Sectarian Violence in Pakistan: The Minority Discourse

Recent years have seen a dramatic intensification of violence against Shias in Pakistan. Last year, nearly 400 Shia lost their lives in targeted killings. In the first two months of this year, 204 Shia have been killed in Quetta alone. The unchecked violence has provoked two nationwide protests and much introspection.

The following post reflects on the liberal response to sectarian violence. It is written by Shayan, a student at Tufts University. 


Many years ago, when the representatives of newly created Pakistan had assembled to decide the framework of their future constitution, words of caution had rung out. In the moments leading up to the passage of the Objectives Resolution of 1949, Sris Chandra Chattopadhyay, the leader of the opposition in the Constituent Assembly had said, “By introducing the religious question, the differences between the majority and the minority are being perpetuated, for how long, nobody knows … I say, give up this division of the people into Muslims and non-Muslims and let us call ourselves one nation. Let us call ourselves one people of Pakistan.”

But his plea was ignored. Pakistan was divided, legally and discursively, into majority and minority. As Chattopadhyay had predicted in the rest of his speech, “Pakistani” became linked to “Muslim” and non-Muslims could not appeal to a shared Pakistani identity for protection. Non-Muslim Pakistanis and their advocates had to fall back on the unpopular discourse of minority protection.

Today, when Shias in Pakistan are facing an unprecedented bloodbath, liberals have rallied with the same slogans of protecting religious minorities. Suddenly, the unfortunate fate of Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis, and Shia “minorities” are all being condemned in one breath. In 1949, no one would have dreamed of speaking about the Shia “minority”. Yet today, Shias are relocated and subsumed without comment into the discourse of minority.

Sunni extremists on the right have been trying for decades to evict Shias from the fold of Islam. Liberals, while condemning these efforts, do not realize that their minority discourse is contributing to that very process. Subtract all the minorities in the liberal’s list and you find revealed the Sunni majority, the same majority the extreme right has been trying to bring about.

Then why insist on recasting Shias as a minority? Perhaps because it is a readymade discourse that the liberals can mobilize in their defense. But it is also a discourse proven to be politically ineffectual. Chattopadhyay had recognized this long ago. In calling for the abolition of majority/minority distinction he had also understood the constructed and mutable nature of these categories. He would not be surprised at the reconstitution of these seemingly fixed and self-evident categories that is taking place today. He would, I am sure, be confounded by liberals’ uncritical affirmation of this process, when the way forward is not to create more minorities but rather to do away with this discourse entirely.

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Tomorrow Is Now: India 2025

“I don’t see any way in which [the] system is going to close. There are going to be consequences, the emergence of social unrest, and violence against hearts of the population that don’t have protection. It is bound to happen”. Senior Associate Dean for International Business and Finance at The Fletcher School Dr. Bhaskar Chakravorti detailed South Asia’s immediate political and social uncertainties at SAPAC’s latest event, “India in 2025”.

South Asia as a whole is undergoing an unprecedented paradigm shift, whereby the region is growing not necessarily in GDP, but in expectations. Social norms and legal infrastructure have not kept up with the times, and the gap between expectations and India’s ability to deliver is only expanding.

Is India’s political system characterized by corruption? How will private enterprises and investors influence South Asia’s future? When is India going to overtake China, if at all? The commonly held obsession with economic growth rates has dulled due to events such as the recent firing exchanges in Kashmir or last years Delhi rape case. “GDP-itis” has been cured, only because the emerging middle class is realizing that there are far too many other determinants to India’s success.

Despite a growing lack of faith in the government, India is not going to turn away from its democratic path. Nevertheless, corruption remains at the bureaucratic level as India’s “patchwork quilt government” remains unresolved. There are simply far too many interest groups and constituencies across the country that fragment the political system. However a generational turnover of younger citizens will either, through methods imported from the West, or indigenously grown ideas, ameliorate the political climate. As a result, these well-traveled individuals will have less time to respond to these crises and therefore be reactive rather than unresponsive.

Dean Chakravorti predicts that by 2050, India is going to reach an entirely new crisis level. However, there are positives that will arise from this intensifying divide. For instance, India’s single greatest strength is its people and its entrepreneurial gene is going to promulgate. Historically the south has fared better than the north; however, outliers such as Bihar or even Gujarat confirm that India as a nation thrives on its peoples’ collective toolsets and mindsets. Overall, Dean Chakravorti anticipates an explosion in leveraging technology and innovation as this growing socio-economic divide will provide the opportunities for creative people to solve new problems.

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The Death Penalty: A legal, yet rarely carried out sentence

Mohammad Afzal Guru was hanged in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail at 8:00am on February 9, 2013. He was charged with criminal conspiracy to commit murder and attempting to wage war against the Government of India. Afzal was convicted during the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, in which five gunmen infiltrated the Parliament of India and killed 12 people. Capital punishment is a legal, but rarely carried out sentence in India. In fact, Afzal’s hanging marks only the fourth time the penalty has been imposed.

Various appeals from human rights groups in Kashmir and around the world have been made to the Delhi High Court since his conviction, yet these were all dismissed. The clemency pleas argue that Afzal was denied natural justice, yet many argue that these appeals were made solely to appease Muslim voters in India, as Afzal is from Jammu and Kashmir.

The Congress Party has received significant criticism for its handling of the trial, with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Communist Party of India challenging Congress’ ability to bring justice in an appropriate and timely fashion.

However, it is too late to ponder over whether Afzal was indeed denied the right to a fair trial. Each of India’s democratic establishments has played a role in his execution. In spite of the charges, the fact that Afzal’s family was informed of his execution through speed post two days after he was hanged is unquestionably inhumane. Now we are left with one question: was the death penalty simply an effort on the Congress Party’s behalf to appear stronger on counter-terrorism, or have they unwittingly made a mockery of civil law and society?

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Welcome Back!

Welcome back to another fantastic semester with SAPAC, packed with compelling concepts and fresh opportunities to further South Asian discourse. Come down on Monday, February 4th at 7pm to learn more about what SAPAC will be doing this semester at our GIM in Mugar 231, Fletcher.

First and foremost, we will discuss some of the eclectic events we have on our agenda for the year, such as a seminar with the Fletcher School Senior Associate Dean Bhaskar Chakravorti and roundtables featuring some of the strongest elements of South Asian politics right here on campus.

We’ll also be delving into one of the more important issues facing the region this past winter by addressing “Rape, Culture and Society. What can we learn from the Delhi gang-rape tragedy?”

SAPAC also has a few open positions on the e-board this semester. This is a great way to be involved with events on campus and build connections, in addition to gaining experience. We will provide more information on which positions are open and the role that each entails at the meeting. So if you’re looking for a way to get more involved on campus and engage in the South Asian discourse, make sure to be at our GIM at 7pm on Monday!

We look forward to seeing you there!



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The Power of a Name

Today is International Human Rights Day, a day to be thankful for the fundamental human rights that we enjoy – the right to speak freely, to undergo a fair and public hearing, to openly practice our faith, and to make decisions about our own lives. However, it is also a day to take action for those who are denied these unalienable rights. Thousands of men, women and children continue to be tortured to death, raped, forced from their homes, deprived of food and health care by their own governments or by armed militias, seemingly for the purposes of holding their grip on power.

Where does the campaign against these human rights abusers begin? Far too many groups and individuals face these obstacles.  Women remain hugely under-represented in government and other decision-making administrative positions. Indigenous people face discrimination denying them the opportunities to make full use of their guaranteed rights and face institutions that often fail to take account of their circumstances. Within the context of South Asia, Tibet epitomizes this human rights struggle.

Over the past half-century, there has been increasing tension between China and Tibet regarding Tibet’s political status. China’s position is that its government has exercised sovereignty over Tibet for over 700 years, and that Tibet has never been an independent state. On the other hand, the Central Tibetan Administration’s (CTA) position is that Tibet is a distinct nation with a history of independence. In 1959 the Dalai Lama fled Tibet to McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India, after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. Since then, McLeod Ganj has remained the headquarters for the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) along with the Tibetan refugee community in India.

On May 14th 2011, the government’s title changed from the “Tibetan Government-in-Exile” to the “Central Tibetan Administration”. However, the Tibetan government’s title is far more than just a name. It represents a struggle and symbolizes an entire peoples commitment and diligence to regain their homeland. The Tibetan people should not be forced to acquiesce in the name of making their human rights campaign more “practical”.

In the past month, 27 Tibetans have set themselves on fire. Most of these individuals were in the prime of their youth with the youngest, a nun named Sangay Dolma, just 17 years old. Evidently, the long-drawn-out crusade against human rights abuse has forced the movement in a different direction. Regardless of how frustrating the campaign, time cannot be allowed to influence the global struggle to achieve universal human rights.

In my eyes the title “Central Tibetan Administration” does not imply that the Tibetan people are currently displaced, living as refugees in India. It does not show that the Tibetans are capable of autonomous rule, but seems to suggest that the Tibetans run a mere administration rather than a full-fledged government. The title almost has a positive connotation, as opposed to the emotions that one evokes from the phrase “in exile”. A government’s title caries a significant degree of value in the field of international affairs, and it is important for Tibetans and non-Tibetans alike to understand that Tibetans are currently engaged in a territorial dispute when their government is mentioned.

Earlier last year the Dalai Lama announced his retirement from his role as political leader of the CTA, but His Holiness will continue as the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. This devolution of power is likely to result in a new constitutional structure for the Tibetan government-in-exile, which poses an overwhelming responsibility for the new leaders of the Tibetan movement. Unfortunately, I along with the Tibetan Youth Congress strongly believe that this change in nomenclature is a shift in the wrong direction for both Tibetans and the larger human rights movement.

In Solidarity,

Gautam Kapur


-Gautam Kapur is a freshman majoring in International Relations

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