By Aslam Kakar
December 22nd, 2015
On Sunday, a bomb explosion killed at least 25 Shia Muslims in Eidgah Bazar in Parachinar, the capital of Kurram Agency. The attack also left as many wounded. The sectarian outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami took the responsibility. It also claimed that the bomb blast was a revenge of the participation of people from Parachinar in crimes against Syrian Muslims by Bashar al-Asad and Shia Iran.
This attack was a demonstration of the most long-held sectarian violence inflicted on the believers of this faith. Shia Muslims in Pakistan have been persecuted in thousands, particularly, since President Zia’s implementation of radical Islamic ideology in the country in 1980s. The Hazara Shias in the Balochistan province have suffered the most.
Yet, the Pakistani state has failed in protecting this religious minority from persecution by violent sectarian Sunni groups. Despite a series of lethal and massive attacks on Shia Muslims, there has not been a clear recognition of genocide of the people of this community, both at society and state levels. There has also been a failure of understanding the fine line between religious extremism and terrorism and sectarianism. Religious extremism and terrorism has targeted the Pakistani state and has inflicted suffering on all Pakistanis including the innocent APS school children; whereas sectarianism is the most lethal offshoot of the former phenomenon that is specifically directed at religious minorities like Shias and Ahmedis.
Consequently, this gap in understanding at the normative level is also reflected in the state’s policy to counter the overall specter of religious terrorism. The crux of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism policy manifests that the state has responded so far in three distinct ways to as many categories of extremist outfits operating on its soil. One, groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Baloch ethno-nationalist insurgents that are at war with the state have been dealt with the policy of zero-tolerance. In the TTP case, this is particularly so in the aftermath of APS school attack last December in Peshawar. Two, other groups like Lashkar-e-Jangvi (LeJ), Lashkar-e-Tayaba (LeT), and the Haqqani Network that have been active outside Pakistan, for example, in India and Afghanistan, still seem to enjoy the state’s soft corner.
The third category, which is hardly distinguishable from the first two because they all share similar radical Islamic ideology and support sectarian violence, includes groups like LeJ and LeT that target religious minorities. With the minor exceptions of the recent killings of Malik Ishaq, the late leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and his associates in police encounters, there is no clear policy at all against sectarian outfits.
Thus, this deliberate lack of holistic understanding of the issue and incoherent policy responses from the the government have created a safe haven for sectarian organizations. These groups thrive either on the state’s implicit support or its apathy to their religious militarism. They call Shias and Ahmedis Kaafir and publicly preach hatred and violence against them. Yet, the state and its law enforcement agencies seem far from taking any concrete action against them.
Being a signatory of international treaties and conventions on human rights and genocide, it is Pakistan’s primary responsibility to protect its religious minorities. Military operations against the TTP and the long overdue National Action Plan are welcome steps in countering the specter of religious militancy, but much needs to be done to eliminate the fears and suffering of Shia Muslims.
The state must curb sectarian outfits and radical religious seminaries which incite violence against the believers of minority faiths. It must create a free and safe environment where one faith does not take primacy over another. And where differences of faith are respected and resolved through dialogue, not violence. Doing so requires countering the radical and exclusivist Islamic ideology at all levels. For that purpose, ensuring the freedom of press and protection of journalists and human rights activists is a must. It also takes vibrant and organized police force and independent courts for ensuring the protection of religious minorities.
Aslam Kakar is a Fulbright Scholar & Education Consultant at the Oxford Institute and can be contacted on his e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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