January issue 2013

By | Newsline Special | Published 11 years ago

Maintaining peace during Moharram has been a huge challenge for successive governments in Pakistan, but it was an even greater challenge this year for two reasons: one, the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has expanded its jihad. From targeting the country’s security agencies and politicians, it is now also attacking the Shia community. Declaring Shias ‘infidels,’ TTP carried out three gruesome attacks against the Shia community in 2012.

The second reason that exacerbated concerns about violence during Moharram in 2012 was the merger of the notorious sectarian outfit, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) with the erstwhile Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan — now active as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ).

ASWJ chief, Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi played a key role in securing the release of Malik Ishaq (the founding member of LJ) from a jail in Lahore. Ishaq had been languishing in jail for the last 14 years, having been charged with involvement in hundreds of murder cases. On July 15, 2011, on the grounds that he would surrender all arms, disband the LJ and not make provocative speeches, and with Ludhianvi as his guarantor, the Supreme Court released Ishaq on bail.

According to his bail pledge, Ishaq would not make public appearances. Nonetheless, in complete contravention of the terms of his bail, before Moharram, Malik Ishaq, along with Ludhianvi, made highly provocative speeches to whip up anti-Shia sentiments.

He addressed a public rally in Rahim Yar Khan saying: “If the government fails to arrest the killers of Hafiz Mohammad Abubakar within a few days, I will once again raise the Kalashnikov, which will not be a new experience for me. We know how to give and take life. We have not closed our office. We have not finished it [the LJ] — we have just [temporarily] locked it. We know how to take revenge. Don’t be fooled into thinking that we have dropped weapons.”

Ishaq continued, “We call Shias kafirs [infidels] and we will continue to do so. If the slogan ‘kafir kafir, shia kafir’ is provocative, then call Sajid Naqvi (a Shia leader and Ishaq’s arch nemesis) and ask him to sign an affidavit stating that no Shia will ever abuse the sahaba in writing or through the spoken word, [and to accept that] if any Shia does so, then a case will be registered against him. If this happens we will also sign a similar affidavit. Although we will continue to believe that Shias are kafirs, we will not chant this slogan. If Naqvi does not sign this affidavit, we will continue to curse the Shias.”

Pakistani Shiite Muslim mourners march during a religious procession on the ninth day of holy month of Moharram in Karachi on November 24, 2012. The Pakistani Taliban on November 24 claimed responsibility for a bomb blast near a Shiite Muslim procession in northwest Pakistan that killed seven people. The blast went off as people from the minority Shiite Muslim community were gathering to mark the anniversary of the death of the Prophet Mohammed's grandson Imam Hussain in 680. AFP PHOTO/Asif HASSAN

Dr Mubarak’s solution — that the state must divorce religion from politics and restructure itself — is, of course, not acceptable to the clerics of Pakistan, who may form a numerical minority, but have held the majority hostage for more than three decades.

And till such time — if ever — such an affadavit was signed, Ishaq said his followers should continue to chant defamatory, inflammatory slogans against the Shia community, assuring them that if they did so, no case would be registered against them — and if a case was registered at all, it would only be against him.

The diatribe continued. “Shias can’t be our brothers. I am not afraid of death. We are not afraid of bullets or imprisonment. All of us are the humble servants of the sahaba and we will continue to protect them. Spread this message. Don’t limit yourself to attending rallies. Constitute units in your areas and hoist our flags. And do the same wall chalking everywhere: ‘We are the servants of the sahaba; become a member of the Sipah-e-Sahaba under the leadership of Ludhianvi,’” said Ishaq reading out some excerpts from a book by a Shia writer that contained what could be inferred as provocative material.

Ishaq also warned those Sunni groups that have joined hands with Shia outfits to spearhead the movement against the recent blasphemous film, of dire consequences. “Do you know that the worst creation in the world is the Shia, yet you have joined hands with him?“ he asked. And he vowed to support Saudi Arabia and even sacrifice his life for it if need be, saying that he would not let predominantly Shia Iran occupy any Muslim country. “We will fight Shias in all parts of the world,” declared Ishaq.
Interestingly, given the inflammatory nature of his rantings, DPO Rahim Yar Khan, Sohail Zafar Chatta did not even attempt to take any action against Ishaq for making this speech.

Then on October 5, 2012, while addressing a huge rally on the ninth death anniversary of Maulana Azam Tariq in Aabpara, a locale adjacent to the historical Red Mosque and just a few kilometres from the ISI headquarters, Ludhianvi warned the Shias to stop insulting the ummatul momineen (the wives of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)) and his sahaba (companions) or face dire consequences.

“You hear the news that so many Shias were killed in Quetta or in Gilgit and Baltistan. Do you know why they are killed? They are killed because they abuse the sahaba. I have a message for the Shia youth. They should stop their religious leaders (zakireen) from abusing the sahaba. In return, I assure them that the killing of Shias will stop, and we will stop chanting the slogan that Shias are infidels,” said Ludhianvi.

The ASWJ vowed to make Pakistan a Sunni Muslim state through legislation. He declared that he would nominate his party members for parliamentary seats and not allow any Shia Muslim to win the coming elections. Thus, he said, all the parliamentarians in the National Assembly would be Sunni Muslims, and a bill would be passed in the house with a majority that would declare Shias non-Muslims. Thereby the dream of Maulana Azam Tariq would come true. It is to be remembered that Tariq had introduced a similar bill in 2002, but nobody took it up.

Ishaq and Ludhianvi launched their anti-Shia hate campaign before Moharram but long before that the stage for violence against the community by the proponents of the ASWJ and LJ line of thought, had already been set.
Some examples:

On February 17, a TTP suicide attack in a bazaar in Parachinar killed 41 Shias.
On February 28, TTP operatives stopped a bus in the northern Pakistani district of Kohistan, and after checking the identity cards of all the passengers, killed the 18 Shias on board, sparing 27 others not of this sect.

On August 16, the TTP pulled out 25 Shias from another bus in Mansehra and killed them at point blank range.

Following Ishaq’s release, incidents of sectarian violence mounted, with the LJ claiming responsibility for the following major incidents of sectarian killing in 2012:
On July 6, 18 Shia pilgrims who were travelling to Iran were killed when unidentified assailants opened fire on their vehicle in the town of Turbat, Balochistan.

On June 28, 14 Hazara Shias were killed and 30 others injured when a suicide attack occurred in a bus in Quetta which was returning from Iran carrying pilgrims belonging to the Hazara community.



Against this backdrop, obviously cognisant of the potential danger, in Moharram security agencies’ reports clearly stated that no city in Pakistan was expected to be safe during Moharram, with Karachi, Lahore, Jhang, Quetta, Peshawar, Gilgit and Baltistan, Kohat, Hangu, Islamabad, Chakwal, Sukkur and Khairpur being declared ‘highly sensitive’ cities.

In response to the impending danger, a few days prior to Moharram, Iranian Consul General, Karachi, Abbas Ali Abdollahi called on Karachi’s commissioner, Syed Hashim Raza Zaidi, for a briefing on Moharram’s security plan for Karachi. Around 45,000 majalis (religious gatherings) and over 20,000 mourning processions had been organised in Karachi during Moharram and about 20,000 policemen, aided by Rangers and the Frontier Constabulary, were deputed to provide them security. Over 500 imambargahs and majlis were declared ‘sensitive’ and the Sindh government banned over 100 clerics from entering the province and about 50 from leaving it for other parts of the country during this month.

Also, as part of the security measures put in place, sweeping was conducted by the bomb disposal squad of the shops and houses situated on the route of the main Muharram procession in Karachi and they were sealed as the Ashura-e-Muharram procession made its way along this route. Ancholi, Rizvia, Orangi Town, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Soldier Bazaar, Gulshan-e-Iqbal and MA Jinnah Road were declared ‘highly sensitive areas.’ Despite these measures, however, on November 19, ie Moharram 4, terrorists succeeded in detonating an explosive-laden motorcycle near an imambargah in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. Three people were killed and more than a dozen wounded in the blast.

Security was further enhanced across Pakistan after the Karachi blast. In Islamabad, around 4,500 personnel protected 177 processions and 909 majalis; 14 imambargahs were declared sensitive. Around 8,000 police personnel were deployed in Rawalpindi District for 1,916 majalis and 447 Muharram processions.

367 processions were taken out from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — 122 from the 65 imambargahs in Peshawar; 138
from 64 imambargahs in Dera Ismail Khan; 15 from Hangu; 38 from Haripur; 9 from Tank and 8 from Kohat. Around 2165 police personnel were deployed to protect the Shia processions and imambargahs in Kohat, 1052 were assigned to this duty in Haripur, 1967 in Hangu, 4297 in Dera Ismail Khan, 1194 in Tank, 1684 in Mansehra, 3789 in Bannu and 2165 in Kohat.


During the first 10 days of Moharram, 38 people were killed and 216 injured in seven sectarian attacks, including two suicide ones. For any democratic government in the world, this would have been a matter of shame and embarrassment, but Rehman Malik considers it a success, declaring that Moharram was “peaceful.”


Local traders in Peshawar were asked to close their businesses and traffic police banned the movement of public transport vehicles, auto-rickshaws and taxis in Peshawar between 7-10 Muharram. Participants of processions, meanwhile, were banned from donning shawls and heavy jackets which could camouflage suicide vests. Afghan refugees in Peshawar were not allowed to leave their camps during Moharram.
According to Balochistan Home Secretary, Capt (retired) Hussain Durrani, eight districts, including Quetta, were declared sensitive. Over 5,000 policemen and 21 platoons of the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) were deployed in Quetta alone. One army brigade was also put on standby in Quetta and aerial surveillance of processions was conducted. The routes for the mourning processions were scanned for explosives prior to their departure. Three control rooms were set up and closed-circuit television cameras were installed in 28 locations in Quetta. Five FC platoons each were deployed in Zhob and Loralai, eight in Kachhi, three in Sibi and two in Jaffarabad.


Deputy Inspector General Police Sukkur Dr Ameer Shaikh disclosed that 32 CCTVs were installed in Khairpur and Sukkur, where 900 processions were taken out. Of these, 37 were declared ‘particularly sensitive’ and 249 others were termed ‘sensitive’. 11,000 policemen, 700 rangers and 2,000 scouts were engaged in the security of processions.

At least 118,308 police officials including 78,930 policemen, 8,780 elite police personnel, 17,808 police qaumi razakars (PQRs), and 12,790 officials from the special police force were deployed across the Punjab province. The police force provided security to 37,249 majalis, and 9,136 processions, while 69 units of the Pak army and 35 units of the Pak Rangers remained on call to cope with the situation in case of any emergency. The government banned the entry of 929 religious leaders belonging to various schools of thought in the province, and 439 firebrand speakers were given gagging orders. Up to 20,000 policemen were deployed in Lahore where around 5,850 majalis and processions were taken out. A large number of CCTV cameras were installed across the city, and more than 500 policemen in plainclothes were deployed along the main route of the Aashura procession.

Over 3,000 officials of the police, elite force, quick response squad, volunteers and other law-enforcement agencies performed security duties in Chakwal.

According to Deputy Inspector General of Police Gilgit, Baltistan, Ali Sher, there were 782 Imambargahs
in the region that were guarded by 3,625 personnel in Moharram.

Pillion riding was banned all over Pakistan. Section 144 was imposed in every district and tehsil of the country. Loudspeakers were also banned. Interior Minister Rehman Malik went to the extent of banning the use of motorbikes in Karachi and Quetta. However, the Sindh High Court quashed the ban in Karachi.

Despite all these measures, the Shia community remained apprehensive throughout Moharram.
The central vice president of the Shia Ulema Council, Syed Wazarat Hussain Wahidi maintained that despite all the security cover, no mosque, imambargah, shrine or place of worship was safe in Pakistan. Therefore, he stated, the army should be deployed in every nook and corner of Pakistan to protect mourners on Ashura.

The community certainly had cause to feel threatened. ASWJ and LJ enhanced their activities during Moharram and continued to incite and provoke Shia sentiments, for example, while the Shias link Moharram to the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain, Sunni religious outfits decided to link it with the martyrdom of Hazrat Umar Farooq, the second Caliph. They declared Moharram Ashra-e-Farooq wa Hussain Shahadat (10-days to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and Hazrat Umar).

The SSP/LJ and dozens of Deobandi outfits also conducted a campaign on Facebook warning that mourning, chest-beating or inflicting self injury such as using sharp knives to cut oneself was forbidden in Islam. Allama Aurangzeb Farooqi, a senior ASWJ leader who was attacked and injured in a failed target killing in Karachi on Dec 25, 2012, demanded a ban on azzadari at public places. “If they (Shias) want to beat themselves or shed blood, they should do so inside their imambargahs, not in public. Followers of every religion worship inside their places of worship; it is only the Shias who do it in public places, which cannot be tolerated.”

The ASWJ vowed to make Pakistan a Sunni Muslim state through legislation. ASWJ chief, Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi declared that he would nominate his party members for parliamentary seats and not allow any Shia Muslim to win the coming elections. Thus, he said, all the parliamentarians in the National Assembly would be Sunni Muslims, and a bill would be passed in the house with a majority that would declare Shias non-Muslims.

Responding to Farooqi, Syed Ahmad Shah Bokhari, a Shia activist in Khairpur, said that nobody can ban azzadari. “Suicide attacks, bomb blasts or target killings can’t scare us away from doing azzadaari. If they kill 50 of us, 100 will take their place. If they kill 100, 1000 will come on to the roads for azzadari,” he declared.

With the rigidity of the positions taken on both sides of the religious divide, battle lines were already drawn long before the start of Moharram. Additionally, some of the security measures taken were easily thwarted. For example cell phone services remained suspended all over Pakistan on November 24 and 25 (9th & 10th Moharram) to preempt attacks in which explosives are detonated through these instruments. However, the terrorists proved smarter than Interior Minister Rehman Malik. On Nov 24, they used a television remote control to detonate explosives inside a pressure cooker in Dera Ismail Khan (DIK), the hometown of Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Interestingly, the JUI(F) chief is widely seen as one of the Taliban’s best friends, and is, in fact, used quite often by the establishment to negotiate army-Taliban peace accords. In the DIK attack, eight people including four children were killed and 27 others were injured. Ironically, the victims were all Sunni Muslims — bystanders watching the mourning procession as it weaved its way through the streets.

The following day (November 25), the terrorists struck in DIK again, this time with a suicide bomber. A Moharram procession was targeted in Commissionary Bazaar. Five people were killed and 110 others injured.

On November 21 (Moharram 7), a suicide attack on a Shia procession killed 20 mourners and injured 46 others in Rawalpindi in the cantonment area of Dhok Syedan, a few miles away from the GHQ. The same day, two bomb blasts in Karachi in Orangi Town near a Shia mosque, killed two people and injured 16.
On November 22 (Moharram 8), a would-be suicide bomber was killed before he could reach his target — a Shia majlis in Lakki Marwat.

During the first 10 days of Moharram, 38 people were killed and 216 injured in seven sectarian attacks, including two suicide ones. For any democratic government in the world, this would have been a matter of shame and embarrassment, but Rehman Malik considers it a success, declaring that Moharram was “peaceful.” The weak writ of the government can be gauged by the fact that last year, Rehman Malik actually thanked the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan for not carrying out any attack during the 9th and 10th of Moharram.

“Sectarian terrorists are not stupid like Rehman Malik. Why should they take enhanced risks to target Shias during the 9th or 10th of Moharram? They can easily do it during the rest of the year when there is no security at all,” said an ex-activist of the defunct Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), who now runs a small eatery in Khairpur (Sindh).

Law-enforcement officials concur with this view. “We have reports that the Shia community will be targeted during Safar (the second month of the Islamic calendar in which the Shias observe the chehlum of Hussain Ibne Ali),” said a police officer on condition of anonymity.

Commenting on the security measures during Safar, the officer added: “We can’t protect everyone by just enhancing security. Sectarian killing is the result of a particular mindset and indoctrination. How can we stop the suicide bombers if a country like Israel can’t stop them!’

Meanwhile, a senior Shia bureaucrat who also spoke off the record maintained: “We are very strong people. We have survived the worst persecution — that of the Ummayads and the Abbasis. Sectarian outfits can’t scare us away through bomb blasts, suicide attacks, sniper or target killing.”

Ludhianvi condemned the assorted attacks for which the banned TTP had claimed responsibility. However, he did not name the Taliban. When he was asked to provide a recipe for peace his reply was: “If the Shia scholars stop insulting the Ummatul Momineen (the wives of Prophet Mohammad PBUH) and his sahaba (companions); if Shia literature that abuses the Ummatul Momineen and Sahaba is banned; if Shia worship, including mourning sessions and special majalis, are restricted to imambargahs (Shia mosques) then peace will be established in Pakistan.“

For their part, moderate religious scholars like Javed Ahmad Ghamdi contend the solution to the ongoing sectarian problem lies in the rule of co-existence between people of rival sects and dissenting schools of thought. He urges the nation to accept all the sects of Islam and learn to live with them instead of eliminating them. “As a nation, we — politicians, religious scholars, intellectuals and journalists — have not played our role. All of us overlooked the issue of sectarianism instead of debating it. To date, not one serious discussion has taken place on the national level about the scourge of sectarianism. We don’t believe in non-political activities. We politicise everything, bringing politics into every aspect of life, be it education or social unity,” said Ghamdi in BBC Urdu’s ‘Talking Point’ on November 25.

Renowned historian Dr Mubarak Ali contends that when a country establishes the structure of the state on the basis of religion then sectarianism is the end product.

“It has taken a long time to reach this alarming stage of sectarian violence. The process of dividing the country on a sectarian basis began in 1949 in the form of the Objectives Resolution (OR), a brainchild of Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first Prime Minister. It was decided in the OR that no un-Islamic law would be made in Pakistan. Thus, religion was inculcated deeply in the Constitutions of 1956, 1962 and 1973 and, of course, that religion essentially represented a particular sect. A nation rejects the minorities if it establishes its state on the basis of religion,” said Dr Mubarak on the same BBC Urdu broadcast on November 25.

Dr Mubarak’s solution — that the state must divorce religion from politics and restructure itself — is, of course, not acceptable to the clerics of Pakistan, who may form a numerical minority, but have held the majority hostage for more than three decades.

Qazi Hussain, the ex-Amir of the Jamaat -e-Islami, made this very clear when he unequivocally stated, “We will foil every conspiracy that seeks to secularise Pakistan. The country was made in the name of Islam. We will ensure that all the un-Islamic clauses are removed from the Constitution.”

Meanwhile, if the current Shia-Sunni conflict was not bad enough, jihadi outfits of the Deobandi and Ahle Hadith are increasingly mounting a campaign declaring Barelvis infidels. The Facebook page of Ulemain Deoband posts updates from time to time reminding its followers that the Barelvis are “twin-brothers” of Shias because tenets of their faith closely resemble Shia beliefs.

How sectarian harmony can be created in such an environment, where new enemies of the faith are being identified each day, is hard to imagine.

Mohammad Shehzad is an Islamabad-based journalist and researcher.