Pakistan’s Dangerous Game with Religious Extremism

Abstract: Nawaz Sharif should not cede further ground to the forces of violent extremism, as if he does, it would embolden their efforts to remake Pakistan in their image. Giving militants the writ of law effectively hands the state to extremists, allowing them to own the public space and ban all competing voices, while knocking off religious minorities and Muslims deemed insufficiently Islamic. Pakistan’s battered civil society would face further assaults, forced to retreat and retrench. Shi’as, Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus would face existential threats from militants. Such a peace deal would bring no peace.

Knox Thames in Thirty Years War:

DownloadSnooker is a popular game in Pakistan. Played on a billiards table, competitors wager on who can knock the most colored balls off into the side pockets. The winner is the one who wipes the table clean and scores the most points. In many ways, Pakistani militants are playing snooker against the country’s diverse and vibrant civil society and religious communities. Players include recognized terrorist groups like the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban or TTP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), but also mobs whipped up by unscrupulous religious leaders to commit violence. The election of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in May 2013 brought a new player into this deadly contest. As PM Sharif returns to this office for the third time, will he crackdown on militants or give the game away in an attempt to win peace?

Make no mistake, Pakistani extremists groups are playing to win. A snooker hall was the site of a heinous act of sectarian terrorism in January 2013 when two suicide bombers attacked a Karachi game room frequented by Shi’a Muslims. Nearly 100 died. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility in their declared war against Shi’a whom they consider the wrong kind of Muslim (Henderson, 2013). In September, splinter groups from the Pakistani Taliban executed twin suicide bombings on the All Saints Church in Peshawar that killed over 80 Christians as they left Sunday services (Boone, 2013). The Sunni Muslim majority has felt this onslaught too. The Pakistani Taliban targeted politicians deemed “secular” during the run-up to the May election and afterwards. Scores were reportedly killed from the more moderate Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP), with a senior ANP member murdered in August (Gregory, 2013). In January 2014, six Sufi Muslims were killed at a Sufi shrine in Karachi, four with their throats slit and two beheaded (Menon, 2014).

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