarian violence the rise of religiously political parties that are coming more into the mainstream such as Jamaat ud Dawa and Difa-e-Pakistan council?
7:59 Amir Rana. Yes this is one of the reasons, as I explained earlier, main-streaming of sectarian groups provide more political space to them
8:00 Comment From Agha Atta. There is only one valid reason for such sectarian violence. We have sects. The solution, bring all of them under one umbrella, the umbrella of secularism. Do you agree?
8:01 Amir Rana. No. this is not the solution, sectarian and communal tolerance is the answer.
8:05 Amir Rana. I’m sorry but my time is up. I hope I was able to answer most of your questions.