Islamabad - sabur ali sayyid - Grappling with the monster of sectarianism for years, Athara Hazari is once again in the limelight, though for all the wrong reasons. It stands shaken by the devastating floods with thousands of people rendered rudderless and tormented. Athara Hazari Tehsil of Jhang is arguably the worst affected part of the country in the wake of the ongoing floods. Efforts might be underway to mitigate the sufferings of the ravaged people but the real question remains whether or not the local community is willing to learn a lesson from the past and throw sectarianism out the window by joining hands to raise a new city from the ruins.The Tehsil is almost entirely submerged and one hardly finds a place to take a refuge from the choppy waters. Even a short trip to the area leaves you dumb-founded as the scale of devastation is simply horrendous. During an extended career of dealing with emergency situations, I have not come across such a state of haplessness. Officially speaking, more than 385,000 people are directly affected by the flood while well over 25,000 houses have been damaged, either partially or completely. Add to it the crops spreading over 337, 000 acre land stand destroyed and you get a get a very disturbing picture. As was witnessed during previous years, the dykes were time and again breached to protect the lands and orchards of certain heavy weights at the cost of faceless commoners.

In one particular case, an embankment was blasted to protect the land of a local public figure but, to everyone’s dismay, the high tides mysteriously changed their course and destroyed his land and crops as well. However, a wide tract of land belonging to poor people could have been saved from the wrath of the floods had the breach not been made. Such is the apathy on the part of big feudals which only makes you gnash your teeth in anger!

Rehabilitation of the Tehsil would surely be a Herculean task given the scale of the damage. To begin with, private and public sector organizations working in health sector need to spring into action sooner than later as a large number of health issues are bound to surface in the area. Disposal of dead animals alone appears to be a huge task at the moment while viral diseases too are poised to become a big challenge in the coming days.

Reconstruction of more than 20 thousands houses and a large number of educational institutions would be another big ask for the relief providers. Similarly, financial and technical support to farmers to start things afresh would also require allocation of huge resources.

Having said that, the floods have also opened up a golden opportunity for the protagonists of sectarianism to review their ideology and breach the walls of alienation by reaching out to the people in distress, without any consideration to cast, color or creed. Though the floods did not discriminate anyone on such grounds, the fact of the matter remains that Shias and Sunnis are living in segregated communities in the area and treating each other as “them versus us.”

The leadership of the two communities need to shun this kind of besieged mentality and go an extra mile to help “others” to rebuild their lives. In light of the past experiences, it should also come to terms with the fact that no side can impose its ideology on the other.  Violence and hate mongering have given them nothing but corpses of their near and dear ones.

It is time to win the heart of others, instead of slaying or butchering them. As a goodwill gesture, the two sides can pool their resources to reconstruct a large number of mosques and imam bargahs which have been destroyed in the floods. It might spark up a new spirit of mutual co-existence and sharing which is in great need there at the moment.

It pains one a lot that we as a nation are always very quick to seek international support to deal with tragedies like the present one but pay no heed to employing them to promote social cohesion and mutual coexistence. Sectarianism is eating Pakistan like a termite and, thanks to the unrest in the Middle East, it can even aggravate further if not taken head on.

Can the people of Jhang take a lead in this regard by smashing all sectarian considerations and coming all out to support the victims of devastating floods? They are under a moral obligation to do so for obvious reasons.