Calling for an end to sectarianism in Pakistan
Khalid Khokhar


The sizzling Balochistan province has been descended further into chaos as at least 89 people hailing from Hazara Shia community were killed while more than 200 others seriously wounded in the massive blast on February 16, at Kirani Road-near Hazara Town of Quetta. While a complete shutter-down strike is being regularly observed in Quetta, it triggered country-wide riots, and protests against the killings of the Hazara community with hundreds of protesters staging sit-ins at major cities across the country. The proscribed group Lashkar Jhangvi (LJ) claimed responsibility for the blast using a remote controlled device that detonated 800 to 1000 kilograms of explosive material. The entire nation is under the spell of deep mourning on the tragic loss of invaluable lives. While the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry announced to take suo motu notice of the killings of the recent attacks on the Hazara community in Quetta, the Shia Hazaras refused to call off the protest until the Pakistan Army was deployed in the city to provide security to their community. In the meanwhile, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf besides constituting a 6-member parliamentary committee to assess the situation, has also called for a comprehensive report from intelligence agencies regarding a breach of security by an explosives-laden truck used by terrorists during the attack. In retrospect, political leadership as well as some prominent anchorpersons found it easy to blame intelligence agencies for the intelligence beef-up. Nonetheless, the real perpetrators are not being held responsible for the enormous destruction. The on-spot report by the law-makers will shed some more light on the behind-the-scene activities. However, the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP) demands a focused and targeted operation against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and its cohorts.

Having distinguishable Mongoloid features, Hazaras are a Persian-speaking people who mainly live in central Afghanistan. They are Shia Muslims and comprise the third largest ethnic group of Afghanistan, forming almost 9-18% of the total population. Over half a million Hazaras live in neighboring Pakistan (especially in the city of Quetta) and a similar number in Iran. Their number has rapidly increased after partition, particularly during the last two decades. In 1962, through legislation, the Hazara tribe was given the status of the citizen of Balochistan. The Islamic Revolution of Iran had a profound influence on the socio-cultural development of this community, resulting in the huge influx of Afghan refugees both in Pakistan and Iran. In Pakistan, most of the Hazaras live in and around Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's South-western Province, Balochistan with prominent Hazara populations include Hazara Town and Mehr Abad. However, there have been some tragic incidents of sectarian violence in which 600 members of the Pakistani Hazara community have been killed since 1999. The new wave of target killings in Quetta, which began in 2009, suggests that Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and their allied terrorist groups of which the prominent are Sipah-i-Sahaba and Lashkar-i-Jagvi are involved in the assassination of Hazara. The brutal killing of Hazara and failure on the part of the Government of Balochistan to arrest the culprits and to protect the lives of their citizens created misunderstanding, doubts, and suspicions in the future harmonious and brotherly relations between the two sects. However, the recent hike in violence against Hazaras may be the result of the teaming up of SSP/LeJ networks in the province. The Jundullah-LeJ terrorists represent Sunni Islamic organization based in Balochistan protecting the rights of Sunni Muslims in Iran. Foreign powers are financing these terrorist organizations to destabilize Iran and Pakistan and break them into pieces. Malik Ishaq and other hardline Sunnis believe that Iran is trying to foment revolution in Pakistan to turn it into a Shia state. Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia make a very complex triangle of relationships. Iran figures in the international conspiracies to carve out an Independent Balochistan comprising Pakistani and Iranian Balochistan. Pakistan is an energy deficient country. Pakistan can not afford to annoy Iran as Pakistan is interested to import of gas from Iran for which IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline project was finalized. India is building bridges with Pakistan’s friends; Afghanistan is already hostile and has traditionally been a safe haven for anti-Pakistan elements of all hues, including Baloch nationalists.
Many believe that the Hazara killings are an extension of the old Iran-Saudi Arabia ideological war, resulting in targeted killing of both Sunni and Shias. LeJ leader Malik Ishaq was recently given a stockpile of money during his visit to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has been Iran’s traditional adversary. Saudi Arabia does not approve of Pakistan’s close relations with Iran and tries to drive wedge between the two neighboring countries. Increased attacks on Hazaras of Balochistan and other Shia pilgrims by pro-Saudi extremists outfits is a clear indication that Saudi Arabia can go to any limit to teach Pakistan a lesson for its Iran relations. Pakistan’s economy depends on Saudi Arabia in more than one ways. Nearly 60% of foreign remittances, a life blood for Pakistan’s economy, come for Pakistani diaspora working in Saudi Arabia and its allied countries. This gives a great leverage to Saudi Arabia to meddle in Pakistan’s affairs directly and also through right-wing clergy funded by Saudis. The extremists in Pakistan are still sympathetic to Saudi Arabia and derive strength from its religious policies of intolerance. Saudi Arabia’s alleged financing of Sunni militant groups has been a sore point in Washington. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned in a December 2009 classified diplomatic cable that charities and donors in Saudi Arabia were the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” This situation is a cause of concern for Pakistan’s security establishment. It cannot afford to annoy Saudi Arabia for economic and political reasons.
Sectarian violence has once again reached unprecedented levels in various Shia majority countries during this past year. There have been both Muslims who have been responsible for stirring up animosity and prejudice between Sunni’s and Shia’s. At the same time, rumors are mongering around about PML(N) clandestine involvement in the killings of Shia people with the purpose of discrediting PPP and extracting political mileage at the time of electioneering campaign. In order to achieve this proposition PML(N) is using Rana Sanaullah’s connection with LeJ element as well as Malik Ishaq’s extremist policies against Iran and Shia community. The deadly conflict between Shias and Sunnis in Quetta provided the backdrop for the urgent tone for reconciliation. It is heartbreaking that there are still any individuals calling themselves Muslims who can believe that there is any possible justification for such acts at any time. Our prayers are with the victims and their families. Those who carried out these acts bring shame on the entire Ummah. The intelligence agencies are being unnecessarily dragged in this standoff. Somehow we have to find a way to stop this senseless violence. Scholars and Muslim activists, especially Quetta, where anti-Shia rhetoric is endemic to the region, must stand up and make clear that the killing of other Muslims guarantees nothing but misery in this life and the hereafter. It is now time to move beyond the rhetoric and demand action. That must take place by declaring our stand now—our prayers for the deceased and their families, our demand for justice, and our declaration to maintain the unity of Muslims.