The escalating attacks on Pakistan’s Shia community point to the use of terrorism for political gain
Religious freedom underpinned the creation of Pakistan in 1947. However its founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, wanted religion to stay within the private sphere and not enter the realm of politics. His vision was eventually eclipsed as religious political parties gained more power and as sectarian violence escalated in the 1980s, under General Zia-ul-Haq’s leadership.
In Pakistan 95 per cent of the population is Muslim, out of which it is estimated that 75 per cent belong to the Sunni sect and 20 per cent are from the Shia sect. Prior to 9/11, the fundamental cause of violence in Pakistan was sectarian violence. This initially reduced after 9/11 as militant organisations switched their targets to Western and pro-American forces. However, the intensity of sectarian violence surfaced again in 2007, the year the terrorist organization Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was officially created.
A number of the terrorist groups that make up TTP are sectarian in nature and were created in the 1980s, during the USA-USSR cold war. These sectarian groups have capitalized on the creation of TTP and its power to promote their own interests. One such group is Lashkae-e-Jhangvi, a splinter group of Sipa-e-Sihaba established in the 90s, which has claimed responsibility for the recent attacks on Shias in Quetta. Some analysts would further add that Pakistan remains a playground for the Iranian and Saudi authorities to fight their proxy wars by funding Shia and Sunni groups within the country. However, due to Pakistan’s strong relations with both these countries, it is hard to quantify how much they aid extremist sectarian groups in Pakistan.
The issue of sectarian violence was initially concentrated in certain regions of Pakistan such as Gilgit, Jhang, and Karachi. However, recently Quetta has become the hub of sectarian violence in the form of attacks on Shias, especially the Hazara community. Twin bomb blasts near a Shia mosque, on Thursday 10 January 2013 killed over a 100 people and wounded an estimated 121. The failure of the authorities to act promptly and provide justice to the victims caused outrage both in the city and nationwide. Victims’ families refused to bury their loved ones in protest of the inadequacy of the authorities and their unwillingness to act against the perpetrators.
These blasts were followed by another attack in a grocery market in a Shia dominated neighbourhood of Quetta on 16 February 2013. An estimated 65 individuals were killed in the explosion. This sectarian violence paints a picture of a country which is intolerant and hostile to Shias.
Some scholars have argued that Shias should relocate themselves outside of Pakistan. They believe that the Sunni majority will never give Shias equal status and that the Shia community will live in perpetual fear for their lives. The recent attacks on the Shia community have also been portrayed in the international media as the product of deep-rooted sectarian divide within the Muslims of this State. This is precisely where the problem lies.
This is not a Sunni-Shia conflict. The escalating Shia genocide is in fact a product of the wave of terrorism that has engulfed the country post 9/11. It is a war between ordinary Pakistani citizens and terrorists. By portraying it as a Sunni-Shia war, we are in fact aiding the agenda of the extremists. It would be ignorant to claim that Sunnis and Shias in Pakistan have no differences and live in complete harmony. However, these differences are used as a smoke screen by the terrorists to pursue their own goals of creating instability within the country.
The sectarian divide has been used, since the time General Zia was in power, to achieve various political agendas. The current situation is no different. However this time it is the terrorists that are capitalising on this divide in order to gain more political control in the region.
The recent attacks have highlighted the need for the authorities to take stronger action against the terrorist outlets in Pakistan. Moreover, they have brought to the surface the unwillingness and inability of Zardari’s government to deal with such problems. Unless the Pakistani authorities address the issue of extremism from its grassroots level, problems such as attacks on particular sects or religious minorities will never be eradicated.
Image from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-21002781
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