Bahawalnagar was the subject of a vicious bomb attack that killed three and injured over 50 people during the sacred days of Muharram. This attempt to spark violence at a holy commemoration was carried out despite the enhanced security measures implemented by the government. In the face of these threats to national unity, it is imperative that all officials and religious leaders express their support and backing to minorities that are targeted simply for a difference in beliefs.
Across the country, district administrations had deployed extra police teams along the routes of processions to ensure that religious practices would proceed undisturbed. Mobile services were suspended in all major cities for the entire duration of the day. Even religious clerics were banned from entry to maintain peace. On one hand, we can be appreciative of the government for going the extra mile to prevent sectarian tensions from manifesting in violence and bloodshed. On the other, the fact that a bomb was still detonated successfully is reflective of a larger evil that always finds a way to persist and is indicative of the fight that lies before us.
The freedom to practice your religion is one that is guaranteed by the constitution and should be acceptable to all in society. Promoting divisive rhetoric or narratives is something that our authorities have to counter through stricter laws, no-nonsense enforcement agencies or a systemic change driven by increased awareness and education.
In fact, it may require influential religious leaders from all sides of the table to express their solidarity with the Shia community to inspire further tolerance next Muharram. These may seem like small measures to take but their impact can be monumental and thus, the government and people must not shy from doing all that is necessary to protect minorities of all kinds in Pakistan.
Last year, we were successfully able to eliminate any potential for violence during Muharram through social media surveillance, increased patrolling and immediate arrests. While we followed the same route this time, what we have learnt is that taking these measures is simply not enough. Preventing violence is not as easy as getting to the root cause. We have to work on changing unaccepting mindsets simultaneously if we are to expect improvement in the future.