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Slaughter of Shias in Pakistan

20 February, 2013

By Saeed Qureshi


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Pakistan was created for the Muslims of the sub continent to live in peace and to be immune from the domination of the Hindu majority. I would not prefer to go into the rationale and justification of that decision on the part of the Muslims leaders then fighting for an independent Muslim state.

What I want to emphasize is that the treatment that Muslims of the subcontinent feared from the Hindus, the same awful treatment is being meted out to the Shias that patently are a sect within Islam like many other sects, including Wahabis, Brelvis, Deobandis, Ismailis, Qadria, Chishtia, Naqshabandi and Suharwardi.

The Shia –Sunni fratricide however started following the death of Prophet Muhammad on the issue of his successor. Thus Islam was divided forever, into two branches.  The Sunni claim that the appointment of first three caliphs was right. The Shias believe that the caliphate which they term as Imamate was the divinely ordained right of a member of the bloodline of prophet, who they claim was prophet's son-in-law and cousin brother Hazrat Ali.

The day Pakistan was declared as the Islamic Republic, the seeds of the sectarian discord were sown. Not only was that but the country pushed into the lap of the cruel and merciless religious bands getting stronger with the time passage. With the time passage, the religious animosity and cutthroat sectarianism has attained new horrendous heights.

Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) is a Sunni Deobandi Pakistani organization. It was formed in 1985 by a conservative Sunni cleric Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, in collusion with the then military dictator Ziaul-Haq. Its tacit and declared goal then was and is to stem the spillover influence of 1979 Iranian Revolution in Pakistan. When Pervez Musharraf banned it in 2002 as a terrorist organization, it reemerged under a new name "Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat".

The Lashkar-e- Jhangvi is a breakaway faction of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. It was established in 1996 by two former stalwarts of SSP namely Riaz Basra and Malik Ishaq. LJ has ties to the Talban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Al-Qaida, and Jundullah.

These and other religious militant factions have been wreaking havoc by fomenting sectarian wars and forcing the respective government in Pakistan to accept their dictates. Since its establishment, the SSP and LJ have launched countless attacks on the Shias, their religious processions, shrines and mosques killing them in innumerable numbers.

Recently, in such sectarian attacks, the LJ have claimed responsibility for 10 January 2013 bombing, killing 125 Shias. It has also claimed responsibility for the latest 16 February Quetta bombing killing 81 and wounding 178, mostly Shia people.

The Shias have also been retaliating from time to time in launching counter attacks and killing the prominent SSP and LJ leaders. Some of the prominent LJ leaders, targeted by Shia attackers are mentioned here. Jhangvi was killed in 1990.

His successor Zia-ur-Farooqi died in a bomb explosion on January 19, 1997 at the Lahore Court. Farooqi's successor Azim Tariq was killed by gunmen in October 2003. Riaz Basra was also killed in 2002 in a cross fire between the Shia militants and police on one side and his fighters on the other.

In August 2009 Maulana Ali Sher Hyderi, the fourth chief of SSP, was killed by Tehreek-e-Jafaria extremists while traveling by car through Khairpur district in Sindh. Another leader of LJ Abdul Rauf was killed by extremists in February 2010. All these killings were carried out by the Shias to avenge the death of their community members.

In regards to Balochistan, while the peace in that volatile province is nonexistent for a variety of factors for several decades, no serious efforts have been mounted to establish writ of the government and restore much needed law and order. The most a government could do was to hand over the governance to the armed forces of Pakistan.

The Baloch separatists received a new fillip after the cessation of former Eastern wing of Pakistan. Also with the killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the insurgents and separatists got a new lease of life to continue their covert violent activities. The rebels wanting independence of Balochistan may be small in numbers but they possess the capacity to create mayhem because they operate clandestinely.

Politically no meaningful efforts were made in the initial phases of the simmering insurgency and initiation of the movement for an independent Balochistan. There is no doubt that India and other foreign powers are interested in further truncating Pakistan to serve their respective agendas.

India and the western countries including America would not want the Gawadar Port to be fully functional and handed over its charge to its builder China. The latest devastating killings sprees of the Hazara Shias seem to be the warning shots or a revenge action for handing over the administration of the Gawadar port to the Peoples Republic of China.

The inimical powers that want further partition of Pakistan, also want a buffer zone between Iran and Pakistan so as to launch the operations against the Islamic republic of Iran. It is understandable that Israel along with Saudi Arabia and other conservative Sunnis states would not like Iran to emerge as a strong partner in the Middle East.

The only way to keep a close eye on Iran is to have an enclave from where the anti-Iran insurgency can be effectively launched. There can be no better place for that than Baluchistan.

Baluchistan has been grossly mishandled by the successive governments in Pakistan. Balochistan voluntarily joined the federation of Pakistan when the Indian subcontinent was partitioned into two independent states. It is still a part of federation. In case of East Pakistan, it was due to inept handling of the Pakistan army under Yahya Kahn that led to the bloody insurgency and thus that vital part of Pakistan broke away from the federation.

The brutal treatment meted out to the Shias is now assuming frightening dimension, further undermining the   fragile law and order situation in Balochistan. It can explode into a full-fledged sectarian war that can be exploited by such powerful groups as Balochistan Liberation Army and anti- Pakistan foreign powers.

The maintenance of adhocism or the status-quo or handing over the control to the army is not a permanent solution to that incendiary situation. It is a colossal issue that needs to be resolved with utmost sagacity, statesmanship and objectivity.

The incumbent government falls short of that criteria. Admittedly, under the 18th amendment, the provinces particularly, Balochistan got more powers, resources and independence. However, that remarkable measure would remain counterproductive, unless the flames of insurgency are doused and the uprising is nipped in its bud.

There is a dire need for a comprehensive and far reaching strategy to be put in place by all the stakeholders including the local patriotic leaders, the army, the political parties and the religious sects of all hues and cries to restore normal life in that strategically important province.


The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat.

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