The continual killing of Shia physicians in Pakistan — by Dr Mahjabeen Islam

LUBP Editor’s note: At long last, someone in Pakistan’s mainstream newspapers has written on this topic, i.e., target killings of Shia doctors in Karachi and elsewhere. Is it mere coincidence that the majority of Pakistani journalists as well as bloggers are silent on this extremely important (but sensitive) topic, i.e., target killings of Shia doctors in Pakistan by an extremist Deobandi group, Sipah-e-Sahaba, and its affiliates in the Taliban?


There is something seriously wrong with a society that harasses those who stand for justice. If I protest the killing of Ahmedis, then I am labelled as one. And now watch me metamorphose into a Shia

What do you do with a nation that has been killing its physicians for the last 10 years? Not in the name of vigilantism and avenging malpractice or the egregious deaths of patients but for insane ideologies that fault a physician for being Shia. Or worse: Ahmedi.

The spectrum of consent is vast: on the one end are those who do not know or care and on the other those who actively orchestrate the targeted murders. And the government versus the people ping-pong continues. No photo-ops are sacrificed and the promises are nauseating in their emptiness.

It all began 25 years ago as extremism, a la Ziaul Haq, permeated the Pakistani psyche. When slowly but surely the Arabisation of Pakistan began. When we found it blasphemous to say Khuda hafiz and substituted it with Allah hafiz. When the colourful and totally modest shalwar-kameez-dupatta combo had to be substituted with the austere, frequently grey or brown, jilbab-hijab-niqab trio. Harassment of Shias, and especially Shia physicians, had begun, and then, as now, the government had better things to do.

About 80 doctors were murdered in a crescendo of target killing in 2000, and the majority were Shias. Many worked in the underserved and overpopulated areas of Karachi. It seems to me that there may not have been a subsequent reprieve, just an exodus of Shia physicians.

Ahmedi is, of course, almost an expletive in Pakistan. In the recent past, in Punjab, Ahmedi physicians have been murdered in broad daylight. And, for all the legal recourse that the return of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry allegedly brought, no suo motus occurred, no one was apprehended and no trials were set.

Pakistan was built on the doctrine of Islam, an ideology that is based most fundamentally on justice. There is something seriously wrong with a society that harasses those who stand for justice. If I protest the killing of Ahmedis, then I am labelled as one. And now watch me metamorphose into a Shia.

The second wave of target killings is sadly now. There have been days in which six have been killed. A press release of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) on June 8, 2010 is very telling.

“A meeting was held at PMA House, Karachi, which was attended by CCPO Mr Waseem Ahmed, Mr Raja Umer Khattak, SSP Investigation, senior leadership of PMA, doctors of the city, members of the PMA Karachi, PMA Centre and Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA). The CCPO informed the doctors that the police department knew which groups were involved in the killings and the people behind the killers. He further said that he and his men were going to apprehend them in the next 24hours. He further committed that if he were unable to protect the lives of the citizens and the doctors he would proudly resign from the post and go home.

“He elaborated in detail the motives of these target killings and the proliferation of unlicensed arms in the city. Mentioning this, he said every day more than 10 search arrests are made but due to pressure and ill implementation of specific laws such criminals go free, though he assured that despite all this he would deliver positive results soon.

“In his statement, Dr Idrees Adhi, the President PMA, was agitated and saddened on the apathy of government officials. He added that there are so many doctors in the government holding important portfolios, for example, the governor of Sindh, interior minister and health minister of Sindh but none of them had taken notice of the situation and issued a statement in this regard.”

Now, for the CCPO Mr Waseem Ahmed to make brazen statements such as having prior knowledge of the criminals and the inability to apprehend them due to ‘pressure’ baffles the mind and defies response. Considering the continuance of the murders and his lofty promises, it seems it is resignation time.

In this meeting to protest the repeated murders of physicians, it is to be noted, though euphemistically omitted in the press release, that all 20 doctors participated. The fear and panic that grips the nation has permeated physician minds and the “discretion is the better part of valour” paranoid copout has taken hold.

Governor Ishratul Ibad and Dr Farooq Sattar, in a meeting with President Zardari, appeared appropriately grim. Cocooned in his mansions and Mercedes, Mr Zardari smiled and smiled. Is a smile his version of the infamous Pakistani prescription of ‘sub theek ho jaye ga’?

Thirty-year-old Dr Babar Mannan was working in Hussaini Health Home in the Irani Camp locality of Orangi Town when two young men barged in and emptied their guns on him. In another recent episode, motorbike gunmen intercepted Dr Haider Abbas near Metroville III, killing him on the spot. In the same wave of madness, Dr Junaid Shakir and Dr Hasan Haider were killed in New Karachi and Railway Colony respectively.

Sad, and seemingly powerless, physicians on the Dow Medical College alumni list mourn the victims. Dr Tariq Chundrigar writes poignantly: “A childhood friend of mine used to run a dental clinic in Nazimabad. He shared the clinic with a GP. This tireless, never out of temper gentleman had a following of patients that warmed one’s heart. One day, in 1989, someone walked into the GP’s clinic, pretending to be a doctor, put a gun to his head and shot him twice. And calmly walked out, to a waiting motorcycle, and rode off. Closer to home and heart, I am sure you all remember Raza Jafri. A more brilliant mind I have not seen. I spoke to a fellow surgeon and was shocked when he told me that he actually identified Raza’s remains on the stretcher in a small private hospital in Gulshan. This was late 2000.”

The Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) is also busy preparing for its summer extravaganza. No time for condemnations.

The US constitution guarantees the right to bear arms; Pakistan’s does not. De-weaponisation must be immediate, without ifs, ands, buts, smiles and promises. Perhaps the Supreme Court needs to step in for a government that is as usual ineffective, unwilling and incapable of protecting its citizens.

Pakistan’s literacy rate is abysmal as it is. And no society is in a position to destroy its greatest asset: intellectual capital.

Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist with a practice in Toledo, Ohio. She can be reached at

Source: Daily Times, 18 June 2010



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