...Now jihad against the Shia-Hazara has become our duty. We will rest only after hoisting the flag of true Islam on the land of the pure - Pakistan."
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) warning letter to the Shia-Hazaras (June 2011)
Violence against the Shi´ite minority has long been endemic in Pakistan, with a progressive increase in scale and geographical distribution over time. Living in absolute fear, the Shia community, variously estimated at between five and 20 per cent of Pakistan´s 187 million population, is currently being targeted in an escalating and vicious cycle of sectarian attacks that have enveloped the entire country.
The idea of Shias as a ´heretical´ sect has become an entrenched dogma of mainstream Sunni politics in Pakistan. On April 18, 2012, National Assembly Standing Committee (NSC) during a meeting told the National Assembly Human Rights Committee (NAHRC) that more than 650 Shias in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, and 450 in the Dera Ismail Khan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) were targeted and killed ´recently´ (no date was specified) though the statement was issued in the context of the Shia-Hazara killings between March 29 and April 17, 2012.)
According to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) there have been at least 772 incidents of sectarian violence in Pakistan from January 1, 2005, to April 22, 2012, which have claimed at least 2,175 lives [these are likely to be underestimates, as information flows from many of the conflict-ridden regions of Pakistan are severely restricted].
SATP has recorded a total of 41 incidents of sectarian attacks, resulting in at least 165 fatalities since the beginning of 2012 (till April 22). The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) experienced the highest number of such killings, while Balochistan accounted for highest number of such incidents. FATA recorded 43 killings in two incidents, followed by Balochistan, with 37 killings in 15 incidents; KP, 23 killing in five incidents; Punjab, 21 fatalities in two incidents; Gilgit-Baltistan, 24 fatalities in three different incidents on a single day; and Sindh, nine killings in six incidents.
All six regions of Pakistan have witnessed Shia killings, but the pattern and trend of such attacks varies. In KP, Punjab, FATA and Gilgit-Baltistan, attacks have ordinarily targeted large Shia gatherings. In Sindh - particularly in its provincial capital Karachi - and in Balochistan, ´target killings´ ordinarily use small arms to execute individual or small group assassinations. In Karachi, moreover, eminent Shias, often drawn from educated and professional classes, have been particularly targeted. Prominent among such incidents in 2012 were:
April 17: The Vice Principal of Jinnah Polytechnic Institute, Imran Zaidi (55), was shot dead near the Matric Board Office in the Nazimabad area.
March 24: Former President of Malir Bar Association Salahuddin Jaffery (64), and his son, identified as Ali Raza Jaffery (35), were shot dead within the jurisdiction of Malir City Police Station.
January 31: Doctor Ashfaq Ahmed Qazi was shot dead near Malir railway crossing within the precinct of Saudabad Police Station.
Hazara-Shias, a Dari-speaking ethnic tribe dispersed across Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, believed to be of Turk-Mongol descent, have been particularly targeted in Balochistan in a recent series of indiscriminate killings at tea shops or bus stops, by two separate and virulently anti-Shia militant outfits, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jandullah, between March 26 and April 15, 2012, which claimed at least 28 Hazara-Shia lives. A spokesman for the LeJ, Ali Sher Haidri, claimed responsibility for these attacks. Major incidents (involving more than three fatalities) this year, targeting ethnic Hazara-Shias in Balochistan, include:
April 14: Unidentified armed assailants killed eight Hazara Shias in two separate incidents of sectarian attack in Quetta.
April 12: Three people belonging to the Hazara community were shot dead and another was wounded in separate incidents of target killings in Quetta. The same day, armed assailants attacked another shop on Archer Road killing two people belonging to the Hazara community on the spot.
April 9: Six people belonging to the Hazara community were killed and three were injured when armed militants opened fire at a cobbler´s shop on Prince Road in Quetta.
March 29: At least five Hazaras were killed and another seven were injured, when unidentified militants opened fire on their car on Spiny Road in Quetta. Jandullah claimed responsibility for the attack.
Apart from attacks on the ´ethnic´ Hazara-Shia in Balochistan, the Shia community has, in general, been a target of violent sectarian reprisals in other provinces of Pakistan. Prominent anti-Shia attacks in 2012 in other regions include:
April 3: 24 people were killed and another 55 were injured in a fresh wave of sectarian violence across Gilgit-Baltistan, which erupted after clashes between members of the Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jama´at (ASWJ) and the Police, in which five persons were killed in Gilgit city of Gilgit-Baltistan.
February 28: Armed militants dressed in military uniforms killed at least 18 Shias, all men, from Gilgit-Baltistan, on the Karakoram Highway in the Kohistan District of KP, while they were returning in a convoy from a pilgrimage in Iran.
February 17: At least 40 Shias were reportedly killed and another 24 were injured, after a suicide bomber detonated his explosives just near a Shia mosque in the Kurmi Bazaar in Parachinar, the main town of the Kurram Agency in FATA.
January 15: At least 18 Shias were killed in Khanpur city of Rahim Yar Khan District in Punjab during a chehlum (40th day of Imam Hussein´s martyrdom) procession.
An April 11, 2012, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) report on sectarian violence in Pakistan observed that the continuing blood-letting in sectarian killings in Quetta and Gilgit Baltistan manifested a total failure on the part of the state to address religious intolerance in society, which constitutes one of the biggest threats to the country. The Commission noted:
HRCP is alarmed by the continuing sectarian bloodshed in Pakistan, particularly in Quetta and Gilgit Baltistan. The killings demonstrate a disturbing pattern and appear to be part of a well-planned sequence... The mindless bloodshed that we witness day in and day out is rooted in religious intolerance cultivated by the state. Politics in the name of religion has substantially worsened what was already an appalling situation. It is alarming that no one responsible for these killings has been nabbed in years...
Neither Federal nor the State Governments have, thus far, mounted any effective resistance to the proliferation of sectarian jihadi-militant groups, and extremist formations that openly preach hatred and engage in extreme acts of violence. State inaction in the face of the targeted killing of Shias has sent out the alarming message that the Federal and Provincial Governments won´t act to protect their religious and sectarian minorities, particularly the Shias.
Amidst rapid radicalisation, on July 14, 2011, Pakistan´s Supreme Court ordered the release of Malik Ishaq - the former operational chief of LeJ, who was involved in 44 cases involving the killing of at least 70 people, mostly belonging to the Shia sect - on bail from Lahore´s Kot Lakhpat Jail, because of the prosecution´s failure to produce sufficient evidence to support its charges. Since Ishaq´s release, attacks on Shias have increased across Pakistan, and particularly in Quetta. According to media reports, an official of the Interior Ministry disclosed, on condition of anonymity, that the Ministry had received some intelligence reports that the organisation had stepped up its anti-Shia campaign after Ishaq´s release and the February 10, 2012, release of Ghulam Rasool Shah, another co-accused in various cases of sectarian strife and terrorism.
Anti-Shia extremist groups and Sunni terrorist formations such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) share their larger goals of making "Pakistan a graveyard for the Shias" and "exterminating the community from Pakistan by 2012," in the words of a June 2011 LeJ pamphlet. LeJ, the breakaway faction of the Sipah--e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), in June 2011, distributed pamphlets calling Shias "wajib-ul-qatl" (obligatory to be killed), and also issued an open letter against the Hazara-Shia community in Quetta. The letter of the Balochistan Unit of the outfit read,
All Shias are wajib-ul-qatl. We will rid Pakistan of the unclean race. The real meaning of Pakistan is pure land and Shias have no right to live here. We have the fatwa (religious edict) and signatures of the ulama (religious scholar) in which the Shias have been declared kaafir [infidel]. Just as our fighters have waged a successful jihad against the Shia-Hazaras in Afghanistan, our mission [in Pakistan] is the abolition of this impure sect, the Shias and the Shia-Hazaras, from every city, every village, every nook and corner of Pakistan...
Based in the Punjab province, LeJ operates in the restive region of Balochistan in close alliance with other Sunni militant groups such as TTP, SSP, al Qaeda and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM). SSP summarised a fatwa allegedly issued by various ulama from Pakistan and Bangladesh in May 2011, which was found in a Wahhabi madrassa (religious seminary) Darul Uloom Imdadia, in Mariabad sub-valley of Quetta. The fatwa titled, ´Shias are Kaafir (Infidel); Treat them like non-Muslims´ and issued by a Deobandi Maulana, Hazrat Maulana Wali Hasan, ´Mufti-e-Azam, Pakistan´, from Karachi, further fuelled the flames of the boiling cauldron of sectarian hatred. It iterates:
Shia Ithna Ashari (Twelver Shias, who believe in that twelve Imams are divinely ordained) are rafzi (deviant) kafirs (infidels). Their sect is deviated and burying them in Muslim graveyards is haram. Hence, they should be treated as non-Muslims..
Exploiting the old faultlines of Shia-Sunni rivalry and the anti-Shia sentiment in Pakistani society since the 1980´s, the orthodox Sunni ulama and their religious organisations have legitimised anti-Shia rhetoric and violence with the state´s support.
In addition to SSP-LeJ nexus, both these outfits have close links with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in their common agenda of targeting Shias. The SSP-LeJ liaison also has links with sectarian- terrorist groupings such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Harkat-ul-Jihad-ul-Islami (HuJI), which work in close collaboration with TTP and al Qaeda. There is a distinct overlap in the membership of these groups, and a dovetailing of Sunni Islamist extremist and sectarian ideologies.
Adding to this nucleus of extremist-terrorist outfits is the close connectedness between Sunni extremist groups and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). According to a December 2011 statement by Human Rights Watch (HRW),
Some Sunni extremist groups are known to have links to the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies. Groups such as the banned Lashkar-e Jhangvi operate with impunity even in areas where state authority is well established, such as Punjab province and the port city of Karachi. In Balochistan, where local militants challenge Government authority and elsewhere across Pakistan, law enforcement officials have failed to intervene or prevent attacks on Shia and other vulnerable groups.
Pakistan is being wrecked by the enduring catastrophe of jihadi and sectarian extremism, certainly under the benign neglect or tolerance, and in many cases, the active encouragement, collusion and support, of state agencies. Unless the substructure of institutionally encouraged, and now widely-shared, ideologies of hatred is dismantled, there is little hope that the relentless and savage campaigns against religious and sectarian minorities in the country will ease.
(The writer Ambreen Agha is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)