March Issue 2013

By | Cover Story | Published 11 years ago

A new trend was noticeable in the recent sectarian attacks in the country. Earlier, the target was primarily the Asna Ashri Shias (followers of the 12 Imams). Now, however, the scope is widening. The Asna Ashris are a powerful community in Pakistan. Like their Deobandi rivals — whose proteges include the now defunct militant Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) — the Asna Ashri have the Sipah Mohammad (SM). In the late ’90s and early 2000, the SM and the LeJ were engaged in blatant massacres of members of their rival community. If 10 Shias were killed in the morning in Lahore, there would be news that 10 Sunnis had been killed in Karachi that evening.


“This is just a joke being played on us. The government is sheltering sectarian killers, and some rogue elements within the army and security forces are also involved in it. We are left with only two options. Either we should take up arms — but in reality we can’t do that because our elders have not trained us like that. We are peaceful people. The second option is to approach the United Nations and seek its help,” said Shia leader Allama Ameen Shaheedi, the deputy secretary general of the Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen.

Of late there are new victims of targeted sectarian violence: members of the Bohri and Hazara Shia communities. These communities have certain similarities. Both are generally soft-spoken and humble. Both are also largely educated, skilled, absolutely apolitical and completely peaceful. Their pacifism notwithstanding, on September 18, 2012, a bomb blast at Haideri Complex in Karachi killed 10 Bohri Shias and injured another 27. An infant was among the dead, whose parents had, with his birth, been blessed with their first child 10 years after their marriage. The ill-fated couple was looking forward to his birthday the next week. Two months later, on November 4, two Bohris were gunned down in Hyderabad. Three days later, four more Bohris were gunned down in Hyderabad.

However, it is the Hazara Shia community that is being subjected to even greater atrocities. The killing of Bohris began in September 2012 and to date, around 16 Bohris have been killed. The Hazara genocide started a decade ago. Since then, more than 1200 Hazaras have been killed. The LeJ has claimed responsibility for each attack. Last year was particularly horrific for this community. On April 9, six Hazaras were killed and three were injured on Prince Road, Quetta. On April 14, eight more were mowed down on Brewery Road, Quetta.

On June 28, 15 of them were killed and 30 injured in a suicide attack on a bus carrying pilgrims returning from Iran. LeJ spokesman Abdu Bakar said the attack was carried out by Ziaur Rahman Farooqi and was revenge for attacks on a madrassa and tableeghi centre in Karachi. On December 30, 19 Hazaras were killed by a bomb attack on a bus convoy in Mastung, 25km from Quetta, and more than 20 were injured. After every attack, the government vowed the murderers would be apprehended and awarded exemplary punishment, but not a single criminal has yet been identified, let alone arrested.

2013 was no different from 2012 for the Hazaras. The year started with two gruesome massacres. Two suicide attacks at Alamdar Road, Quetta on January 10 killed 115 Hazaras. Around 121 others were injured. The horror of the violence shook the Hazara community. They refused to bury their dead and staged a huge sit-in in Quetta with their dead relatives coffins parked alongside, in the freezing cold and rain. It was only when the federal government finally caved in to their demands, sacked the Balochistan government and imposed governor’s rule that the victims were interred. Analysts wrote at the time that governor’s rule would not stop terrorism. They were right. About a month later, on February 16, a powerful bomb blast killed 104 Hazaras in Quetta, and more than 180 were injured in the carnage. This time, the Hazaras were supported by the other largely Shia outfits, as sit-ins were held all over the country — 20 different places in Karachi alone. In the process, 11 buses were set on fire and four people were injured, including a Chinese commercial attaché when protesters pelted stones at him. Karachi’s main artery, Shahrah-e-Faisal remained blocked for two days. No rail/bus could start its journey, and flights were delayed for hours. The crippling of Karachi caused the country a loss of 45 billion rupees.

The Islamabad Highway also remained blocked for three days. Once again the Hazaras refused to bury their relatives, demanding that Quetta be handed over to the army, victims’ families be paid compensation and across-the-board action be taken against the LeJ.

Caught on the backfoot, instead of expressing sympathy and assuring the persecuted Hazaras state protection, the government started a blame game. Interior Minister Rehman Malik shrugged off the responsibility for the carnage saying that he had informed the provincial government that a major attack would be carried out against the Hazaras. Since the province was now under governor’s rule he contended, it was the governor’s — not the federal government’s — duty to have pre-empted the attack. The governor for his part, put the blame on the secret agencies, saying that they were responsible for maintaining law and order in the province. The agencies responded by refusing to accept blame, maintaining their job is limited to collecting information and passing it on to the government. Secret agencies are not tasked with policing, they argued. The Frontier Constabulary, that literally runs Balochistan, was also not in the mood to accept responsibility for the massacre. It also squarely laid the blame on the governor.

More than 200 innocent people have been killed in Quetta, but to date it has not been established who should be held responsible, who runs Balochistan and whose duty it is to maintain law and order in the province, or the country.


The blame game continued as Rehman Malik quickly used the Hazara massacre to gain political mileage by maligning PPP’s main political opponent, the Pakistan Muslim League-N. He said that the LeJ’s headquarters are in Lahore, and the ruling N-League should take action against the sectarian outfit or he would raid its headquarters himself, along with the FC. Malik conveniently chose to ignore the fact that it was the PPP government that had issued 14 heavy weapons licenses to the LeJ founder, Malik Ishaq, and his son Malik Usman. Furthermore, two other founders of the LeJ — Ishaq and Akram Lahori, who were under trial — were acquitted during the PPP government.

And it was the PPP government that permitted SSP chief Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi to make a fiery speech just a mile away from the ISI headquarters in Islamabad against the Shia community on October 5, 2012.
In that rally, in fact, Section 144 was blatantly violated. The Islamabad Police provided Ludhianvi security. Roads to Aabpara were blocked. The slogan “kafir kafir, Shia kafir” [Shis are infidels] was repeated many times as the Loudspeaker and Amplifier Act was openly transgressed. The SSP stall that had been set up at the site sold CDs, books and pamphlets that preached hatred against the Shias and wall chalkings against the community suddenly appeared, but the law enforcers did not seem to notice — or care. What was Rehman Malik doing at that time?
The Hazara community ended their second round of sit-ins after three days when an assurance was given to them that an operation would be launched against the LeJ. However, the first step taken in that direction exposed the government’s intentions in regard to sectarian terrorism. Indiscriminate raids were carried out in every nook and corner of the country, but only against the foot soldiers of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat against whom there is no FIR (first information report).

The FIR of the carnage, meanwhile, was registered against “unknown killers” of the LeJ. The massacre happened in Quetta, but the Punjab police conducted raids all over that province, ostensibly to arrest Malik Ishaq. For three days, nothing happened. On the fourth day, Ishaq presented himself for arrest and held a press conference in which he contended he was working for peace not war. He claimed he was innocent and had been acquitted in all the cases of murder leveled against him. This time too, he said the police had no case against him, yet he had voluntarily come forward. However, he issued a warning that the police should conduct all the investigations they wanted against him within a month, following which if they proceeded, the consequences would be “dangerous.”

The question is, if more than 64 cases of murder could not be proved against Ishaq during the last 14 years, if nobody was willing to come forward as a witness against him, if no prosecution could show the courage to prepare a solid case against him, if no judge dared to punish him, how could the current government think they could control him by merely putting him under house arrest? Ishaq remained in different jails for 14 years, yet during this period, sectarian killings continued unabated. Not surprisingly, Shia leaders and analysts immediately declared Ishaq’s detention “a cosmetic step.” Analyst Kamran Shafi contended that it was akin to “foundation on an ugly face to hide wrinkles.”

Shia leader Allama Ameen Shaheedi, the deputy secretary general of the Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (that played a key role in convincing the Hazaras to end their sit-in and bury the dead), said that Ishaq had been at complete liberty, roaming around all of Punjab and spreading hatred in every tehsil, town and union. He maintained the government should have registered a case against him under the Anti-Terrorism Act, not put him under house arrest as a temporary face-saving device that was insulting to the community’s intelligence. “This is just a joke being played on us. The government is sheltering sectarian killers, and some rogue elements within the army and security forces are also involved in it. We are left with only two options. Either we should take up arms — but in reality we can’t do that because our elders have not trained us like that; we are peaceful people. The second option is to approach the United Nations and seek its help,” said Shaheedi.

The international community is sympathetic towards the Hazara community and recognises it as one of the most persecuted communities in Pakistan along with the Ahmedis. The Australian government has, in fact, offered deserving members of the Hazara community political asylum if the UN recognises them as refugees under international law.

As for the Hazara community’s demand that Quetta should be handed over to the army, this is naïve. The truth is, Balochistan is literally run by the FC which is part of the army and it has failed to maintain law and order in the province. The FC has lost the confidence of the people because of its failure to keep peace in the province. It is, in fact, accused of perpetrating many of the forced disappearances of people in the province and has even been reprimanded by the Supreme Court for this in the missing-persons case. Moreover the army has increasingly been badly demoralised. It is fighting an ongoing war against the militants of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas, where the TTP continues to behead army soldiers.

The sectarian monster was fostered as part of state policy by the military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq in the early ‘80s under the patronage of Saudi Arabia which believed the promotion of Wahhabism could counter the influence of the Iranian revolution from spreading to other parts of the Arab world. But the Shia-Sunni issue is part of a scholarly debate that has existed since the early days of Islam.

Shias and Sunnis co-existed peacefully for generations in the subcontinent and even helped each other during Moharram. The seeds of hatred were sown by Zia and a simmering sectarian war began. Haq Nawaz Jhangvi brought the issue out in the open through his fiery, hate-filled speeches. He would hold public rallies and read out provocative excerpts, allegedly from the books of Shia scholars, that insulted the companions and the wives of the Prophet (PBUH). As a result, usually common peaceable Sunni Muslims would be provoked and people like Malik Ishaq could rise. Ishaq is not a religious scholar. He ran away from a local seminary when he was in the fifth grade. Jhangvi’s speeches impressed him and he joined the SSP along with two friends — Akram Lahori and Riaz Basra — in the mid ’80s. They were indoctrinated with ideas such as the notion that Pakistan should be an all-Sunni state and that, since Shias are infidels, Pakistan should be purged of them through genocide. Later, increasingly radicalised , Ishaq and Basra began to the feel that the SSP was not fulfilling the mission of its founder, Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. So they quit the organisation and created the LeJ in 1996. In August 2001, General Musharraf outlawed the LeJ.

In July 2011, Ishaq was acquitted in all the cases of murder he had been charged with. He disbanded the LeJ and joined the ASWJ, vowing to work for peace and to take part in politics. His spokesman and close friend Ghulam Rasool Shah, declared that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had ceased to exist. “If there is any Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Pakistan, its headquarters are at the Ministry of Interior, and its chief is the interior minister Rehman Malik,” said Shah.

Meanwhile, the TTP believe Malik cannot be taken seriously. TTP spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, recently declared Malik a “joker.” That aside, the general consensus is that had Rehman Malik been an interior minister of any true substance, he would have banned all jihadi/sectarian outfits. Instead under his watch, even those that were banned by the Musharraf regime in 2001 have resurfaced under new names, even while using the same telephone numbers and street addresses they had before.

Certainly, Malik could have ordered a strict implementation of the law against wall-chalking, loudspeakers and hate material. He banned Youtube, but seems unable to ban social media websites of different sects that preach sectarian hate. And interestingly, the PPP government replaced the former Inspector General Police (IGP) of Balochistan with Mushtaq Sukhera, who is seen as a ‘friend’ of the LeJ by the Hazara community. Also, the PPP government did not order any inquiry when two deadly sectarian terrorists of the LeJ — Usman Kurd and Humayun Badeeni — escaped from a Quetta Jail that was in the Cantt area. Kurd carries a bounty of 2.5m rupees. He is accused of killing more than 200 people, but he has been at large since 2006.

PAKISTAN-UNREST-POLITICSThe general consensus is that had Rehman Malik been an interior minister of any true substance, he would have banned all sectarian outfits. Instead under his watch, even those that were banned by the Musharraf regime in 2001, have resurfaced under new names. Certainly, Malik could have ordered a strict implementation of the law against wall-chalking, loudspeakers and hate material.  He banned Youtube, but seems unable to ban social media websites that preach sectarian hate. 

Analysts believe that as long as the legal system is not revamped, sectarian killing will not stop. Allama Tahir Ashrafi, the chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council and a member of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), said that conducting raids here and there and stuffing jails with religious outfits’ foot soldiers is no cure for sectarian terrorism. “There is only one solution: supremacy of the law. When the law will be implemented in letter and spirit, sectarian killing will stop. The government should invite Shia and Sunni leaders and listen to their grievances. It should prepare a code of conduct and develop a consensus among the rival sects. And the code of conduct should be strictly implemented,” said Ashrafi, who believes that the SSP and LeJ have nothing to do with the Deobandi sect and are, in fact, no more than land mafias. Therefore, he said, the government should set up a special cell. “The cell should announce publicly that if somebody’s land has been occupied by any outlawed or religious outfit, the aggrieved person should inform the cell, which should, in turn, take swift action and reclaim that land. The government has given outlawed outfits full permission to grab innocent citizens’ land. Similarly, the forceful occupation of mosques and seminaries should be stopped. A law should be made that punishes those who chant slogans saying Shias are infidels. The same law should also punish those who insult the Prophet’s (PBUH) companions and wives,” contended Ashrafi, who also presented a five-point agenda to the (CII) Chairman in this regard. The document reads:

1. Followers of one sect should not be allowed to abuse the followers of other sects. Similarly, they should not be allowed to declare each other as infidels in public. They should not be allowed to abuse/insult/defame each other’s religious elders.

2. Hate material that fans sectarianism and provokes the sentiments of any sect should be banned. All religious material should be presented before a special board of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) for approval. The members of the board will ensure that such material is harmless.

3. Minorities are being marginalised. They need to be assured that they are assets for Pakistan, not a burden. Their persecution should be stopped. They must be assured that they are equal citizens.

4. Students of seminaries should be integrated into the mainstream. They are being treated by the mainstream population as pariahs. It should be conveyed to them that they too have to live in this society.

5. Only an approved body should be allowed to issue an edict on religious matters. The members of such a body should be qualified to issue an edict. All the edicts should be registered with this authority.

On the basis of Qadri’s agenda, the government approved a 20-member National Harmony Council, with the purported aim of not only working on building national harmony among the followers of different religions, but also of endeavouring to build harmony among various sects inside the country. The fact is that, if laws are not
implemented in letter and spirit, no harmony council will ever be able to stop sectarian violence.

Meanwhile, the LeJ spokesmen are so audacious that they called up different media organisations saying that the Hazara community should be ready to face 20 more attacks like the February 16 ones. The brazen threats clearly prove that terrorists are either far more powerful than the government — or in collusion with some segments within — that they can strike at any place at any time. If there is a lull, no one should be fooled: that merely means that they are not in the mood to strike. No law enforcement agency and no intelligence agency can thwart their plans. And even if they are arrested and awarded death sentences, like Kurd, they can easily organise a jail-break and escape. As Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, said, nobody seems to be accountable and it has been left entirely to God to protect the citizens of this country.

Mohammad Shehzad is an Islamabad-based journalist and researcher.