Sticking to one’s guns is justified when taking a principled stance, but Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has taken this to an entirely new level by asserting that outlawed sectarian organisations should not be equated with those of terrorist outfits. The Minister claimed that there should be separate laws to for sectarian outfits, and separate ones for terrorist outfits.

Let’s not forget that over 200 died in 2013 as a direct result of sectarian attacks; in 2014 over 80, at least 60 in 2015 and an estimated 55 or above in 2016. To suggest that “terrorist” organisations do not have sectarian agendas is preposterous and the Minster’s argument further creates a dichotomy: Terrorism attacks – bad, sectarian attacks – not so bad. Does this mean that when a Shia mosque is attacked, it is not a terrorist act, but when a church is attacked it is? This blatant white-washing of a societal menace is dangerous for minority sects, and only damages the credibility of the Interior Ministry and its effort to eradicate terrorism. It is also pertinent to mention here that one of the organisations named by the Interior Minister as a proscribed one is not even on the NACTA list; the Tehrik-i-Nafaz-i-Fiqh-Jafriya.

One would imagine that the criticism of the Interior Minister’s irresponsible statements would have given him food for thought – but instead Mr Nisar has chosen the path of obstinacy. His justification for his innocent presence at the meeting of Difah-e-Pakistan council does not absolve him, considering that two organisations participating under the umbrella organisation are included in the NACTA list; Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat on the main list and Jamaat-ud-Dawa in the ‘under observation’ section.

Additionally, simply stating that his meeting with Ludhianvi is acceptable because the previous PPP government did too in the past is a logical fallacy. Mistakes have been made in the past, and it is clear from the Interior Minister’s reaction that learning from past governments’ faults is not on the ruling party’s agenda.

Even though the country was united in its resolve to shun any and all forms of terrorism following the APS tragedy and the formation of the National Action Plan – including when it promotes sectarian hatred – it is clear that the age-old policy of attempting to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists is still in practice.

The simple fact is this, if an organisation is proscribed (locally or internationally), the government can use state machinery to take actions against it or remove it from the list – provided, of course that the state can justify its removal. Unless that is the case, the Interior Ministry must treat all proscribed organisations – including the ones singled out for sectarian activity – equally, and its arguments do not have a leg to stand on.