Soon after independence, a violent fanatic tried to assassinate Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi. When interrogated, the would-be assassin said the creator of Pakistan had behaved in an un-Islamic fashion and the new nation was not sufficiently Islamic. Since then, the country has, bit by bit, taken a turn in the direction that he so desired.

Today, this evolution has taken a markedly violent form. Events of the past weeks—the violent killing of 48 Shias in Karachi in early March and the torching of 170 homes and shops belonging to Christians over the weekend in Lahore—are part of this grisly turn. The Christians were targeted for alleged blasphemy while the police stood by mutely. The provincial government has ordered a judicial inquiry. But its fate is preordained: in an atmosphere of religious radicalization, it is too much to expect justice.

These are not sudden developments but are part of a steady regression. Since 1947, when the country was created in the name of a separate identity for Muslims of the sub-continent, all minorities have been targeted. First, the Hindus were driven away. This was considered a logical consequence of the partition. But then, such is the nature of a religious genie that once released will go on searching for new tasks. Soon afterwards, the Ahmediyas were targeted. This while the country’s first foreign minister Sir Zafarullah Khan was an Ahmediya. Since then, they have been subjected to religious persecution.

What is alarming is the reaction against Shias. Today, there are terrorist groups that are engaged in what virtually amounts to a sectarian war against them. This, and not the expulsion of Hindus, is the logical ending of the two-nation theory. Clearly, these extremists have not read the history of their country: the fact that Jinnah was a Shia has been conveniently forgotten.

Can something be done to change this violent state of affairs? Not much. Nationalism rests on a simple idea: that all citizens in a country imagine themselves to be one. Extreme religious ideologies prevent the formation of such imagination. In this respect, Pakistan is not an isolated case. In differing degrees, countries as diverse as Israel, Turkey and Ireland have experienced turmoil of this variety. But the magnitude of what is happening in Pakistan today is of such a different order that it borders on being something qualitatively different.

Can Pakistan ever be a normal country? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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