By Shahzad Raza
24 Aug, 2012
On August 16, gunmen wearing military uniforms dragged 20 Shia Muslim travellers off a bus in the hills of Babusar Top in Mansehra district and shot them dead. It was the third such incident in six months.
On April 3, a mob dragged nine Shia Muslims out of buses and shot them dead in Chilas. On February 28, 18 Shia Muslim men were ordered off buses travelling from Rawalpindi to Gilgit in the district of Kohistan, and shot dead in cold blood.
In all three instances, the assassins took their time to segregate Shia Muslims from rest of the travellers by looking at their identity cards.
The government claims every time that it will arrest and prosecute the culprits, but the killings continue.
Soon after the August 16 incident, Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah called an emergency meeting of top local officials and told them to arrest the killers.
Intelligence sources say militants loyal to Mullah Fazlullah were involved in the killings in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. After escaping a military operation in Swat in 2009 that ended his reign of terror in the valley, Fazlullah had found a safe haven in Afghanistan. He is now operating from across the border. The recent killings also involve groups referred to as 'Punjabi Taliban', many of which are sectarian outfits.
"The militants begin by terrorizing the local population and force them to comply with his edicts," said Amir Rana of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS). But he added the local religious leaders in Gilgit had rejected sectarian killings.
He said the ongoing sectarian violence in Gilgit may soon surpass violence in Karachi. According to the last PIPS report, Karachi was the worst-hit city with 36 sectarian attacks in 2011. The attacks claimed 58 lives. As many as 314 people were killed in 111 sectarian attacks in the country last year.
The advent of violent sectarianism in Punjab was marked by the assassination of Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, a hardliner Deobandi religious leader who hailed from the district of Jhang. It began a tit-for-tat killing spree that still continues in one way or the other.
Some of these sectarian outfits got involved in the Afghan jihad, and that strengthened them financially and logistically. A large number of unregistered Madrasas across the country continue to provide these organizations with new recruits.
This is blamed on the Ziaul Haq regime that involved Pakistan in the Afghan war in the 1980s and is accused of providing state support to sectarian outfits. These outfits have since found new battlegrounds, new targets and new recruits.
In Balochistan, the unabated killing of Hazara Shias is among the worst examples of sectarian violence in recent times.
Reacting to the recent surge in violence, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki Moon reminded the Pakistani government of its responsibility to protect its citizens.
"The killings are doubtless the work of those who want to destroy Pakistan, but a failure to nab and punish the killers is also contributing to the same end," the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a statement. "The authorities owe an explanation to the people for their inability to crack down on sectarian killers and for the most flagrant failure in protecting the lives of citizens."
A day after the Babusar massacre, Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced that Rs100 million would be spent on improving the security of the Karakoram Highway (KKH). But many question the government's ability or capacity to confront terrorist groups.