ISLAMABAD: Sectarianism, the most ominous manifestation of extremism in the country, appears not only in the form of violence but also in group thinking. To root it out, there is a need to promote a culture in which people learn to live with differences even if they do not agree with them. These thoughts came through during a daylong seminar titled Understanding the Sectarian Dynamics in Pakistan, organised by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank, attended by around 30 religious scholars and experts. The dialogue noted how sectarianism has become a major ailment in the country. PIPS research shows such as a strong link between sectarianism and militancy, that they have been referred as flesh and blood. In addition to sect-based outfits, even militant groups are deeply sectarian in nature. This comes time and again in their targets and language. PIPS researcher Safdar Sial noted, over the years, sectarian violence has gradually declined in the country. While this much is positive, the worry is a gradual ingress of sectarian and faith-based discrimination in individuals’ attitudes and behaviours in Pakistan. PIPS Director Muhammad Amir Rana agreed the issue is more than mere sectarian violence. He asked for admitting that group thinking on sectarian lines is commonly observed in different segments of society. Such thinking especially in professional lives hampers productivity. That is why, he reasoned, social cohesion is marked as one of the indicators of progress the world over. Dr Khalid Masud said the problem is the descent of those differences into violence. He hinted that sectarianism in Pakistan evolved into modern-day terrorism, rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, he said, we too have borrowed the western distinction of the world before and after 9/11, even though we started facing sectarian violence as much as in 1980s, he said. Meanwhile, German Ambassador Martin Kobler shared that almost half a century ago, Europe too was facing sectarian conflict. Europe learnt from its mistakes, overcoming the bitterness of the past. He said tolerance is about living with differences one may not necessarily agree with. “Tolerance hurts,” he admitted, but accepting to live with it is the way forward. One of the ways is to realise that a single person has multiple identities, based on gender, faith, ethnicity, likes, dislikes, and so on. Council of Islamic Ideology Chairperson Dr Qibla Ayaz admitted that the role of state comes into any debate on curbing sectarianism in the country. But as of now, what is important to understand is that all the institutions of the state back Paigham-e-Pakistan, which denounces violence. The document has been endorsed by scholars of all schools of thoughts. Surely, the dialogue reminded, the government has emphasized sectarian harmony in the National Action Plan, by calling for crackdown on hate speech, for taking action against religious extremism and for regularising and reforming madrassahs. The dialogue participants explored a range of issues behind sectarianism. Surely, one said, part of it has been externalised too, with conflicts in Middle East forcing groups to gravitate towards one or another school of thought. Yet, at the same time, what cannot be dismissed is that madrassahs in the country are bound to affiliate with one of the five boards, which are entirely sect-based. Meanwhile, Dr Khadija Aziz, academic, argued that the differences have been aggravated to the negative, with the advent of modern technology; this should also be analysed. To some, sect-based differences reflected diversity, as much as of other identities. The dialogue was attended by Dr Husnul Ameen from Islamic International University, Khurshid Nadeem, columnist, Islamic scholar; Saqib Akbar, chairman, Al-Basirah Trust; Amanat Rasool, religious scholar; Dr Rashid Ahmed, Peshawar University; scholars Abdul Haq Hashmi, Syed Ahmed Banori, Maulana Attaullah Shahab Ziaul Haq Naqshbandi, among others. Published in Daily Times, December 20th 2018.