No haven in Pakistan’s ‘fort of Islam’

Despite what is happening to Muslims inPakistan, many people still regard the country as a ‘fort of Islam’. When this ‘fort of Islam’ was established in 1947 after the division of British India along religious lines, despite the fact that Pakistan was supposed to provide protection, economic prosperity and dignity to its citizens, it resulted in the deaths of around one million innocent people and many millions were uprooted, as there was no planned transfer of people from one country to another.

Over the years, this ‘pure’ land has become ‘purer’ by either driving out non-Muslims or killing them. Some groups kill innocent people in the name of Islam; and when they can find no more non-Muslims to kill in their locality, in order to ‘purify Islam’ they turn their guns on Muslims belonging to other sects.

InPakistan, policies of injustice and oppression by respective governments have led to Pakistanis – Muslims and non-Muslims – coming under attack for decades. This has culminated in millions of deaths in East Pakistan and the loss ofEast Pakistan, where the majority of Muslims lived.

Sadly, the ruling elite ofPakistanlearned nothing from their mistakes and continued with their wrong-headed policies. As a result, no one, including Muslims, feels safe inPakistan, a country established in the name of Islam. In areas where the Pakistani government cannot kill Muslims who were nurtured, trained and armed by them, they have allowedAmericato use drones to kill those Muslims.

Pakistani Hindus are also victims in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and have been since the country’s creation. After the loss of East Pakistan, a large number of Hindus became part ofBangladesh; and those who had to live in Bhutto’sPakistansuffered greatly. It is unfortunate that these Hindus see no future inPakistan, where they are not regarded as Pakistanis. Many of them decided to leavePakistanand start a new lifeIndia– perhaps with new problems.

I was recently inLondon, discussing the situation inPakistanwith some like-minded people. One Pakistani said that Hindus may have the choice to leavePakistanand go toIndia, but where do Muslims go? Another participant said these Hindus will also face problems inIndia, asIndia’s secret agencies may suspect them of being ISI agents, and the local people might not be welcoming either.

It is disturbing that many people in Pakistan, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan either stay quiet about these matters, or hold others responsible for all Pakistan’s ills. Although Islam preaches peace, unity and tolerance, we need to acknowledge that there is a war within Islam, a war of one sect of Islam against another. Each is fighting for domination of their sect and total elimination of the others. These sects are supported by many countries as well asPakistan, includingIranandSaudi Arabia. The result of this sectarian war is total chaos inPakistan, and an entire society that is influenced by sectarian sentiments.

Writing about recent sectarian killings, Pakistan’s popular English daily ‘Dawn’ said: ‘The Mansehra attack had a particularly disturbing aspect to it, with passengers made to show their identity papers and those suspected of being Shia, on the basis of their names or tribal affiliations, being picked out and killed. Like other recent sectarian killings in Balochistan, Kohistan and Orakzai, the approach used resembled ethnic cleansing in its chilling focus on identifying and killing innocent citizens simply because of their membership to a particular community….The state needs to demonstrate what it is doing to combat this threat. If not,Pakistanmay as well give up any pretence of being a state for anyone other than its majority religious community.’

Many Kashmiri ‘nationalists’ are programmed to attack India for human rights violations, but they tend to remain quiet when human rights abuses take place in Pakistani occupied areas of Jammu and Kashmir. However, Raja Basharat Khan, President of the Kashmir National Party (KNP) Birmingham Branch, strongly condemned the brutal murder of 19 innocent people in Gilgit Baltistan in the name of religion and appealed to all political forces in Pakistan Occupied Gilgit Baltistan to ‘speak with one voice without any reservation to condemn the Pakistan sponsored religious militant groups involved in fanning sectarianism and killing innocent people in Gilgit Baltistan’.

He further said: ‘Despite claims by some banned religious outfits who publicly take responsibility for these horrific crimes against humanity in occupied Gilgit Baltistan, no action has been taken against these terror groups, which proves that the Pakistani authorities are giving them a free hand. The KNP, along with other Kashmiri organisations and political parties, have constantly been protesting about these crimes against humanity and have been demanding that the Pakistan government take stern action against the perpetrators, but no steps have been taken so far by the Pakistan government to stop the violence which is pushing Gilgit Baltistan towards civil war.’

Manzoor Parwana, a nationalist citizen of Jammu and KashmirStatehailing from Gilgit Baltistan and Chairman of the Gilgit Baltistan United Movement (GBUM) issued a strong statement against this targeted killing. He said, ‘This is a gift from Pakistanto the people of Gilgit Baltistan on Eid. You can take back your Eid greetings and give us our sons who were killed because they were sons of Gilgit Baltistan… We people of Gilgit Baltistan will not take any more abuse from the forces of occupation and those who promote sectarian killings. We will have to fight back to protect our rights.’ He also demanded that the UN ‘send a peace mission to this disputed territory to stop the genocide of the indigenous people of the region’.

It is almost a tradition that we Muslims, instead of acknowledging our mistakes, try to find a conspiracy in everything, accusing Hindus, Jews andAmericafor our failures. This mindset has to change if we want to resolve our problems and make a positive contribution to a global society. 

During my last visit to Gilgit, I urged the young people there to exercise restraint, despite their anger about state sponsored oppression and sectarian violence, especially the deliberate and well planned victimization of the Shia community. I said to them: ‘If you resort to violence it will give the authorities an excuse to crush your struggle.’ Yet the question remains: for how long will they swallow every bitter pill? For how long will they continue to suffer in silence?

The authorities inIslamabadneed to understand that Gilgit Baltistan is not a Pakistani territory, and there are other countries that have a keen interest in it. This region is not only full of natural resources, but it also has great strategic significance. It would be foolish to fan the flames of hatred and continue with old policies of oppression, as it needs only one spark to ignite the fire, and there would be many to ensure that it continued to burn.

There is a saying that goes ‘Those who do not plan their lives, others plan it for them’. It is obvious that when others plan one’s life, they plan it according to their own needs and interests. There is a stark message here for the Pakistani government: if you don’t put your house in order and make plans for a better future, others will step in and do it for you; and they will do it according to their own requirements and interests.

Dr Shabir Choudhry