Fanatical Sunni segments in Pakistan are now united to unleash terror on Shia community across the country. Massive rallies were organised at major cities including Karachi and Peshwar to target the Shia Muslims …. Writes Kaliph Anaz
Ethnic and religious minorities are on the receiving end in Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan. In fact, the state of Pakistan is structured, historically, in a manner which makes life miserable for all minorities, whether they are from the Islamic fold or outside it. The Shias, the segment of Islam in which the Pakistan’s Father of the nation Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali belongs to, is the new target.
The plight of minorities under the Imran Khan regime is not destined to be any better. One of the first cabinet decisions taken by the Imran Khan government was to sack a famous economist from his advisory council just because he was an Ahmadi and extremist groups had raised a banner of revolt against him. Khan’s capitulation is not surprising, considering that successive governments have treated Ahmadis and other minorities as `slave` citizens. The condition of Hindus and Christians remain far worse.
The treatment of Shias, a prominent sect among Muslims, who number about 30 million, has been equally deplorable. Shias have been victims of targeted killings, attacks on religious places and discrimination in opportunities ever since the group challenged the military regime of despot Zia-ul Haq.
Pakistan is trying to project itself as a leader of Muslim Ummah across the world in the backdrop of rising Islamophobia, it treats its Shia population as enemy of Islam and persecuting the community. The Sunni sects are united in this issue with silent approval from the Army and its selected government. Hitherto unseen unity amongst the Sunni sects and political groups are indicating this fact. Demands that Shia be declared non-Muslims are increasing. They are using the Takfiri logic to persecute the 30 million plus Shias in Pakistan. The majority Sunni sects used Takfiri logic to declare Ahmadiya community as non-Muslims.
In fact, the Pakistani Constitution itself has rendered them second-class citizens, deprived of individual liberty and religious freedom. Encouraged by the state, various extremist elements and a large section of the society, have campaigned violently and otherwise against giving any religious freedom to Ahmadis. They have for long been discriminated politically, socially and economically, largely because the Sunni state has ensured their marginalisation not long after Independence.
Now they are turning against the Shia community. Reports are emerging on a daily basis about the atrocities rendered upon the Shiites.
Massive anti-Shia rallies were held in major cities including Karachi, Peshawar, Islamabad in September 2020. Over 30,000 people attended the Karachi rally. Banned groups such as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), extremist groups like Tehreek-e-Labbaik, and leaders of banned groups addressed or shared the stage at these rallies and even encouraged followers to launch an attack on Shias.
On 4 September 2020, several Sunni organizations created a coalition demanding the arrest of Shias for blasphemy. Over 150 FIRs alleging blasphemy against Shias including prominent Shia leaders and Shia clerics were registered.
The Sunni majority police force is also playing their role. A large number of Shia Ulema have also been detained by the police in the pretext of maintaining law and order. The police become a laughing stock in front of the international media when they filed a case against a three-year-old Shia child under 16 Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) for allegedly organising a majlis at his residence.
Pakistani media have reported that over 22,000 Shias have been killed since 1968 for their faith. Two Shiites have been gunned down in past month alone for religious reasons. Reportedly, a total, 33 people have been wounded, and seven others lost their lives in August 2020 in targeted attacks in Pakistan. Attacks take the form of bombings within districts with dense populations of Shia presence and armed shootings of individuals recognized as Shia Muslims.
On the 9th August, unidentified shooters targeted Syed Mukhtar Hussain Shah, 52, a caretaker of the Imambargah Chah Roshan Shah Malana, a congregation hall for Shia commemorations, as he returned home from the market. Shah lost his life at the hospital.
A day later, a bomb on a motorbike detonated in Chaman’s border city, resulting in the death of 6 and the injury of 20 others. Local law enforcement noted a high prevalence of extremist violence that target Shia communities in the province.
The city of Quetta is another location in Pakistan with a high volume of anti-Shia violence. On the 13th of August, anti-Shia instigators threw a grenade in a market place wounding and killing nine civilians. Among those killed was a child. There was also a case of brutal death of Qaiser Imran in Kohat, an attack on a procession in Okara, and the desecration of an Imambargah in the Lines Area.
In addition to direct violence, Shia Muslims in Pakistan face derogatory language and labeling. In Karachi, homes of Shia Muslims have been marked with words translating to “Shia Infidel.” Some in Pakistan have labeled the Coronavirus as “Shia Virus,” scapegoating the population for the countries pandemic.
During the recent anti-Shia Rally in Karachi, affiliates of Sipah-e-Sahaba and Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan waved flags and shout derogatory slurs against Shia Muslims, calling them “infidels” and damaging not only identified Shia property but also the city’s public infrastructures.
In July 2020, Punjab legislature passed a bill (Tahaffuz-e-Bunyad-e-Islam Bill) prohibiting printing and publication of objectionable material. This was largely seen as targeting Shia.
A columnist wrote recently in The Nation that “Jinnah, a Shia himself, would certainly be aghast to get word of how brutally have Shias been treated in this country. Target killing of Hazaras in Quetta – a city that is home to roughly 600,000 Hazara Shia Muslims – continue to surface every now and then to which the authorities often turn a blind eye.
Pakistan is today a state where a large section of the people, including Muslims, are treated as enemies, a sad state of affairs in a country which had boasted of being a sanctuary for believers of Islam.