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‘Puppet’ PM faces united Pakistan Oppn amid rise of radicalism

Sectarian tensions continue to escalate in Pakistan even as the Imran Khan government is staring at an uncertain future with the All Parties Conference (APC) of the opposition announcing the formation of a Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and an anti-government drive in the country starting next month.

The situation is spiraling out of control from Karachi—where sectarian terrorists are organizing massive anti-Shia rallies—to Islamabad, the country's capital where incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government has been accused by several parliamentarians of ruining the common man's life with record high inflation, unemployment, and taxes.

As many as three 'Azmat-e-Sahaba' rallies were organized in Karachi within a span of 48 hours last week by hardline Sunni organizations like Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which advocates death for blasphemers, and the banned Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a hardline Islamist party headed by Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, a radical earlier booked under the anti-terrorism act.

Similar marches were also organized by Muttahida Sunni Council in the garrison city of Rawalpindi and Islamabad where, besides putting additional Rangers and Frontier Constabulary, the local police had to put shipping containers on roads to restrict protesters' entry into the 'red zone' areas.

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<strong>Vocal radicals, silent government</strong>

Vociferous chants of "Shia kafir" (Shias are infidels) and "Kill, Kill, Shia" are resonating throughout Pakistan but the ruling government has turned a deaf ear to the minority community's pleas.

"The state’s silence is indeed inexplicable. It appears to have willfully chosen to close its eyes to this sinister development. Takfiri slogans were raised by the crowd at one of the events and an imambargah along the route was reportedly pelted with stones by participants. Why were gatherings with an obviously sectarian, and thereby inherently violent, agenda allowed in the first place? Why was the leader of a banned group given free rein to address the crowd? Where is the adherence to the National Action Plan with its requirement of dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists and preventing the re-emergence of proscribed organisations?" questioned an editorial in Pakistan's leading national daily, Dawn, on Monday.

Estimates suggest that over 10,000 Shias have been killed in Pakistan in the last 20 years. The recent surge in blasphemy cases being registered against sectarian and religious minorities in Pakistan, particularly the Shia community, and the potential for ensuing sectarian violence is also worrying the human rights organizations.

"The state has effectively abdicated its responsibilities under international human rights law by leaving those accused of blasphemy to the mercy of mobs, or trials that are marred by glaring legal and procedural flaws. It is well established that in most cases, those accused of blasphemy are eventually acquitted on appeal, but often after protracted periods in custody and trials that risk the lives of the accused, their lawyers and judges at the hands of organised far-right groups," says Dr Mehdi Hasan, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

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<strong>Blasphemy laws a bane of marginalized people </strong>

The alarming uptick in blasphemy accusations across Pakistan underscores the urgency with which the draconian laws that enable abuse and risk lives must be repealed, Amnesty International said last month. The agency noted how blasphemy laws have been used to target some of the most marginalized people in Pakistani society, including children, individuals with mental disabilities, members of religious minorities, poor people and also artists, human rights defenders, and journalists.

"The fear and violence that often follows a blasphemy accusation makes it easy to forget that the people of Pakistan do not have to be beholden to vigilantes who flagrantly abuse these laws. By ignoring the longstanding call to repeal the blasphemy laws, Pakistani authorities continue to create a permissive environment for brutality. But it does not have to be this way," said David Griffith, Director of the Office of the Secretary General of Amnesty International.

All this at a time when the Opposition has formed a united front and upped the ante against the Imran Khan-led PTI government. A 26-point resolution and a seven-point action plan was issued after Sunday's All Parties Conference hosted by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

"Our struggle is not just against Imran Khan. Our struggle is against those who installed Imran Khan and who manipulated the vote to bring an incompetent man like him to power and thus destroyed the country," said former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from London.

Sharif, the three-time premier, should know well that not just Imran Khan but every Prime Minister of his country has been a puppet of the Pakistani military. Also, the attitude of the governments and the fate of minorities, be it the Hindus, Balochs or Shias, remains unchanged for decades now..