Nankana Sahib Incident and Pakistan’s ‘Yarn-Spinners’

We have heard eyewitness accounts about it with our own ears. We saw videos of how an irate mob of more than a hundred people laid siege to Gurdwara Nankana Sahib in Pakistan on Friday (Jan 3rd, 2020) with our own eyes; we shuddered as open threats of evicting all Sikhs from Nankana Sahib were made, we winced when we heard pledges to rename this place as Ghulam-e-Mustafa and erect a Mosque at this site after destroying the Gurdwara. But Pakistan’s Foreign Office (FO) has a completely different story to tell and if it is to be believed, then all that occurred was a “scuffle in the city of Nankana Sahib today, between two Muslim groups” and that the “altercation happened on a minor incident at a tea-stall.”

Coming close on the heels of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s “…We will show Modi’s India how to treat minorities” jibe, the Pak Foreign Office’s attempt to water-down the Nankana Sahib incident is understandable. But after hearing its version, one is reminded of George Washington’s famous advice that “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” I’m sure that Pakistan’s Foreign Office has no dearth of talent and that’s why it’s all the more surprising that its mandarins seem to be incapable of even spinning a convincing yarn. How could the Foreign Office ever believe that people will disregard what they have seen and heard for themselves and instead, believe its version that two quarrelling groups somehow found a common meeting ground and ended up uniting to jointly direct their hatred at a Gurdwara– and that too in the very place where founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak was born?

Gurdwara Nankana Sahib in Pakistan. On January 3, 2020 a large mob of radical Muslims pelted stones at the Gurdwara, raised slogans and demanded that the revered Gurdwara be razed down and a mosque be erected at this site.

If the Foreign Office thinks that merely saying “The opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor is a manifestation of Pakistan’s special care extended to the minorities” will completely dispel the fear which Nankana Sahib incident has instilled within the Sikh community, then it’s sadly mistaken. Nor will its allegation that “attempts to paint this incident as a communal issue are patently motivated,” in anyway help to mitigate the pain inflicted worldwide on the peaceful Sikh community. But the most unfortunate thing in the Foreign Office’s statement is the mention that “Most importantly, the Gurdwara remains untouched and undamaged,” as it obfuscates the whole incident and this is very dangerous as it will surely embolden fundamentalists.

Regrettably, despite the plethora of audio-visual evidence available in public domain, Pakistan’s media has also gone overboard in downplaying this incident. For example, Dawn newspaper’s version is that four customers taking tea at a stall outside Gurdwara Janam Asthan started a conversation regarding a youth named Muhammad Ehsaan who had allegedly married a Sikh girl after forcing her to convert. This enraged the tea stall owner who coincidently happened to be Ehsaan’s uncle and this led to an altercation in which a “small group gathered to raise slogans.” According to the Dawn news report, it was a minor incident and a spontaneous act triggered by heightened emotions that luckily ended on a happy note– thanks to “a team of Nankana Sahib Police that had to intervene briskly to control the situation.”

But there’s enough circumstantial evidence to prove that the Nankana Sahib incident wasn’t precipitous — it was definitely pre-planned. Some pointers:

  • The sheer numbers of slogan shouting protesters that can be seen in the video recordings of this incident belies the Dawn newspaper’s claim that it was “small group (that had) gathered to raise slogans.”
  • From the determined way in which the mammoth crowd can be seen converging onto Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, it’s clear that the mob had been instigated beforehand and that this holy site had been predesignated as the ‘target’.
  • With eviction warnings being issued to Sikhs, the desire to rename Nankana Sahib as ‘Ghulam-e-Mustafa’ being expressed and threatening the demolition of this Gurdwara in order to make place for a Mosque, can we still say that this incident isn’t communal in nature?
  • Doesn’t the conspicuous absence of any law enforcement personnel at one of the most revered religious shrines of a minority community (even after it was besieged by an unusually large congregation of angry protesters belonging to the majority community) seem suspicious?

In its 2019 Pakistan Chapter Report, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) observed that “During the year, extremist groups and societal actors continued to discriminate against and attack religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadiyas, and Shia Muslims.” The USCIRF went on to indict Islamabad by stating “…the government of Pakistan failed to adequately protect these groups, and it perpetrated systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations; this occurred despite some optimism about the potential for reform under the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan.” Based on Islamabad’s perceptible failure to protect the religious rights of its minorities, the US Department of State has re-designated Pakistan as one of the nine “Countries of Particular Concern (CPC).”

Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokeswoman Aisha Farooqui tried to deflect this ignominious designation by terming it as “selective targeting of countries” and even waxed eloquent on how “Pakistan is a multi-religious and pluralistic country where people of all faiths enjoy religious freedom under constitutional protections.” Imran Khan has been also been blaming external forces for all the ills afflicting Pakistan and even in this case, his Foreign Office has tried to do the same by mentioning how “patently motivated” attempts were being made to “paint this incident as a communal issue.” But one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to conclude that the Nankana Sahib incident is undoubtedly and downrightly communal in nature that shows just how widespread and vicious the malaise of fundamentalist ideology is in Pakistan.

Now that Islamabad has officially concluded that the Nankana Sahib incident wasn’t communal in nature, it’s evident that the culprits won’t be either booked or punished for hurting the religious sentiments and intimidating the minority Sikh community in Pakistan. Therefore, in this case, while the Government of Pakistan may not be guilty of having “perpetrated systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations,” but by letting the perpetrators off the hook, it has conclusively proved that the US State Department certainly wasn’t “selective” when it designated Pakistan as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’!

Postscript– Since the Nankana Sahib incident openly scoffs Imran Khan’s idea of the ‘Naya (new) Pakistan’ he has promised his people, perhaps his being more assertive and calling spade a spade instead of brushing communal acts under the carpet will do both him and Pakistan some good!

Nilesh Kunwar
Nilesh Kunwar
Writer is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in terrorism-infested areas of Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a 'Kashmir-Watcher' who keeps a close tab on the state's developments.

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