country should be declared a Sunni state”
The News on
Sunday: In a recent study that you have conducted “The New Frontiers:
Militancy & Radicalism in Punjab” you seem to be suggesting that after
2014, the focus of militancy will be on sectarian violence within the
country. Can you briefly explain how do you look at it in strategic terms?
Ayesha Siddiqa: I
haven’t said that after 2014 the focus of militancy will be on sectarian
violence only but I am saying that these militant organisations that have
sectarian violence as part of their larger agenda will strengthen and thrive
in the country. Anti-Shiism is one of their agenda. It emanates from their
understanding of Islam and Quran. They believe that Shia are not Muslims and
so, like anything considered as menace to Islam or fitna, these people
should be eliminated. The other part of their philosophy pertains to
expanding their political strength within and outside the territory. These
organisations have their own concept of war and peace. There is increasingly
more material being produced by them to justify jihad against all
non-Muslims especially the Christians and Jews. So, as these organisations
strengthen they have a lot on their agenda.
TNS: You are also saying
that militancy flows from Punjab to other provinces. Should we read the
Hazara killings in Balochistan in the same light: LeJ Balochistan as an
extension of LeJ Punjab. Are the Hazara being killed because they are more
AS: When Saifullah Kurd of
LeJ Baluchistan comes and takes directions from Malik Ishaq in Punjab then
what will you call it if not an extension of Punjab based organisation. The
main leadership of most Ahl-Hadith/Wahabi and Deobandi networks is based in
Punjab. The Hazaras as we know are vulnerable due to the fact that they can
be easily distinguished. However, there seems to be a larger plan to kill
and threaten Shias as they are considered conduit of Iran. If you read some
of the writings of journalists that sit close to the military you can see
such suspicions being aired.
TNS: How do you look at
LeJ’s cadre, strengths and long term objectives in Pakistan (Sunni
AS: LeJ is part of the
larger Deobandi network that is connected with other groups like SSP, JeM,
HuM and HUJI. Also, it has the Tableeghi Jamaat and JUI-F network to depend
on. It has over years strengthened itself and is now in a process to
establish itself politically. There is a general perception that bringing
these parties into politics will indeed result in their mainstreaming and
creating an opportunity to wean them away from violence. However, the
violent portion will continue to exist and expand. In fact, it will be able
to justify itself and hide better due to this mainstreaming.
LeJ and the Deobandi
network has expanded quite well in parts of North Punjab and most of South
Punjab. They are now getting into Sindh as well. They are playing a role in
Sindh Urban and linking up with MQM-H. They are focused on their ideology
which means strengthening of a Sunni state that sees the minorities in a
certain role. Minorities will always be considered as half citizens.
TNS: How is the Punjab
government dealing with this menace of sectarian violence that is a threat
to the entire country? Is it engaged with LeJ/SSP or is it in a political
coalition of sorts as some people suggest?
AS: The PML-N leadership
has a history with the LeJ. It tried to curb it during the 1990s but was
taken to task through a terrorist attack aimed at killing the then Prime
Minister Nawaz Sharif. In 2008, the PML-N seems to have adopted a new
strategy that is based on cooperation rather than conflict with the LeJ.
There are stories of a deal struck at that time, negotiated through the good
services of some senior police officers according to which Malik Ishaq was
to be freed if he was not convicted by any court and the LeJ not harassed.
Also, its boys would get accommodated and get jobs in the province at
various levels. In return the LeJ would not hurt the leadership and there
was an agreement for Malik Ishaq’s younger brother to withdraw from
elections from Bakkhar against Mian Shahbaz Sharif.
The Punjab government
seems to have tried to make the best of a situation. In an environment where
it was not allowed to take any action against these various outfits, and
there was the fear factor as well, they decided to deal with it by sleeping
with the enemy. There are reports of seat adjustment between PML-N and LeJ
which now calls itself ASWJ for 2013 elections. The idea is to give ASWJ 3-4
seats in return for its support in other areas where they have a strong
position. Interestingly, the ASWJ is only highlighting the support it has
given in the past to some of the PPP candidates. However, LeJ (now ASWJ) has
always supported mainstream parties in its areas of strength including PML-N.
But a question worth
raising is that what else can a party do when it is not given any option but
to survive with the menace. We also need to understand that these various
outfits have now created justification for their survival. Most of the
financial mafias such as the land mafia, trader-merchants groups etc. are
linked with or connected with these groups for help. For instance, if I need
to sort out a property matter I would rather go to these groups than to the
police or judicial system. In many areas in Punjab like Faisalabad, Lahore
and Gujranwala, there is a network of support. These militants are as much
into extortion as anyone else.
TNS: What are the linkages
between these militant outfits and the TTP, the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda?
AS: The TTP, LeJ and
Afghan Taliban are all ideologically tied if not organisationally. They keep
getting strength from each other and have fought together. Al-Qaeda now has
local franchises which means prominence of these local Punjab-based outfits.
We also need to understand that the traditional al-Qaeda was dominated by
Arabs. The LeJ types have inherited the larger agenda of creating a Sunni
Islamic state and fighting all those considered as enemies.
There is always a level of
support amongst these various outfits. For instance, JeM was involved in one
of the attacks on Musharraf. However, we tend to consider it as a safe and
friendly outfit. Even in the case of that attack, it is believed the money
and material were provided by the JeM but the actual task was carried out by
people from Waziristan. Now, we can call them TTP, bad Taliban or whatever.
Their ideological and human resource base is almost shared.
TNS: What is the state of
Shiite militancy at the moment. Shia seem to be on the receiving end only?
AS: The Shia militancy
started during the 1980s and is confined to target killing. In fact, the
Sunni and Shia militants used to engage in target killings of each other.
Riaz Basra of LeJ changed the trend when he engaged in mass killings of
Shias during the 1990s. Also, Shia militancy has not engaged in mass
killing. Generally, their capacity to respond, like they did in the 1990s,
has reduced. However, some segments in our security establishment remain
concerned about Shias getting close to Iran and threatening Pakistani state
politically, especially in areas of concentration such as Gilgit-Baltistan
and Hazara. This is also where you see increase in mass murders of Shias.
TNS: You have had a chance
to travel to small towns in Punjab. How radicalised is the youth who form
the cadre for the police force? Are the people divided on sectarian ground
AS: I remember doing a
study in elite universities in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore in 2010. You
will be surprised to find that of these youth (LUMS, IBA, NUST, NCA, Indus
Valley School, Kinnaird College, Shifa Medical College, and others), who
have better access to resources and exposure, 16 per cent of the sample
considered Shias as non-Muslim. This indicates the level of interaction
I have been to villages
that follow JeM and LeJ in South Punjab, for instance, where they express
displeasure of the Shias and Barelvis. The Shias are considered a greater
enemy than the Barelvis who are only treated as yet as fools who ought to be
corrected. This thinking is in the police and other organisations of law and
order as well. There is now a natural division in Punjab between Sunnis and
Shias. There is Shia concentration in a few areas. However, it must also be
kept in mind that these differences have been exploited for political gains.
For instance, the uncle of Sheikh Waqas Akram, Sheikh Iqbal and others like
the pirs of Sultan Bahu encouraged anti-Shia sentiments for political gains.
People do live side by side but with lesser cohesion than we could see
during the 1960s or even the 1970s.
The News on
Sunday: How do you look at the rising wave of sectarianism in Pakistan these
Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi:
In my view, these acts are being undertaken by foreign and external
elements, aimed at weakening Pakistan. We think this government has
completed its term and there should be no conspiracy to cause delay in the
elections. Black Water, the US, India, Israel and Iran are behind these
blasts to destabilise Pakistan. Many of the accused arrested by the
Pakistani authorities in Karachi, according to our information, were trained
in Iran. We always condemn the killing of innocent people. We urge the
Supreme Court of Pakistan to deeply look into these matters to understand
the conspiracies behind these incidents.
Why only Hazaras are being
targeted in Quetta when other Shiites also live in Quetta? This is
surprising for us. There are many in-fights within that community which has
roots in Afghanistan. Conspiracies are being hatched to separate Balochistan
from Pakistan. We, for the sake of peace, have also held a peace conference
in Quetta on the platform of Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), an alliance of
more than 30 religious parties.
TNS: There are reports in
the media that LeJ, a militant group that emerged from SSP and is stated to
be close to ASWJ ideology, has accepted responsibility of these attacks on
MAL: We have, many times,
categorically stated that ASWJ (Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat), the party which I
am leading at the moment, has nothing to do with Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan or
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. I can challenge this allegation on any platform. This is
beyond imagination for us how the LeJ, like the Taliban, sends their
messages to the media, claiming responsibility of such attacks.
The LeJ and Taliban seem
as if they are a creature hanging between the earth and sky because our
intelligence and law enforcement agencies fail to trace them. They have
failed to trace the killers of innocent Shias and Sunnis. We believe that
you cannot crush anybody with power and the ultimate solution to these
issues, always, is to sit on the table and talk.
TNS: What’s your take on
the government targeted operation against terrorists?
MAL: We believe targeted
operations cannot resolve this issue. Just take the example of ANP which,
ultimately, has gone for a dialogue with Taliban. The solution lies in talks
and not in targeted operations. There is need for a consensus strategy and I
believe it is high time the government called an All Parties Conference to
discuss the issue of sectarian killings. In 1996, religious parties formed
the Milli Yakjehti Council (MYC), comprising all religious parties,
including the Shia parties. They agreed to a code of conduct. The sectarian
issue was resolved to a reasonable extent. There was a decrease in violence.
Recently, late Qazi
Hussain Ahmad, also wanted to form a council of religious parties on similar
grounds but, unfortunately, he passed away. There was not much disagreement
between LeJ and SSP on that code of conduct.
TNS: It is said that some
elements in the SSP disagreed with the idea of forming MYC and ultimately
formed LeJ, targeting Shias. Later, there were reports in the press that
you, on the request of then Punjab government, met the chief of LeJ, Malik
Ishaq, in jail to make an agreement that he would remain inactive after his
MAL: It is true that I met
Malik Ishaq, chief of LeJ, in jail a couple of times and he promised me not
to be violent if he is released. I challenge the accusation that Malik Ishaq
is involved in sectarian or any other kind of violence after his release. A
few days ago, some Shia groups tried to attack him during a wedding ceremony
and a public procession and some of his activists were injured but they did
not respond to the attack. So, we should not create a situation which forces
such people to defy the policy of peace.
TNS: Does ASWJ have
MAL: Yes. We have become
part of Muttahida Dini Mahaz (MDM), currently led by Maulana Samiul Haq. It
is an alliance of six religious parties and our agenda is to resolve the
issues politically by entering the parliament rather than coming on roads
and staging protests. The manifesto of MDM would be launched very soon. On
this platform, we also want a solution to sectarianism through effective
legislation. We believe that nobody should be allowed to utter derogatory
remarks against companions of Prophet Muhammad and there should be a strict
punishment if any person commits this blasphemy. This demand is close to
Namoos-e-Sahaba and Ahle-Bait Bill once presented by late Maulana Azam Tariq
in the National Assembly.
TNS: There are reports in
the press that you are also in contact with the PML-N for electoral
alliance. Are you planning alliances at the national, provincial or local
MAL: Since we have
political motives and the MDM has decided to contest the upcoming general
elections, we are in contact with many political parties, including the PML-N.
We want to make an alliance with the parties which are close to our ideology
and understand our point of view, parties that vow to protect the ideology
of Pakistan. These alliances can be at any level if the other side agrees to
We believe that the ruling
coalition, led by the PPP, has created a mess in the country. It is high
time they announced the schedule of elections. We believe that these
terrorist and sectarian incidents are a plan to delay the next elections. A
free and fair caretaker set-up can maintain the law and order. If a free and
fair caretaker set-up is not there, the situation might become even worse.
TNS: How close is the PML-N
to your ideology and objectives?
MAL: The PML-N is not very
close to our ideology, but, at the same time, it is not very far either.
TNS: On how many seats do
you plan to make an alliance to contest general elections?
MAL: We have decided to
field candidates on about 20 seats. Currently, we are aiming to contest
elections in Jhang, Khanewal, Muzaffargarh, Bahawalpur in Punjab, Tando
Allah Yar, Mirpur Khas, Karachi, and Khairpur in Sindh, Peshawar, Dera
Ismael Khan, Batgaram, and Kohat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. We have decided our
candidates for these areas. From Jhang, I will be the candidate for the
National Assembly seat against Sheikh Waqas Akram.
TNS: The SSP has also been
demanding that Pakistan be declared a “Sunni State”. To what extent do
you have this agenda in your objectives?
MAL: We believe that
Sunnis have a clear majority in Pakistan. They are 97 percent of the total
population of the country. The country should be declared a Sunni state and
all the Sunni factions can make rules accordingly. The president, prime
minister, chief justice of the Supreme Court and all other offices should be
held by Sunnis. You can take the example of Iran where Shia are in majority
and they have declared the country a Shiite state. If they can do it why we
cannot go for this? Shia, in Pakistan, should be declared a minority and
they can live peacefully like other minorities.
Last Saturday saw
another attack on the Shia Hazara in Quetta, killing more than 85 and
injuring 170 people. The Hazara once again decided to hold a sit-in with the
dead bodies, refusing to bury them. They were joined by the Shia all over
the country who also held a sit-in throughout the country, choking all the
major roads which brought the country to a standstill.
This time they demanded a
targeted operation against the LeJ by the army along with others. The prime
minister formed a six member parliamentary committee under the leadership of
Qamar Zaman Kaira to negotiate with Hazara. Interestingly, not a single
member of the committee was from Balochistan. The committee, with the
‘help’ of the interior minister Rehman Malik, succeeded in convincing
the Hazara leaders and Shia Mullas to call off their sit-in and bury the
The committee accepted
most of the demands with the exception of calling in the army in Quetta but
ensured a targeted operation against LeJ. Thus far, the security agencies
claim to have killed four activists of LeJ and arrested 170 in what they
call a “targeted operation”. The Supreme Court also took suo motu notice
of the incident and asked all stakeholders to submit their responses.
Apparently, no security or intelligence agency has satisfied the SC judges.
In less than two months
since the beginning of 2013, 271 Shia Muslims have been killed and 460
injured in sectarian attacks in different cities of Pakistan. These include
mass murders as well as target killings. According to data collected by a
Karachi-based organisation, around 200 Shia were killed in Balochistan, a
majority of whom belong to the Hazara community. This organisation claims to
have maintained a record of all Shia murders since 1963. So far, it says,
21,338 people belonging to Shia sect have been killed in Pakistan on
sectarian grounds. 2013 has proved to be the worst year for the Shia so far.
The Hazara Shia, a
community of between 0.5-0.6 million people in Quetta, are the worst
affected of this anti-Shia wave in Pakistan. In the last six weeks, more
than 160 people belonging to this community have been killed in Quetta. The
banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for both the attacks.
The governor’s rule
imposed after the January 10 attack appears to have failed in restoring
peace to the province. After a recent meeting of the country’s troika, the
law minister came on television and indicated the possibility of restoration
of the civilian government in the province.
Some people ask: Was it
even fair to blame the civilian government when everybody knew it had little
control over anything in the province? “No civilian government since 2006
has control over the security situation in Balochistan. The fact is that the
military intelligence agencies and paramilitary forces have been in control
of the province, says Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director of Human Rights
Others reply by asking a
counter question: Was it even fair for the provincial government to have
assumed power and claim to represent people for more than four years when
there was no power to be shared?
The failure of the current
political system apart, the fact of the matter is that the Hazara Shia have
been under attack for more than a decade now and, in most cases, the LeJ has
not hesitated from accepting responsibility. The LeJ is believed to have
sent an open letter to the Hazara community in August 2011 asking them to
either leave Quetta by the end of 2011 or get ready for getting killed.
The January attack was
followed by a demand from the Hazara community to hand over Quetta to the
army. The army’s role in the sectarian attacks was not openly questioned
then but this time the failure of intelligence agencies in anticipating the
attack was generously commented upon. Some commentators have suggested that
the security agencies use the activists of LeJ against Baloch nationalists.
“I think the military
itself is not perhaps clear what future policy it needs to adopt. There was
some hope when, in August 2012, the COAS General Kayani said that the threat
[to the country] was internal. But the sectarian killings have continued
unabated,” says Raza Rumi, a political commentator.
Ahmed Ali Kohzad, general
secretary Hazara Democratic Party, says: “Our agencies have arrested and
killed anyone having some linkage with the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA),
but they are least bothered about the LeJ. So, we are right in assuming that
they support LeJ. I think they still believe that after 2014 they may need
these groups in Afghanistan.”
He hinted at the release
of Malik Ishaq and how the number of attacks on the Hazara increased
manifold after his release.
The 2010 annual report of
Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) says that the Hazara Shia of
Quetta were victimised by the LeJ at a rate of approximately 350 per 100,000
inhabitants, or nearly twice the rate of the second most victimised ethnic
group, the Pashto speaking Turi Shia of Parachinar. “The situation has
turned worse for the Hazaras in the last couple of years. It may have
reached 1000 per 100,000 now,” says Amir Rana, director of PIPS.
“The LeJ does not have a
huge network in Quetta and if our security forces are serious in eliminating
them, they can easily do so,” says Rana.
He is of the view that
sectarian hatred has infiltrated the main discourse of the society. “It is
not only students of some Deobandi Madaris who believe that Shias are
non-Muslim. In fact, a good majority of the country believes so.”
The political parties are
scared of these outfits. They are under the impression that if they take
strong action against Islamist and sectarian groups, there might be a
backlash and they may lose popular support.
Security and military
officials, on the other hand, deny supporting LeJ at any level. Passing the
buck remains the standard response. “The military cannot start an
operation against them unless a political consensus emerges on the issue.
Politicians need to politically back the military. They will have to give
the policy on the issue,” says a senior military official.
Intelligence officials say
they are demoralised by the way the courts and the people react to their
activities in Balochistan, KPK and other parts of the country. “Courts are
not ready to take action against the arrested terrorists; instead a media
trial is conducted against the intelligence agencies. The police officials
in Quetta release information about our operations to media and blame us in
the courts,” says a senior intelligence official.
He says that judges and
police officials in Quetta do not dare take action against LeJ.
Police officials in Quetta
apparently agree, saying it is too tough for them to fight out LeJ. As
usual, they cite logistics as an excuse. “We have only 1500 operational
police force in Quetta while we are short of arms and vehicles. Police in
Quetta has borrowed 3000 AK47 from the Levies,” says a senior police
official in Quetta.
The police, he says, is in
control of only around five per cent of Balochistan. “The rest are ‘B’
areas and Levies control those areas. LeJ mainly operates from ‘B’
areas. We have problem in even gathering information from such areas, leave
alone taking actions against them.”
He says like other
security institutions, the sectarian mindset has also penetrated the police
force. “We fear our own sipahis who may pass on the information to
According to him, dozens
of LeJ activists involved in different activities are in jail for the last
many years but they have not been convicted by the courts as yet. “We need
to change anti-terrorism laws and Qanoon-e-Shahadat to fight out terrorism
The endless spate
of terrorism unleashed on the country’s Shia Hazara community by the
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked anti-Shia and anti-US
Sunni-Deobandi sectarian-cum-jihadi organisation, is clearly in line with
its avowed agenda of transforming Pakistan into a Taliban-style ‘Islamic
The ruthless massacre of
around 200 Shia Hazaras in two incidents of suicide bombings in Quetta in
one month is part of a systematic drive by the Lashkar to persecute half a
million members of the largely marginalised Persian-speaking Shia Hazara
community into leaving Pakistan, the way Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Taliban
regime did in Afghanistan, compelling thousands of Hazaras to abandon
Afghanistan between 1995 and 2001.
Launched in 1996 as a
breakaway faction of the sectarian Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (renamed as
Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), the LeJ has deep links with al-Qaeda and the
Taliban and is considered to be the most violent militant organisation
operating in Pakistan. As with most of the Sunni sectarian and militant
groups, almost the entire LeJ leadership is made up of people who fought in
Afghanistan. Most of its cadre strength is drawn from the Sunni madrassas.
The LeJ aims to convert Pakistan into a Sunni Deobandi state, mainly through
Currently, in a Karachi
jail following his June 17, 2002 arrest and subsequent conviction, Akram
Lahori is the Saalar-e-Aala or commander-in-chief of the LeJ. Though Lahori
officially remains the LeJ ameer, Malik Mohammad Ishaq is believed to be
commanding the group as its undeclared functional head ever since his July
14, 2011 release from a Lahore jail. Ishaq is one of the founding members of
the LeJ which has let loose a fresh reign of terror against the Shia
minority, especially after his release. The LeJ consists of at least eight
loosely coordinated cells spread across Pakistan with independent chiefs for
As far as Balochistan is
concerned, two splinter groups of the Lashkar —known as Usman Saifullah
Kurd group and Shafiqur Rehman Rind group — are active there, targeting
Shia Hazaras by using human bombs. Kurd and Rind had escaped from a high
security jail in Quetta Cantonment in 2008. While Kurd carries a Rs2.5
million head money, his second-in-command, Dawood Badini carries a reward of
Rs2 million. Badini is the nephew of al-Qaeda’s former chief operational
commander Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and the brother-in-law of Ramzi Yousaf, the
mastermind of the first terror attack on the World Trade Center in New York
Those investigating the
recent upsurge in anti-Shia attacks in Quetta strongly feel that the
dreadful tendency has something to do with the release of Malik Mohammad
Ishaq who had been charged with involvement in more than a hundred
sectarian-related murders but released by the Supreme Court on bail due to
“lack of evidence”. Ishaq’s release had led to instant sectarian
tensions which were prompted by anti-Shia sermons he began to deliver while
touring Punjab, coupled with the release of an open letter warning the Shia
Hazaras living in Quetta.
According to the Hazara
Democratic Party (HDP) Chairman, Abdul Khaliq Hazara, it is the Sharif
brothers’ soft corner towards the SSP and the LeJ which had contributed to
Malik Ishaq’s release. The friendly treatment meted out to Ishaq by the
present rulers of Punjab can be gauged from the fact that he was not only
allowed to use a mobile phone in his prison cell while he was still in a
Lahore jail, but was also paid a regular monthly stipend by the Punjab
government. SSP chief Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi had conceded during a
media talk almost two years ago that he met Malik Ishaq in jail on Punjab
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s request to offer him a conditional release
if he assures to remain nonviolent for the rest of his life.
If some close
acquaintances of Ludhianvi are to be believed, following intense backdoor
contacts in the beginning of 2010, Ludhianvi and Shahbaz had a clandestine
meeting in Makkah to sort out their long-drawn-out differences. The bone of
contention was the killing of 36 activists of SSP/LeJ in fake police
encounters by the provincial government of Shahbaz in 1999 when Nawaz Sharif
was the premier. Shahbaz, who had been named in the murder of SSP/LeJ
workers, was eventually acquitted by an anti terrorism court after the
complainants had withdrawn cases against him.
As Shahbaz and Ludhianvi
reached an understanding, they reportedly swore upon the Holy Quran inside
the Holy Kaaba to bury their grievances and not to act against each other in
future. Although Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah strongly refutes these
reports, the fact remains that the Shahbaz government had courted the SSP in
Jhang in the March 2010 by-election on a vacant seat of Punjab assembly.
Rana Sanaullah Khan chose to openly campaign for the PML-N candidate along
with SSP chief, Maulana Ludhianvi. Shahbaz Sharif threw his support behind
this informal alliance between the PML-N and the SSP, finally winning the
by-election. It was after the Makkah meeting that Shahbaz had publicly
appealed to the Taliban to “spare Punjab” while conducting terrorist
The unbridled terrorist
activities of the LeJ against the Shia Hazara community give an impression
as if the Pakistani state has surrendered to a coterie of al-Qaeda and
Taliban linked extremists. And the Pakistani state must rise to the
challenge before it is too late.
Mass murder of
Hazara is not where the story ends. Target killing on sectarian grounds is
in full swing in Karachi and has now moved to Lahore
The murder of Dr Syed Ali
Haider, professor of ophthalmology at Lahore General Hospital and his
11-year-old son by ‘unknown’ assailants last Monday appears to be an act
of target killing on the basis of their sect.
This is the fifth incident
of sectarian attack in Lahore in the past few months, according to police
officials. Previously, the terrorists have targeted two lawyers (one
survived), one banker, one professor, and one founder of an Imam Bargah in
After Karachi, where
sectarian killings have been the order of the day in the past few years,
security officials fear a similar wave in Lahore as well. “There are
intelligence reports of possible target killings in the coming months in
Lahore for which effective measures are being taken,” informs a senior
police officer, requesting not to be named. He says such cases take time to
A few weeks ago, Waqar
Haider, manager of a bank in Township Lahore was killed while the killers of
a lawyer, Shakir Ali Rizvi, and Prof Shabihul Hassan Hashmi remain untraced,
says a senior police offer in Lahore.
In the late 1980s, dozens
of noted members of Shia community were targeted by the LeJ, following an
operation by the then Punjab government. Today, there are reports in the
press that the Punjab government is soft on these elements because it has
made some political compromises keeping in view the next general elections.
Recently, the official
says, a network of terrorists has been traced that was carrying a hit list
of known Shia places and personalities.
There were no sectarian
killings in Karachi between the year 2002 to 2008. “The recent wave seems
to have started a few years ago with the release of LeJ leader Akram Lahori,
the founding member of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who was acquitted by the court
after finding no evidence against him,” says a Sindh police official who
does not want to be identified. Lahori’s group is active in the killing
Shia, in reaction to which some Shia gangs have also started killing LeJ
According to Human Rights
Commission report, at least 54 sectarian murders occurred in the first 10
months of 2012 in Karachi alone. Students and teachers of seminaries,
activists and sympathisers of religious sects are key targets in this recent
wave of target killing. Since 1989, fighting between the two sects has
killed at least 7,636 in Pakistan, according to some reports.
Some incidents of target
killings involved issues of land grabbing. “Slow progress on cases has
also led to target killings in Karachi,” a senior official in Sindh
government says. He says Akram Lahori’s group is active in Karachi and
some parts of Balochistan, including Mastung. They have also a strong set-up
In 2012, he says, 2,303
cases of target killing were registered in Karachi, including 123 policemen.
Of these, 1,698 cases showed personal enmity, 74 cases showed political
background and the rest had sectarian side. He suggests the biggest step to
tackle the issue of sectarian killing is witness protection programme.
“The absence of witness protection mechanism creates fear for the police
and sometimes judges too.”
It is also learnt from
different sources that well-to-do Shia families are moving abroad or to
Punjab but common Shia have no respite.
are politically motivated as well,” says I. A. Rehman, secretary general
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “We need a nation-wide effort by
religious scholars as well as lay persons and civil society activists to
keep sectarian forces out of politics.” He says “polarisation is
increasing in society, political and religious parties. There are
apprehensions that certain elements might exploit sectarian differences to
undermine the democratic character of elections so the danger of violence,
too, cannot be ruled out.”
— Waqar Gillani
In a little over a
month, the Hazara Shia in Quetta faced another massive bomb blast when, on
February 16, a water tanker laden with explosives burst in one of the
ghettos they are confined to, killing more than 85 people and injuring more
than a hundred. The unfortunate déjà vu came in the form of another sit-in
alongside the dead bodies who the families refused to bury.
The governor’s rule in
the province had proved as ineffective as the civilian government before
This time though the Shia
political groups took no time in making a common cause with the Hazara and
the sit-ins multiplied across the country, bringing life to a virtual
standstill. Unlike the impromptu sit-ins of January, these were
strategically put up, blocking access to major cities.
The federal government had
no choice but to act and act fast. The prime minister formed a parliamentary
committee that was sent to Quetta to negotiate with the Shia leaders. In
between, on Monday morning, something else happened that triggered the anger
of what is euphemistically known as the silent majority. In Lahore, a Shia
doctor and his eleven year old son were shot dead in what appears to be a
case of target killing on sectarian grounds.
The Quetta attack has been
claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) while the Lahore murders are widely
believed to be motivated on sectarian pretext. The government has responded
in the form of what it calls a targeted operation. Only time will testify
how effective and well-meaning this operation actually is.
While the resilience,
patience and fortitude of the Hazara community was a subject of discussion
along with a sense of relief at the ouster of an ineffective government in
Balochistan in January, this time there are questions in people’s minds.
They want to understand
the state’s indifference or ineptitude. Unlike January, they have pointed
at the intelligence failure rather openly. They want to know if the unrest
is being deliberately created to achieve certain political consequences.
They are naming and shaming political parties for their role and support to
the religious parties with extremist agenda. They are both happy that Imran
Khan named the LeJ and are ready to grill him if he did so for narrow
political gains. They are ready to question media outlets if they refused to
name the sectarian group under attack because this archaic media ethics does
not hold ground any more they say.
If the LeJs of the world
wanted to divide the people of this country with this spate of killings, it
seems to have united them. In today’s Special Report, among other things
we have also interviewed Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, Chief of Ahle
Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), in order to give the people a sense of what the
other side thinks. This is not an endorsement of the warped views but just
an attempt to understand them.