Shia and Sunni in Pakistan: Deobandi ASWJ’s role in Rawalpindi riots – by Omar Ali

There was a riot/clash in Rawalpindi on Friday (15 Nov 2013). A Shia procession commemorating Ashura was passing by a mosque belonging to the Deobandi-Panjpiri sect (the mosque was a known base of the supposedly banned Sipah e Sahaba Pakistan or SSP, now officially operating as ASWJ in the best tradition of banned outfits staying alive in Pakistan under new names).  Apparently the SSP militants had gathered in the mosque with the express purpose of confronting the Shia procession. (see screen shot below of a tweet from an SSP account with 7000 followers). The imam of the mosque made some comments in favor of Yazid that were followed by a major riot. Details of the riot itself are still heavily disputed, but you can listen to a description of what happened in this case on BBC Urdu. 19 min mark on.. We do know that the mosque was burned and eventually over a hundred shops were burned. At least 10 people died. Dozens are injured, both Shia and Sunni Deobandi. A police officer has said that 3 of the dead were beaten to death by the Shia mob.  The Shias in the procession have claimed that they were attacked with bricks and then with gunfire from the mosque.

(LUBP note: It may be noted that Deobandi ASWJ-SSP militants have routinely attacked Shias, Sunni Barelvis, Ahmadis and Christians in Pakistan. Thus, Rawalpindi incident may not be protrayed as Sunni-Shia sectarian violence. Several Sunni Barelvi clerics and organizations have condemned Deobandi ASWJ’s role in the incident.)

Irrespective of  who started it and who did what in the rioting itself, what happened has two aspects that must be clearly distinguished:

  1. Some people attacked other people with bricks, with sticks, with bullets. Some people set fires. Some people damaged property in other ways. The arrest and prosecution of these people is a police matter. Whoever did it should be arrested and prosecuted under the law, based on evidence, to the extent that it is possible to do so (in a riot, it is frequently not easy).  At the same time, the state must investigate the performance of the law enforcement agencies. Who planned this route for the procession? who should have been alert to this problem and taken steps to prevent it? Clashes between Shia processions and extremist Deobandi groups are a known phenomenon and thousands of police were on hand to prevent such things. Why did they fail? These are administrative issues. The handling of such things is familiar to our Raj-era administration and there are well established procedures for these things. Maybe those procedures are no longer adequate but in any case updating them is still the job of the administration.
  2. trib

    “It was uncovered that connection to CCTV cameras in the specific area where the clash took place had been cut just prior to the chaos. Express News correspondent Adnan Mukhtar reported that authorities expressed their suspicion of a planned attack based on various other factors involved. (Express Tribune)”

  3. There is an entirely separate issue, which is the issue of the steady “othering” of the Shias in Pakistan. This is a longstanding campaign run by the sipah e sahaba Pakistan (now officially ASWJ) , supported by Deobandi Madressas, by Saudi money and by most Jihadist organizations.  The aim of this campaign is to declare Shias as Kafir and to impose onerous restrictions on them. This campaign has been running in earnest since the 1980s (there was fatwa-lobbing by various sects for centuries prior to that, but this particularly vicious and sustained public campaign started in the 80s). I have written before about the background of the Shia-Sunni clash and of its particular history in Pakistan. This campaign is being run on very “scientific” grounds. Thousands of Madressas are producing tens of thousands of foot soldiers for the campaign. High profile Shias have been assassinated. Ordinary Shias have been slaughtered in bombings and pulled off buses and shot after checking for scars on their back.

For more details about this hate campaign, see an earlier post. 

The Nazis would be proud.

This sustained campaign has had an effect. When this latest clash took place, many of my friends on social media were shocked by the eruption of sectarian feeling on social media. The number of apparently sane middle class people who rose to defend the “Sunni cause” and to protest against what “they” (aka Shias) had done in Rawalpindi was surprising to many of us. For example, most people would have expected ASWJ supporters to scream “Shias burn mosque”, but the chief minister of KPK?

See below the purported facebook page (i am being told its not his own page, its run by someone on his behalf, it has 107000 plus likes btw) of the chief minister of KPK,  It reads (I used Google Translate, so that I am not accused of taking it out of context)

The martyred in Rawalpindi mosque today, our media is silent because it has not happened with any church or temple

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The fan page of PTI MNA Ayesha Gulalai is one step ahead of the chief minister (I had mistakenly written it was her page…its not, its a fan page, with 44000 likes):