soldiers watch men arrested for sectarian violence
Fails to Control Sectarian Monster Haunting the Country
June 7: The sectarian war between Pakistan's Shias and Sunnis
is bloody and deadly. Available figures indicate that, between
January 1989 and May 31, 2005 a total of 1,784 Pakistanis were
killed, and another 4,279 injured in 1,866 incidents of sectarian
violence and terror across the country.
averages out to over 100 persons per year over the past 17 years,
with no end in sight. And there are some indications that the
trends may worsen. Thus, 187 persons were killed and another 619
were injured in 19 incidents of sectarian violence in 2004. Within
the first five months of 2005, 120 Pakistanis have already lost
their lives, and 286 have been injured in 30 incidents of sectarian
violence. The worst of the incidents in the current year include:
30, 2005: Six people, including two of the three assailants,
among them a suicide bomber, are killed and 19 persons sustain
injuries during an explosion in the courtyard of a Shia mosque
at Gulshan-e-Iqbal in Karachi.
27, 2005: At least 25 people, including a suspected suicide
bomber, are killed and approximately 100 others sustain injuries
during a powerful explosion at the Bari Imam shrine of the Shia
sect located in vicinity of the diplomatic enclave in capital
19, 2005: At least 50 people are killed and over 100
others sustain injuries during a suicide bombing at a crowded
gathering near the shrine of a Shia saint at Fatehpur village
in the Jhal Magsi district of Balochistan province.
view of the current wave of sectarian violence, it seems that
the Government has simply failed to curb the activities of the
banned Jihadi and sectarian groups, despite repeated claims by
General Pervez Musharraf of having adopted strict administrative
measures against them. The unfortunate fact remains that most
of these groups continue to enjoy a free hand under the very nose
of the administration, which is more interested in taking cosmetic
steps instead of doing something practical to scotch the evil.
was the support extended by the country's third military ruler,
President General Zia-ul-Haq, to the Jihadi and sectarian groups
during the Afghan war that created these unmanageable monsters,
who now rise to consume their own creators. The sectarian and
ethnic essentialism that came into its own in an organized, militant
form during the Zia period, now poses an ever more serious challenge
to the state.
genie of sectarian violence refuses to be bottled and even as
President Musharraf exhorts the people of Pakistan to adopt 'enlightened
moderation', the country's tentative quest for a non-discriminatory
liberal democracy continues to unravel. Indeed, the ideology of
fundamentalist Islam appears to remain at the heart of the Musharraf
establishment's strategy of national political mobilization and
consolidation, despite talk of enlightened moderation.
continues to be caught in the trap of extremist Islamist militancy
and terror that its mighty military establishment constructed
as part of its Afghan and Kashmir policies. Official support -
both explicit and implicit - to Islamist terrorist groups continues,
even while the state struggles to cope with the internal fall-out
of the burgeoning terrorist community.
the overall direction of Pakistan's military establishment remains
committed to an Islamic ideological state, some of the militant
groups that are supported by the regime are often found involved
in bloody acts of sectarian violence. The Musharraf administration's
support for the Jihadis fighting in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K)
and Afghanistan - and the growing nexus between the Jihadi and
sectarian outfits - has indirectly promoted sectarian violence
linkages between militants active in J&K and Afghanistan,
on the one hand, and those within Pakistan, on the other, are
not surprising, since these Jihadis share the same madrassas (seminaries),
training camps and, often, operatives. Thus, though the Pakistani
military establishment's support for these groups has kept the
Indian Army tied down in J&K, it has created a serious 'principal-agent'
problem on the domestic front. By facilitating the actions of
irregulars in J&K, Pakistan actually promotes sectarian jihad
and terrorism back home.
Facing international criticism
over its status as a host to numerous Islamist extremist elements,
the Musharraf administration has, from time to time, sought to
take steps to deflect growing internal and international criticism
of the activities of fundamentalist elements within Pakistan.
Inner contradictions within the ruling establishment are, however,
bound to hamper these efforts.
It is significant that, for decades,
the country's Shia and Sunni sects lived side by side without
any major problems. The roots of sectarian killing lie not in
religious differences, but in political and social developments
within Pakistan and the region. They are intimately tied up with
the country's wider problem of militant and extremist Islam. With
the passage of time, the largely theological differences between
Shia and Sunni Muslims of Pakistan have been transformed into
a full-fledged political conflict, with broad ramifications for
law and order, social cohesion and governmental authority.
was during the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupation, with
dollars coming from the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),
that the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) promoted the proliferation
of a huge number of militant groups and religious seminaries inside
Pakistan. At that time, Washington needed Islamists to wage jihad
against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan, while Islamabad needed
them to bring in billions of American dollars. Consequently, both
turned a blind eye to their radical ideology and methods.
shortsightedness of the American administration and their Pakistani
proxies became apparent soon after the withdrawal of the Soviet
troops from Afghanistan. While radical Islamists in Afghanistan
formed the Taliban, their brethren in Pakistan turned their attention
towards J&K or to sectarian opponents inside the country.
act of sectarian killing provoked a cycle of revenge killings,
with the civilian Governments failing to curb the menace, either
because they also wanted the militants to fight in Pakistan's
corner in J&K or because they lacked the will and the strength
to do so. External factors other than Kashmir also promoted sectarianism
- the foremost being funding of certain Pakistan-based Shia and
Sunni sectarian groups by Iran and Saudi Arabia respectively.
successive Governments in Pakistan allowed Sunni-dominated Saudi
Arabia and Shia-dominated Iran to fight a proxy war on Pakistani
soil, the country and the people have had to suffer the devastating
Musharraf seized power in October 1999, he faced a formidable
foe: well-armed, well-trained and well-financed Islamist-sectarian
organizations, with a huge resource pool of recruits in thousands
of religious madrassas in the country. Dealing with such a foe
was never going to be easy for an isolated military dictator.
Yet his task was made somewhat easier by the 9/11 terror attacks
and the worldwide backlash against extremist Islam that it unleashed.
Islamabad's decision to cut down support to the Kashmiri militants
also boosted its drive against sectarianism.
Islamabad decided to put the Kashmir issue on the back burner
for the sake of better ties with New Delhi, it no longer had to
put up with the Jihadi groups operating in J&K, or the sectarian
outfits within Pakistan. The first clear sign of a shift in the
Pakistan Government's attitude came in a televised speech by Musharraf
to the nation on January 12, 2002.
announcing a massive campaign to eradicate the sectarian menace,
the General banned three sectarian groups, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan
(SSP), Tehreek-e-Jafria Pakistan (TJP) and the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat
Mohammadi (TNSM) and put the Sunni Tehrik on notice. Another two
sectarian groups - Sipah-e-Mohammad Pakistan (SMP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi
(LeJ) had been banned earlier, on August 14, 2001.
the Government ban, however, almost all these sectarian groups
continue to operate freely under changed names without much difficulty.
Contrary to Musharraf's much-trumpeted claims of having dismantled
the sectarian mafia in Pakistan, the hard fact remains that his
administration has hardly taken any concrete measures to implement
the ban in letter and spirit, except in arresting and later releasing
some of the cadres of these groups. Enforcement agencies arrest
some of these cadres every time there is an escalation in sectarian
conflict, but they are released shortly after the wave of violence
organizational infrastructures of the banned sectarian groups
has essentially remained intact, with most of the groups retaining
the same office bearers who refused to go underground even after
the January 2002 ban. Most of the banned groups continue to operate
out of their old office premises, though some have shifted to
new premises. They are still bringing out their periodical publications,
in most cases under the old names, besides raising funds and holding
congregations without any check or fear.
the sectarian tensions refuse to die down, given the fact that
the contending groups are well organized and well armed. Their
ability to maintain effectiveness and to elude enforcement agencies
also has to do with an extensive support network that includes
madrassas, political parties, bases across the border in Afghanistan,
and financial support from foreign countries, if not foreign Governments.
The International Crisis Group has noted, in its April 2005 report,
The State of Sectarianism in Pakistan:
Sectarian terrorists in Pakistan are thriving in an atmosphere
of religious intolerance for which its military government is
largely to blame. General Musharraf has repeatedly pledged that
he would eradicate religious extremism and sectarianism and transform
Pakistan into a moderate Muslim state. In the interests of retaining
power, he has done the opposite.
report notes, further, that as Musharraf is praised by the international
community for his role in the war against terrorism, the frequency
and viciousness of sectarian terrorism continues to increase in
his country. Regulating madaris, reforming the public education
sector, invoking constitutional restrictions against private armies
and hate speech, and removing all laws and state policies of religious
discrimination are essential and overdue steps to stem the tide
of religious extremism.
choice that Pakistan faces is not between the military and the
mullahs, as is generally believed in the West; it is between genuine
democracy and a military-mullah alliance that is responsible for
producing and sustaining religious extremism of different hues.
The report recommends to the Pakistan Government that it recognize
the diversity of Islam in Pakistan, reaffirm the constitutional
principle of equality for all citizens regardless of religion
or sect, and give meaning to this by repealing all laws, penal
codes and official procedures that reinforce sectarian identities
and cause discrimination on the basis of faith.
these changes do not occur, the situation can be expected to worsen.
Arif Jamal, a Pakistani writer on jihad, notes a troubling trend
in the patterns of sectarian violence in the country:
…the Pakistani groups used to carry out sectarian violence
on the pattern of non-sectarian violence in the country before
the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The sectarian violence
became intense and brutal after the Jihadis had to leave Afghanistan
in the aftermath of the US attack. The sectarian terrorists started
using suicide attacks to perpetuate sectarian violence in Pakistan
in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.
attacks were unknown in Pakistan in the pre-9/11 period and were
largely associated with the al-Qaeda network, although the al-Qaeda-affiliated
groups never used them in Pakistan. However, a new mode of violence
has been introduced during the current wave of sectarian conflict:
a car bomb. It is for the first time that the terrorists have
used a car bomb in Pakistan. And if past is any guide, they are
likely to use this mode of violence more frequently in the future.
conflict and violence are an unpleasant reality in Pakistan today,
and are becoming more and more intense. Administrative measures
taken by the Musharraf-led Government have failed to produce results
so far. Analysts believe that the sectarian problem cannot be
overcome by such administrative measures alone, while the state
itself remains in alliance with extremist elements.
problem for General Musharraf is that it is difficult to promote
the so-called jihad in J&K without inadvertently promoting
many of the Pakistani sectarian outfits. In the process, state
authority stands eroded in one way or the other. The increasing
militarization and brutalization of the conflict shows that there
are virtually no sanctuaries left - neither home, nor mosque nor
hospital. Not even a jail is safe. And being innocent is not the
'being' is enough - being Shia or Sunni, Barelvi or Deobandi.
In a situation where different sectarian groups are vying to prove
themselves the standard bearers of Islam, one strategy to secure
prominence as a representative of 'true Islam' is obviously by
displaying extreme hostility and intolerance to those designated
as being 'un-Islamic' by virtue of belonging to religious minorities
and minority sects.
writer is Senior Assistant Editor, Herald Magazine published from
Karachi every month.