September Issue 2009
Turning a Blind Eye
“Do you know that even their women make alcohol and sell it?” exclaimed a jihadi in the small village of Tranda Mohammad Panah in Bahawalpur district. His complaint was part of a greater tirade against the Shia community and he had no compunctions about making wild accusations against their women.
Interestingly, many in Pakistan and Punjab’s officialdom do not see sectarian hatred and violence as indicators of the growing influence of jihadi groups. Apparently, a lot of prominent Shias in Dera Ghazi Khan received sealed envelopes with Rs 500 enclosed and a letter asking them to make arrangements for their coffins.
Most of the Deobandi organisations starting from the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and its sister organisation, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which many consider as an extension of the former, aim for the elimination of Shias. In that respect, they are no different to the Taliban in the tribal areas. Sectarian violence is a common feature in the entire South Punjab. Sectarian tension and violence had spread in this sub-region during General Zia’s tenure in the 1980s, after the formation of the SSP and later the LeJ. However, the spate of violence was controlled mainly after the militants were diverted towards Afghanistan and other fronts. But the diversion did not mean that the militant outfits were convinced to abandon their sectarian agenda.
Violence continued through the 1990s, but at a comparatively limited rate. The senior cadre of jihadis in this part of the province was trained under tough environments in Afghanistan during the 1980s and the 1990s, or in Kashmir, and has the capacity to kill. This was demonstrated in the 1990s when they killed Shias, including an Iranian diplomat in Multan in 1997. In fact, there was a constant targeting of Shias in and around Multan during 1997 and 1998, including the famous Mominpura massacre of the Shia community. In February 2009, 35 Shias were killed and 50 injured in an attack in DG Khan. In the same month, another 27 were killed and 65 wounded in Dera Ismail Khan, which holds a lot of Seraiki influence. Now, the same ideology could be used to kill Shias and the Barelvis. The suicide attack on Jamia Naeemia in Lahore on June 12, 2009, in which Maulana Sarfaraz Naeemi lost his life, is a classic example of this.
This post is part of a bigger article: see Terror’s Training Ground.
The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc. She tweets @iamthedrifter