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`Foreign hands`

OR decades, officialdom in Pakistan has been seeing invisible foreign hands busy at work trying to stir up trouble in this country. More often than not, these hands are convenient but unconvincing alibis to distract attention from our own shortcomings. Hostile foreign forces are again being invoked by the state to explain the recent mob violence in Jaranwala. Punjab police chief Dr Usman Anwar held a press conference on Monday claiming that alleged acts of blasphemy had recently been committed in Jaranwala and Sargodha to spark religious riots at the behest of hostile foreign intelligence agencies. He added that this plot had been hatched to divert attention from the communal violence that has gripped the Indian state of Manipur for the last several months, and that a suspect, who had repeatedly travelled abroad to get assignments from his handlers to foment violence in Pakistan, was in custody.

Even if we were to assume that the Punjab IGP`s information was accurate, and that hostile foreign actors were constantly working to destabilise communal harmony in Pakistan, what of the hundreds of local individuals who went berserk and torched churches and Christian houses in Jaranwala? Surely all of them were not foreign mercenaries working against the interests of Pakistan. Simply shifting blame onto external actors `absolves` these individuals of their role in this abhorrent violence, and is akin to denialism where the subject of extremism in Pakistani society is concerned. Hostile foreign forces do play cloak-anddagger games the world over and try to destabilise countries, but religious fanaticism is very much a home-grown problem, and has been so for the past several decades. Since the 1980s, violent non-state actors, with vile sectarian and communal agendas, have proliferated, and at one time were encouraged by the state. Today, these actors and their ideological descendants are instrumental in engineering violent reactions to spurious allegations of blasphemy, as well as hounding minority groups.

The ongoing campaign targeting Ahmadi worship places should also be seen in this context. By all means, the state should go after hostile agents creating trouble in Pakistan. But key local actors and their supporters who are instrumental in radicalising populations and instigating mobs to target religious minorities should also not escape the law. If there are to be no more Jaranwalas, we need to confront the bitter reality.