Lynching of a Sri Lankan in Pakistan: decluttering religious extremism

By Rihaan Wije Wardene

December 9: A report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) identifies Pakistan as the biggest among the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. The recent lynching and burning of a Sri Lankan factory manager in the town of Sialkot add to the tale.

The brutal act was immediately condemned by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who said in a tweet: “The horrific self-defense attack on the Sialkot factory and the burning fire of the Sri Lankan manager are a day of shame on Pakistan. I oversee the investigations and make no mistake, all those responsible will be punished with all the severity of the law. Arrests are ongoing.

According to a reputable media outlet, the incident was linked to the “Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) hardline” where the victim “allegedly tore up a poster of the hardline group in which Qur’anic verses were inscribed and allegedly killed him. thrown in the trash. The poster of the Islamist party was stuck on the wall next to Kumara’s office. A couple of workers saw him remove the poster and spread the word in the factory ”.

Prime Minister Khan has flip-flopped in his policy decision on the TLP. In April, the Pakistani government decided to ban the TLP under anti-terrorism legislation, placing its leader Saad Rizvi in ​​detention. In November, the same cabinet revoked the TLP’s declaration as a banned group, and a provincial government decided to remove Rizvi’s name from a terrorist watch list.

While the entire government is not in favor of this decision, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry warned “neither the Pakistani government nor the state is completely ready to fight extremism. The way the state had to back down in the TLP case symbolizes that the bomb (of extremism) is spinning. “

As the TLP denies its role in the spread of extremism and Pakistani authorities debate the matter, the recent lynching of the Sri Lankan man adds clear concerns about the uncontrolled and growing extremism, which could shift beyond its borders to the region. The TLP ban was viewed as an unsuccessful exercise by Pakistani scholar Hussain Haqqani, saying: “A group ban (TLP) is unlikely to diminish the problem of religious extremism in Pakistan.

The problem is that “while the Pakistani establishment has alternated between various Islamist factions, integrating one while suppressing another, it has never thought of integrating secularists who have been labeled as traitors or infidels to the ideology of Pakistan ”. The assassination of Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab province who was assassinated by his bodyguard for speaking out against the blasphemy law where the killer was surrounded by lawyers, portrays Pakistan’s clear perception of the blasphemy.

The TLP has influenced Pakistan’s foreign policy in the current enabling environment created by the administration led by Khan. French President Macron was clearly a target accused by the TLP and Khan of spreading Islamophobia. The recent summons of the French Ambassador is an incident of deep polarization of policy makers on extremism.

President Macron explains: “The problem is an ideology which claims that its own laws should be superior to those of the Republic”, and continues to defend the laws of freedom of expression.

At the same time, Khan claims that Macron “chose to encourage Islamophobia by attacking Islam rather than terrorists who commit violence.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who joins Khan in criticizing Macron, is clearly divisive.

The issue of blasphemy and the rise of extremism has crossed borders. In September, a Pakistani man was taken into police custody by French police for allegedly assaulting and seriously injuring two people with a meat cleaver in Paris for blasphemy.

While individual cases like in Paris or the murder in Sri Lanka are only one side of the story, the Pakistani government and its military officials accepting the ridiculous demands of the TLP and its ability to dictate terms to a government on its own. foreign policy and its political prescriptions are clear signs of concern for the regional security of South Asia. What is needed is for France and Pakistan to work to reform their laws to adopt a progressive society, France to respect its heterogeneous society and religious respect and tolerance, and Pakistan to reform its laws to accommodate of religious harmony and curb extremist thought with a coherent policy.

Priyantha Kumara, who was in her 40s and worked as general manager of the Sialkot garment factory, became the first Sri Lankan victim of blasphemy in Pakistan, and this is a clear signal for the Pakistani government to deal with its situation of unstable internal security. The TLP will influence the rise of far-right political parties that could push the country further towards extremism. The security of India and South Asia is directly vulnerable to the rise of extremist forces.

Seeing the first signs of a rise in extremism in its periphery, India strongly condemned the terrorist attack in the Afghan capital Kabul. India told the UN Security Council that these attacks reinforce the need for the world to unite against terrorism and against those who provide sanctuaries for terrorists. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar called for the adoption of the Terrorism Convention, an important step to minimize the security threat. With the cessation of large financial aid, poverty is increasing and many people are suffering in the present environment of Afghanistan. This is exactly the landscape where terrorism and extremism thrive. This will further propel the right-wing extremist factions in Pakistan.

South Asian countries are vulnerable in this evolving security environment, where Sri Lanka was an apparent victim of the terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday 2019. Ruling regimes must not propagate and support extremist factions to groups. political purposes. Political and military actors orchestrate campaigns of Islamization and extremism for their political legitimation in the region. A political prescription for moderate and religious harmony is a top priority for the region, where intertwined extremist structures backed by policies must be dismantled to promote regional peace.

The dual political prescription of condemning extremism and promoting extremism must end. Sadly, the political discourse aimed at propagating right-wing ultranationalist extremism is visible even in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan Minister Namal Rajapaksa tweeted acknowledging the gravity of the situation, saying: “We must be aware that this could happen to anyone if extremist forces are allowed to act freely”, forgetting that the same Rajapaksa regime has elevated the extremist Buddhist force BBS to draft “one country, one law” legal recommendations for the nation, which is of concern to the government minority community.

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