Pakistan’s Shia Genocide 101

Source: This article first appeared here and an edited version was published on Viewpoint.

For decades Shia Muslims have been killed in Pakistan and the issue has either been pushed under the carpet or obfuscated using blanket terms such as ‘sectarian violence’. Both the print and the electronic media have on purpose hidden the Shia identity of the victims. The victims are often reported as mere ‘afraad’ [persons] randomly killed, not targeted for their faith.

Most Pakistanis have been silent on the issue, not uttering a word as if speaking for the Shia will make them a Shia. However, they do have time and energy to protest for Palestinians, Burmese or Syrians. The civil society and activists on social media, or otherwise, hesitate to use the word Shia – apparently they condemn the bloodshed but are shy of using the word Shia, like the mainstream media. This does not help. This is rather part of the problem.

#ShiaGenocide in Pakistan – 5 min Intro Video [Watch on YouTubeWatch on Facebook Video]

This comprehensive essays aims to discuss all dimensions of the issue in a FAQ format with rich use of multimedia and aims to serve as a 101 on Shia Genocide in Pakistan.

Who are the Shia?

Shia (Shi’ite) are a denomination of Islam who rely on allegoric and metaphoric interpretation of Quran as preached by Ali Ibn Abe Talib and the other 11 Imams. They interpret the Islamic sources including the Quran and Hadees through the Ahl-e-Bayt i.e. the people of the House (of Muhammad). The Shia believe that Muhammad had declared Ali has his successor at Ghadir after his last Hajj (see Ghadir-e-Khum) and consider the 12 Imams as the rightful leaders of the Muslim community. They do not consider the Muslim caliphs legitimate and this has been a bone of contention between the Muslim sects.

What is the Shia population in Pakistan?

According to reliable estimates by CIA World FactBook and Middle East Institute Shia constitutes nearly 20% of the population of Pakistan. Pakistan’s official records and UNDP’s estimates put Pakistan’s population (as of 2011) at 187 million. Considering a 1.6%1 population growth, citizens not recorded/registered and the fact that the official figures and estimates are lowered down; 200 million serves as a good figure for country’s population. This puts the Shia population of Pakistan at 40 million. This is second only to Iran’s Shia population of nearly 70 million.

Shia in Pakistan are geographically spread across the country. The highest concentration is found in the Gilgit Baltistan province in northern Pakistan where they form the majority of population. Kurram Agency (with Parachinar as capital) is particularly a Shia stronghold in the tribal belt. Similarly, all urban capitals Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta have a sizable Shia population. Saraiki belt (stretching from Southern Punjab to North Western Punjab) in particular hosts strong Shia population – cities of Dera Ismail Khan (Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa), Bhakkar, Layyah, Jhang and Multan deserve a specific mention. Hyderabad and Larkana region in Sindh also have large Shia population. A historic town named Uch Sharif in Southern Punjab hosts several Shia shrines and cemeteries and is one of the host cities of Shia Syed migration from elsewhere into Indian subcontinent.

Other countries with considerable Shia population are Iran (95%), Azerbaijan (75%), Iraq (70%), Bahrain (70%), Yemen (40%), Kuwait (35%), Lebanon (35%), Saudi Arabia (22%), Syria (20%); while Afghanistan, Turkey, India, Tanzania and Qatar have nearly 15% Shia of their Muslim population. According to CIA and PEW Global Forum, Shia make up between 10 and 20 percent of the world’s Muslim population of 1.6 billion – that makes nearly 250 million Shia in the world (using 15% figure). According to Vali Nasr; in the Muslim heartland from Pakistan to Lebanon, there are almost as many Shia as Sunni.

History of Takfir of Shia, suspicion of Shia in Muslim lands and violence

The Shia Revival by Vali Nasr

The Shia Revival by Vali Nasr

Throughout Muslim history, Shia have been persecuted under all Muslim empires and caliphates – the hundred year reign of Ummayds, five hundred years under Abbasids, the Ottomans ruling from Istanbul and the Mughals from Indian sub continent. Vali Nasr writes about the threat the Sunni caliphs faced from the Shia in his book The Shia Revival:

“The notion of the Prophet’s blood kin asserting their right to rule and standing up against monarchs always had the potential to capture popular imagination. The great (Abbasid) caliph Mansour (d. 792) had to suspend the construction of Baghdad twice in order to put down Shia revolts. The fear that the Shia imams instilled in the caliphs resulted in, not surprisingly, in persecution

The Ummayd and Abbasid caliphs imprisoned and killed the Shia Imams and encouraged Sunni Ulemas to define Sunni orthodoxy in radical terms to contain the appeal of Shiism. By the tenth century the Sunni jurists of Hanbali school, known for their intolerance of Shiism, held sway over Baghdad and fear of Shia revolts supported their penchant for purifying Islam. The last decade of that century witnessed anti-Shia violence in Baghad and its environs – mosques and Ashuras were attacked, and Shia were killed or burnt alive. When in 971 C.E. Roman forces attacked the Abbasid domain, the first response of the caliph’s forces and the angry and terrified Sunnis was to blame the Shia. Shia houses in al-Karkh (today’s Iraq) – which had become a refuge for Shias who escaped persecution in Baghdad – were torched as the attackers chanted, “You Shias are cause of all evil”. In a pattern of behavior that would be repeated throughout the centuries down to present, the Shia bore the burnt of popular frustrations with the failures of Sunni rulers. Treated as an enemy within, they were the first to come under suspicion when there was an external threat to the ruling Sunni establishment. By the middle of the eleventh century, persecution of Shia of Al-Karkh had become a custom; every Saturday, Sunni mobs would show up at Shia mosques and shrines before looting them down saying, “You blasphemers! Convert to Islam!”

By the eleventh century these attitudes had also been canonized by Hanbali jurists, who condemned the Shias as rafidis, or rejecters of the Truth. They said that Shia should not lead prayers or marry Sunnis, and that any meat that Shias slaughtered was not halal (permissible) for Sunni consumption. In short, the Shia were not to be treated as Muslims. After the Mongol sack of Baghdad and the destruction of Abbasid caliphate in 1258, attacks on Shiism grew even sharper. Hanbali characterisation in recent history found a reflection in the extremist Sunnis’ demonizatin of Shiism, which regards the faith as heresy and a bigger threat to “true” Islam than Christianity and Judiasm. “

The first Shia Imam, Ali was killed by the Kharji’ites in the Kufa mosque attack; second Shia Imam , Hassan was poisoned on orders of Ummayad caliph Muawiya; the third Shia Imam, Hussain was killed by Ummayad caliph Yazid’s Army at Karbala and all the rest 9 Shia Imams were poisoned on the orders of Ummayad and Abbasid caliphs. Several thousand, if not millions of Shia were killed during Ummayad and Abbasid eras while oppression, persecution and suspicion of them as traitors was a part of social psyche of the time.

The Ottomans who ruled from Istanbul were nothing better than the Abbasids as far as oppression and persecution of the Shia is concerned. Chris Morris in his book The New Turkey discussing the Ottoman treatment of minorities writes that it was the Shia who suffered the most at the hands of the Ottomans and not the non-Muslims like Jews and Christians. He writes:

Treatment of the Shia in Ottoman empire by Sunni Ottoman caliphs/sultans

Treatment of the Shia in Ottoman empire by Sunni Ottoman caliphs/sultans

Fatwa Alamgiri

Fatwa Alamgiri

In context of Indian subcontinent, Mughal Emperor Alamgir crystallised anti-Shia sentiment in the psyche of Indian Muslims. Fatwa-e-Alamgiri compiled during the reign of Mughal emperor Alamgir under the supervision of Shah Waliullah and several hundred Sunni jurists from all over the world was the first comprehensive volume which collected several hundred fatwas declaring the Shia infidels. It went as far as to say that anyone who does not accept the Muslim caliphs is an infidel. It also made it binding upon Muslims to call Shia Rafidah, a derogatory term meaning defectors, deserters, and traitors. All fatwas used against the Shia since then refer back to this collection. A close examination of the fatwas used by Sipah Sahaba and similar anti-Shia militant groups makes it clear that the source of them is Fatwa-e-Alamgiri collection.

A recent anti-Shia fatwa by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi can be seen here which calls to kill the Shia, while another by Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband India can be read here which disapproves of any kind of contact with Shia and declares them murtad. A collection of similar fatwas is available here. See one of several Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband India fatwas below:

Darul Uloom Deoband India - Fatwa of Kufar on Shia Muslims

Darul Uloom Deoband India – Fatwa of Kufar on Shia Muslims

History of Shia Genocide in Pakistan: Pre Zia

The general impression is that killing of Shia is a post-Zia phenomenon and there were no incidents as such before the freelance Jihads were let loose. This is true to the extent that violence against the Shia was not taking place in an organised fashion before Zia and there is little record of anti-Shia organisations existing before the 1970s. It would be fair to say that the killing of Shia escalated post-Zia but saying there was no violence before Zia is not factually true.

The first recorded Shia Genocide incident is from 1963 when in a remote Sindh village Therih (near Khairpur), 118 Shia were brutally killed, some butchered – using rifle firing, axes, knives and stone pelting on the day of Ashura. This included several children.

Similarly, at least a couple of incidents are recorded from the year 1978 when Shia processions were attacked in Lahore and Karachi killing at least 22 people.

Since the incidents were not frequent as they have been post-Zia and many of them happened in semi-urban or rural areas, only a few of them could be found in the records but it is clear from independent sources that and the recorded incidents that there definitely were incidents of Shia killing and/or violence even before Zia’s era.

History of Shia Genocide in Pakistan: Post Zia

General Zia’s policy of Islamizing Pakistan and his support for the Takfiri Deobandi Jihadi organisations; both for his personal leanings and for the strategic depth policy Pakistan Army adopted under him, sowed the seeds of Shia Genocide in Pakistan. This was the turning point for the Pakistan as gradually anti-Shia sentiment was injected into the psyche of Pakistani Muslim society.

General Zia’s close ties to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and his personal taste for KSA-style Sharia laws resulted in radical Islamization of Pakistan. Khaled Ahmed writes in Sectarian War:

Saudi Arabia funding madressahs in Pakistan and lead role in Islamisation of country under Zia's rule

Saudi Arabia funding madressahs in Pakistan and lead role in Islamisation of country under Zia’s rule

Using Zakat as part of Islamizing project was a clever move by Saudi Arabia who saw a great potential in populous Pakistan to export their Wahabi ideology. Zakat collected by the state, handed over to the KSA certified Wahabi madressahs/mullahs made them powerful and influential. The increase in the number of madressahs and influence of Wahabi mullahs meant rapid spread of the ideology challenging and replacing the dominant Sufi Islam of Pakistan. On the other hand, knowing that the Shia and Sunni jurisprudence differ on the issue of Zakat, this was a clever move on the part of KSA as they challenged the Shia of Pakistan through this ordinance. However, this turned out to be one of the most significant incidents in the history of political activism of Pakistan’s Shia.

A 100,000 Shia marched in Islamabad against the ordinance insisting that Shia jurisprudence does not require paying Zakat to the state but considers it a personal duty to help the poor. As a result, Islamabad Agreement was signed in which General Zia agreed to introduce separate syllabus for Shia students in public schools and declared the Shia exempt from the state collection of Zakat. The radical Deobandi militant groups took this opportunity to further their agenda of Takfir of the Shia and branded them heretics and apostates.

See Raza Rumi explaining Shia Genocide in Pakistan in BBC Urdu interview.

Changing demographics through Madressahs under Zia ul Haq

The table below summarises the growth of madressahs in Pakistan across different sects between year 1988 and 2002.

According to the Interior Ministry as per latest available information:

  • the number of madrassas in Pakistan is 20,000 with over three million students.
  • this number stood at 2,861 in 1988 and 246 in 1947.
  • Of these, 11,000 madrassas belong to the Deobandi sect and have been declared “sensitive”.

Using the information above; and adding up the estimates of Global Security statistics and recent newspaper reports on the distribution of Pakistan’s population, we conclude the following:

Sect-wise percentage of population and share in total Pakistan's madressahs shows Deobandi sect received state patrongae and funding

Sect-wise percentage of population and share in total Pakistan’s madressahs shows Deobandi sect received state patrongae and funding

It is clear that despite being only 15% of the population, the Deobandi sect was given a free license and state patronage to spread their ideology through the madressahs replacing the dominant Islam of Pakistan. Under the watchful eyes of General Zia, Deobandi madressahs took control of the religious education and ideological discourse of Sunni Islam in Pakistan. The state, through textbooks, media and all possible means spread the same ideology.

Sectarian War Khaled Ahmed

Sectarian War Khaled Ahmed

It should be noted here that the Barelvi/Sufi Muslims were in favour of creation of Pakistani while the Deobandi Muslims opposed it. However, after the creation of Pakistan, the country’s ruling elite aligned with the Deobandi and patronised them. Dr. Khaled Ahmed explains, because the mazar-based Barelvi tendency to celebrate eclectic saint cults militated against two-nation nationalism and because it was no help in law-making, whereas the madrassa was”. The low church traditions of Barelvi/Sufi Islam (and Shia Islam of the time) was not ‘useful’ for the state. This belief of Pakistan’s establishment in the Deobandi interpretation continues to date and so they continue to patronise them at the cost of Shia, Ahmadi, Barelvi/Sufi Muslims and other minorities.

During the Afghan war, this state patronage took a new dimension as they were given military training, weapons and funds to wage a war (‘Jihad’) against the infidel Russians and in Kashmir. After the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban (‘manufactured’ in the Deobandi Madressahs in Pakistan) and usefulness of Deobandi militants in Kashmir, they became more influential and key for Pakistan’s security agencies. Since then, their political front i.e JUI (Jamiat Ulama Islam) has been part of every government.

Anti-Shia militant organisations, hate speech and organised killing of Shia

After the Iranian revolution in 1979; there was a fear of spread of revolution to Pakistan. Country’s security establishment and radical Deobandi militants wanted to contain this perceived challenge. Although there was little ground to this fear other than the fact that the Shia of Pakistan constituted a sizeable minority and were close to majority population i.e Barelvi Sufi Muslims in terms of their beliefs. State patronage for Deobandi madressahs grew stronger and militant organisations were funded and given free license to operate in the country to counter any potential Shia uprising. This was purely pre-emptive move as the security establishment did not want any challenge from the Shia during a time when radical Deobandi ideology was a great tool at hand to cash in Afghanistan, Kashmir and elsewhere. The state thus helped setup militant organisations.

The notorious Sipah Sahaba Pakistan is also alleged to have been set up at the behest of the then Zia-ul-Haq regime as part of the efforts to build an Islamist counter to pro-democracy forces ranged against the military regime of the Eighties and to counter the potential ‘Shia Uprising’.

Khaled Ahmed, on authority of French writer Mariam Abou Zahab who has done extensive work on SSP while residing in Jhang close to SSP leaders and workers, writes in Sectarian War:

The initial days of Sipah Sahaba Pakistan and who funded them

The initial days of Sipah Sahaba Pakistan and who funded them

As clear, Sipah Sahaba formed in 1985 was funded by local businessmen, politicians and traders in return for security and protection. Overtime, they gained enough influence to contest general elections and win a few seats under the party banner. Only a few know that in 1993 PPP Government, they held a ministry too. The organisation has worked under the names of Anjuman Sipah Sahaba (ASS), Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan and recently as Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ). Among the founding members of SSP are Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, Zia Ur Rehman Farooqi, Eesar Ul Haq Qasmi and Azam Tariq. Other than countless incidents of violence against the Shia, SSP is also responsible for killing Sunni Tehrik leader Saleem Qadri, April 2006 bombing of Barelvi congregation of Eid-Milad-Nabi wiping out Sunni Tehrik leadership and August 2009 Gojra riots against Christian community among others.

Sipah Sahaba is inherently anti-Shia. The SSP demands Shia to be declared constitutionally ‘kaafir’ and extend the blasphemy laws to cover Shia under the excuse of abuse of Sahaba (companions of Prophet). SSP Leaders including all founding members and current leadership like Ahmed Ludhianvi and Augangzeb Faruqi are on record to have said that Shia are worst kind of infidels, should be declared kaafir and that a war will be waged against them in Pakistan. The pamphlet below issues by SSP lists their manifesto and demands some of which are:

  • -Legal protection for sanctity of Sahaba and Ahle Bait
  • -Implementation of system of caliphate
  • -Death penalty for anyone insulting Sahaba, Caliphs or Ahle Bait
  • -Declare Pakistan a Sunni (Deobandi) state
  • -Annual holiday on days associated with Caliphs
  • -Put an end to interference by Iranian Consulates into Pakistan’s internal affairs
  • -Restrict the mourning processions to their mosques (places of worship)
Pamphlet isues by Sipah Sahaba Pakistan listing their demands

Pamphlet isues by Sipah Sahaba Pakistan listing their demands

Being a supporter of Taliban, having sent members for Jihad and being an ally of Deobandi parties and organisations which participated in Afghan/Kashmir Jihad, the SSP wants a Taliban government in Afghanistan and strongly opposes any kind of Pak-US relations or ties. As modus operandi, SSP has killed Shia in mass attacks on mosques, Imam Bargahs, public gatherings and also targeted individuals including professionals, scholars and leaders. SSP also joined the Afghan Jihad Council in 2001 to launch anti-US/NATO attacks.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) formed 1995 headed by Malik Ishaq is a breakaway faction of Sipah Sahaba Pakistan which is currently headed by Ahmed Ludhianvi. Both groups have targeted foreign nationals/citizens/diplomats including Iranians and Americans. According to several reports (including Stanford), both of these organisations have links to Taliban and Al-Qaeda. SSP, LeJ and most other Deobandi militant groups in Pakistan gladly accepted financial support from the security agencies, but cooperated only when the government’s goals coincided with their own. According to Amir Mir, throughout its history, LeJ has reportedly maintained ties with a number of high-profile terrorists, including Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Other then the funding by state security agencies, LeJ gets additional resources from the narcotics trade and other criminal activities.  LeJ has also received money from several Persian Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the evidence of which appeared in one of Wikileak cables. These countries funded LeJ and other Sunni militant groups primarily to counter the rising influence of Iran’s revolutionary Shiism and to export the Wahabi ideology to populous Pakistan.

The only difference between SSP and LeJ is that LeJ is exclusively militant with no political background except that Riaz Basra, the organisation’s founder run for a National Assembly seat once. SSP, the parent organisation of LeJ, is not exclusively militant but also a political organisation which indulges not only in violent attacks but hate speech, incitement too violence, threats etc and seeks legal action against the Shia and other minorities, campaigns for declaring them non-Muslim and seeks extension of blasphemy laws.

Other than SSP and LeJ, recently Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jandullah have been involved in anti-Shia violence too. LeJ also has ties to Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), a Deobandi group formed by Masood Azhar in 2000. The groups cooperate in part because of their common ideologies.   JeM fighters have allegedly received military training in LeJ camps in Afghanistan. LeJ also has links to Central Asian militant groups. In 1999, SSP and LeJ fighters joined IMU leader Juma Namangani in Afghanistan and took part in the IMU kidnapping of Japanese geologists. LeJ members also fought in Afghanistan alongside the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). It will be fair to say that almost all terrorist groups operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan specifically SSP, LeJ, JeM, TTP, Taliban, Jandullah and Al-Qaeda coordinate in one or other way – they are all inherently anti-Shia and all subscribe to a radical interpretation of Deobandi Islam.

Anti-Shia Militant Organisations in Pakistan- Sipah Sahaba SSP ASWJ, Tehrik Taliban Pakistan TTP, Lashkar e Jhangvi LeJ, Jaish Muhammad JeM, Jandullah, Harkat ul Mujahideen HuM, JuD and AlQaeda

Anti-Shia Militant Organisations in Pakistan- Sipah Sahaba SSP ASWJ, Tehrik Taliban Pakistan TTP, Lashkar e Jhangvi LeJ, Jaish Muhammad JeM, Jandullah, Harkat ul Mujahideen HuM, JuD and AlQaeda

A few examples of fatwa and threats by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi can be seen below. For more, refer to this link. Details of organised intimidation campaign by anti-Shia militant organisation is documented here.





A good collection of evidence videos for this section on anti-Shia militant organisations is here, a selection below:

Aurangzeb Farooqi calls for Shia to be declared non Muslim

Saudi Arabia and UAE funding anti-Shia groups in Pakistan (WikiLeaks)

LeJ funding and operations

Aurangzeb Faoorqi (SSP) anti Shia message

Some incidents of Shia Genocide – post Zia

  • The tragic of all incidents of Shia Genocide in Pakistan was the Gilgit massacre (also called ‘Lashkar attack’) when 800 Shia were butchered in a single day. In the predominantly Shia region of Kurram Agency, closer to 800 Shia were killed according to unofficial estimates (Aase, 1999: 60; ICG, 2005: 19), in a raid on the city by Takfiri Sunni activists, mostly from North West Frontier Province (NWFP) tribal areas. These were assisted by local Takfiri Sunni militants from Chilas, Darel and Tangir, with the compliance of Pakistan Army. The Oct 2011 FCC Quarterly published from Centre for Public Policy & Governance notes that, “The 1988 violence in which 12 villages were burnt, 800 Shias killed, animals were slaughtered and trees were cut down was one of the worst incidents of sectarian violence in Pakistan, but had not been properly documented. Still ev­eryone in GB remembered it and it was part of the psyche of the region.”

Khaled Ahmed writes in Sectarian War:

Violence in Parachinar a result of state policy of intervention in Afghanistan

Violence in Parachinar a result of state policy of intervention in Afghanistan

  • There were several incidents in year 2011 and 2012 when Shia pilgrims enroute Iran or returning from Iran were attacked and killed enmasse. The only entry point from Pakistan to Iran for Shia pilgrims to visit Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad is through Balochistan which leads to Zahedan and further. Several hundred Shia have been killed in several incidents of direct attack on Shia for which LeJ and Jandullah accepted the responsibility.
  • There have been multiple incidents in Northern Pakistan (enroute Gilgit, in Kurram Agency etc) when passengers were offloaded from buses, identified as Shia using their identity cards/names or marks of self flagellation (zanjeer) left on their backs and then shot dead. February 2012 Kohistan massacre is just one of such incidents.
  • Ashura processions, Arbaeen/Chehlum processions and Majalis have been routinely attacked in almost all regions of Pakistan by opening fire, hand grenades, bomb attacks or suicide bombings killing several thousand Shia so far.
  • The total number of Shia killed as per independent estimates is over 21,000 which includes several thousand children and professionals.

See some important videos of violence against Shia: herehere and here and TTP’s HakimUllah Mehsod’s anti-Shia message here.

Is it appropriate to call it Shia-Sunni conflict?

Probably not. Both Shia and Sunni have different sects amongst themselves. The Sunnis are divided into Barelvi, Deobandi, Salafi, Ahl-e-Hadees etc. The Shia are divided into Twelvers (who form overwhelming majority of Shia in Pakistan), Ismaili (mostly based in Gilgit Baltistan and Karachi) and Dawoodi Bohras (based in Karachi) etc. However, since the Shia are a (sizable) minority in Pakistan, the militant anti-Shia organizations see all Shia as just Shia and do not care about what sub-sect they come from. It is the overriding Shia belief which is cause of their killing. All Shia of Pakistan have been victim of persecution – the Ismaili Shia of GB have been repeatedly attacked, Twelver Shia have been attacked on routine basis and recently we had incidents of Bohras under attack too.

When it comes to the Sunnis, it will be a blanket term, too wide to be accurate to describe the conflict. Not all Sunnis have killed the Shia. The Barelvi Sunnis, who form the majority in Pakistan have been attacked by the same organizations/mindset which kills the Shia. For example, Data Darbar shrine, Rehman Baba shrine, Ganjshakar shrine have all been bombed. The Sunni Tehrik leadership was wiped off in a bomb attack at their meeting.

Sunni Tehrik was formed in 1990 to by Pakistan’s majority Barelvi Sunni Muslims to counter the influence of Deobandi sect and state patronage granted to them. ST rose as primary Sunni opposition to Deobandis and specially the Deobandi Banuri Mosque and Madressah based in Karachi. ST has overtime objected to the state patronage to Deobandis, appointment of Deobandis in important positions including state mosques like Badshahi Mosque of Lahore. They have also criticised the forced implementation of Shariah in Swat and rejected all religious militants as anti-Islam. ST’s leader Saleem Qadri was murdered by Sipah Sahaba and the organisation openly criticized Musharraf and his military regime of patronizing Deobandi militants. Between March 2005 and April 2011 alone, one independent study has counted as many as twenty-nine attacks on Barelvi shrines. Moreover, in 2009, a suicide bomber from the Tehreek-e-Taliban, a Deobandi movement, was responsible for the assassination of the leading Barelvi scholar Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi, who became well-known for his anti-Taliban teachings. Barelvis commonly point to the “Nishtar Park Tragedy” of 2006 as a prime example of the Deobandi effort to eliminate Barelvism entirely. In that attack, a suicide bomber hit a high-profile congregation, wiping out the Sunni Tehreek’s top leadership. It was later discovered that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was involved in the act.

Data Darbar Sufi Shrine attacked by Deobandi militants

Data Darbar Sufi Shrine attacked by Deobandi militants

It is the Deobandi militants who have the support of the Pakistan’s security establishment who enable Shia Genocide. If this was a Shia-Sunni conflict, it would have been quite impossible for the 40 million Shia of Pakistan to survive with more than 150 million Sunnis. Using the term Sunni provides cover for these Deobandi militants as they have themselves started using the Sunni identity cleverly giving an impression that the 150 million people of Pakistan are anti-Shia. This trend will gradually seep deep down into the psyche of Pakistan’s Muslim society if left unchallenged. It is not a mere coincidence that the Sipah Sahaba Pakistan changed its name to Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat. They are hiding behind the Sunni identity, the identity of the majority of Pakistan and by this cosmetic change, they get the ability to reach out to the masses with their anti-Shia message.

Sipah Sahaba pamphlet declaring almost all Pakistani Muslims as Kaafir

Sipah Sahaba pamphlet declaring almost all Pakistani Muslims as Kaafir

Lionel Baixas, the author of Thematic Chronology of Mass Violence in Pakistan, 1947-2007, Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence says it is inaccurate to describe it as a Sunni-Shia conflict and describes the phenomena as Deobandi-Shia conflict, adding the former (Deobandis) somehow appropriated the term Sunni for themselves and is supported in its anti-Shia struggle by Ahle Hadit organization”

Is this a Sunni-Shia war or a sectarian battle? Is this Shia Genocide?

The mainstream discourse on the killing of Pakistan identifies it as either ‘sectarian war’ or a ‘Sunni-Shia conflict’. This is gross misrepresentation of the issue and provides a useful cover to the terrorists of Sipah Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other anti-Shia militants. The mainstream discourse propagated through media has created an impression as if it is a tit-for-tat violence which is incorrect to say the least. The easiest way to debunk this claim is to look at the number of Shia killed in Pakistan and compare than with their share in population i.e. only 20%.

The killing of Shia in Pakistan can only be described by one term and that is Shia Genocide. If this was sectarian violence, I would like to know how many suicidal attacks the Shia have launched on Sunni Muslims and how many indiscriminate bombings have the Shia carried out in Pakistan? There is not a single suicide bombing attack by the Shia of Pakistan in the history of the country. There is not a single example of an indiscriminate attack by the Shia using any method on anyone in the country. Targeted retaliation attacks in response to Shia Genocide can not be compared to an organised campaign of violence launched against the Shia. The Shia of Pakistan have been a victim of a genocide; the state has not only refused to protect them but is party to this genocide by patronizing Deobandi militants in various ways – by giving them cover, by funding them, by giving them free license to operate in the country. In such conditions, self defense is a basic right of the Shia. One can not expect 40 million people of a community to continue to suffer with no end to violence in sight. Over time, Shia organisations like Sipah Muhammad have retaliated in response to Shia Genocide. The organisation formed in 1993 operated for a few years but has been inactive in recent years – pretty much throughout after the turn of century. This is to be noted that SM only did targeted attacks on individuals (Deobandi militants of anti-Shia organisations) as retaliation tactics and did not do any indiscriminate attacks killing innocent men, women and children. Even the targeted retaliation attacks have been absent in the last few years as SM has been dysfunctional but Shia Genocide has not stopped but instead grown exponentially. If this is tit-for-tat violence, why has it not stopped and has instead gone more violent?

The United Nations Convention on Prevention and Punishment of Crime of Genocide adopted the Resolution 260 (III) A of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948 which defines genocide as:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • (a) Killing members of the group;
  • (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

21,000 Shia dead, mass killings, targeted killings, high profile killings, killing after identification as Shia…. Strong evidence of state patronage, support and funding to the anti-Shia militants groups… and with leaders of anti-Shia militant organisations like Sipah Sahaba on record having called for killing of the Shia and that they will make Pakistan hell for the Shia, what does the world wait for before recognizing this as a Genocide? Who do the blanket incorrect terms like ‘sectarian’ and ‘Sunni-Shia conflict’ serve other than the militants who kill Shia? Are we waiting for the Shia death tool to a higher number before recognizing this as a genocide?

Do we need to remind the media, academic, human right organisations and activists that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), established by the UN Security Council, in 2001 sentenced a Bosnian Serb general to 35 years in jail for “complicity in genocide” in connection with the massacre of 7,000 Muslim civilians in Srebrenica in 1995.

Shia Genocide in Pakistan - 21000 killed

Shia Genocide in Pakistan – 21000 killed

Obfuscation and Role of Media

International media have usually described the Shia killing either as ‘sectarian’ or as ‘Shia-Sunni conflict’. A lot of this remains lack of knowledge as many international journalists do not clearly understand the details of sectarian divide in Islam, the history and politics around it and dynamics of it in Pakistan’s political scene.

The local media, both print and electronic, either obfuscate the Shia killing by using the said terms or completely ignore it. Two methods are used to ignore Shia genocide i.e. not publishing/airing the news or by hiding the Shia identity of the victims and calling them mere ‘afraad’ (persons) killed while clearly the intent to kill them was their Shia belief. A prime example of this was Kohistan massacre when passengers enroute Gilgit were offloaded their buses, identified as Shia (using names on NIC or physical marks on back) and then killed after identified on spot. The news was aired on media but none of the TV channels mentioned the Shia identity of the victims, so much so that they did not even use the word sectarian.

Similarly, to report the killing of Hazara Shia of Queta, the media have repeatedly hidden their Shia identity and called them Hazara, building a discourse that they are killed for their ethnicity and not their Shia belief. Again, completely incorrect and done on purpose. This helps none but the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militants who have been active in Baluchistan and have taken responsibility for almost every attack on the Hazara Shia. They kill them for their Shia belief and media make everyone believe it is an ethnic issue. The little chance of any pressure on LeJ through public or authorities is non existent because it is not presented as violence based on Shia belief but mere ethnic violence which has become somewhat acceptable in Pakistan’s psyche.

Without doubt, the media have played a dangerous role by obfuscating Shia Genocide and pushing it under the carpet which has resulted in more Shia killings and a discourse being built in mainstream that Pakistan goes through a tit-for-tat Shia Sunni violence which is incorrect.

Pakistan’s media hides the Shia identity of victims even when they are killed after identifying them as Shia [YouTube, FB Video]

Role of Judiciary

Pakistan’s Judicial System and superior judiciary have been complacent to Shia Genocide by releasing convicted terrorists for “lack of evidence”. Malik Ishaq has reportedly accepted the responsibility to killing several Shia in court room but he roams free today because the court released him on the basis of no available evidence. Where does the evidence go? They kill all witnesses. Haris Bin Munawar’s excellent investigative piece on Lashkar-e-Jhangvi published in DAWN discusses in detail the “lack of evidence” theory.

Pakistan’s courts release terrorists for “lack of evidence” after they wide-off all evidence [YouTube, FB Video]

Role of Pakistan Army and associated institutions

We have already discussed how Pakistan’s security establishment helped create Sipah Sahaba and other similar groups in the 80s. We have also discussed that Pakistan’s security establishment funded and setup thousands of radical Deobandi madressahs with direct funding from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and indirect from Zakat fund and redirecting the US Jihad money flowing in. Pakistan Army has provided logistic, financial, ideological and administrative support to all Deobandi militant organisations as discussed in detail.

These organisations were bound to come back at Pakistan Army one day and that did happen. In 2009, Pakistan Army’s GHQ in Rawalpindi was attacked and was under siege as terrorists of Sipah Sahaba or its associated militants kidnapped a few soldiers inside GHQ. Malik Ishaq, the leader of LeJ who was in Kotlakhpat jail in Lahore back then was flown on a military helicopter from Lahore to Rawalpindi GHQ. He talked to the terrorists to negotiate a deal between Pakistan Army and those terrorists who had held soldiers as hostage. Doesn’t it tell a lot about the connection?

No surprises, not too long after this Malik Ishaq was released from the jail and given a free license to kill Shia in Pakistan. The number of Shia killing in Pakistan escalated like never before and the Shia saw the highest number of killings ever recorded in the years that followed. More than a 100 Shia were killed in a single day in Quetta, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi accepted responsibility while its leader Malik Ishaq was roaming free on the roads of Karachi. Not just that, he addressed a huge gathering of SSP and chanted anti-Shia slogans.

Are the Shia in Pakistan a proxy of Iran?

Following up from the ‘Shia-Sunni sectarian war’ obfuscation theory, there is a popular accusation on the Shia of Pakistan that they are more loyal or attached to Iran than to Pakistan. This has its roots in the same suspicion of Shia which became part of Muslim society during Ummayad and Abbasid times as discussed.

Shiism has this tendency to assimilate into local cultures and traditions wherever it goes. It is inclusive in nature because of the excessive use of symbolism, imagery and its basis on allegoric and metaphoric interpretation of sources. The Shia expression from Iraq to Iran and Pakistan to the Caribbean Islands has its own flavours borrowed from the local culture. The Shia tradition and expression of Pakistan is rooted in the culture of Central and Northern India – in the cities of Hyderabad, Lucknow, Delhi and the Shia state of Audh/Awadh. Lucknow can safely be called the capital of Shia literature in the Indian subcontinent – it hosts the largest Imam Bargah of the world, was capital of the Shia state of Awadh and is home to legendary poets like Mir Taqi Mir, Mir Babar Ali Anis and Josh Maliahabadi. This region defined the art of marsiyah which is central to Shia expression in Pakistan. The taziyahs lifted in Shia mourning processions in Pakistan have also their roots in the same region. The Shiism of Pakistan is closer to India than to Iran or anywhere else in the world.

Lets make it clear that concept of Velayat-e-Faqih (oh which Iranian Revolution was based) is an innovation in Shiism and was not accepted by all Shia (in Pakistan or elsewhere) and there was and has been a division between the Ayotullahs on this ever since. Over time, the Qom (a city near Tehran famous for its religious seminaries) school of thought and Najafi (Iraq) school of thought established themselves as distinct centres of Shia learning and scholarship and both differing on Velayat-e-Faqih and the role of religion in politics. The later rejected the Velayat-e-Faqih and called for a version of Secularism which came to be known as Sistani’s Secularism (see academic papers on topic).

Khaled Ahmed writes in his book Sectarian War:

Shia of Pakistan rejected Velayat-e-Faqih of Qom Iran and aligned with Najaf

Shia of Pakistan rejected Velayat-e-Faqih of Qom Iran and aligned with Najaf

This makes it clear that the connection of Pakistani Shia was established to Iran and its Ayotullah regime as a result of Pakistani state patronising anti-Shia Deobandi militants. TJNF was formed as a result of this – there is some evidence suggesting Shia leaders from Pakistan went to Qom for training (or were invited) but little evidence of financial suppor. However, it can not be ruled out. It also needs to be made clear that Pakistani Shia have remained loyal and devoted to the local expression of their faith and have over time rejected directions of Qom Ayotullahs which they felt collided with their expression of Shiism – case in point: Ayotullah Khameini’s fatwa on zanjeer maatam which was rejected by Pakistani Shia as it is deep rooted tradition in local Shia expression.

Khamenei Fatwa

Khamenei Fatwa

Are the Shia killed because they abuse the Sahaba or caliphs? 

The common argument states that the Shia are killed because they abuse the Sahaba i.e. companions of the Prophet. It is a futile debate if they abuse or not but a few factors need to be considered:

  • There is evidence that printing press were discovered in Pakistan which were found to printing books on behalf of Shia with abusive content against the Sahaba. These printing presses did not belong to the Shia.
  • The same groups which kill the Shia have been killing Sunni Barelvis, Ahmadis and Christians. I do not know any Sunni Barelvis who abuse Sahaba but yet they are brutally killed at shrines. The Ahmadis are a denomination of Sunni Islam who hold all companions of Prophet in high regard yet they are persecuted and killed in all Muslim countries. Deobandi militants only use the ‘abusing Sahaba’ as an excuse to further their agenda of Shia Genocide.
  • Even if we assume that the Shia abuse the Sahaba, what justification is there to kill them? It is depressing to see even many of the social activists blaming the Shia (victim) saying they bring death upon themselves by abusing the Sahaba. This Blame-The-Victim tendency has to end. There is no justification to take the life of any human being without ifs and buts.
How have the Shia reacted to Shia Genocide?
Shia in Pakistan lack a central political leadership who can speak on behalf of the oppressed Shia community in an effective manner. Some of them suffer from Stockholm syndrome while others don’t seem to realize the gravity of the situation and act appropriately. The Shia have shown exemplary courage and steadfastness facing this genocide as they have remained largely non-violent and have protested peacefully for their rights. The recent years have seen some trend setting political activism by Pakistani Shia community. Throughout the year 2011 and 2012, the Shia held protests across the country and elsewhere in the world. The video below highlights the peaceful protest movement the Shia across the world in year 2011 and 2012.
Shia women remained at the forefront of the political activism and campaigns against Shia Genocide. From historic Karachi dharna of 2012 winters to protests in Lahore, Karachi and international cities post Quetta massacre, thousands of Shia women participated actively. The dharna in Karachi which continued for 50 hours saw thousands of women participating with their children. Words can not describe the courage of women in the families of victims of Alamdar Road Quetta massacre who remained in the sit-in protest for four nights and thousands who joined them across the globe.
Shia women participation in Shia Genocide protests

Shia women participation in Shia Genocide protests

Peaceful Global Protest Movement by Shia – 2011/2012 [YouTube, Facebook Video]


2012/2013 ‘Winter of Discontent’ deserves a special mention. The trigger for these country wide and global protests was the Quetta massacre of the Shia when more than a 100 were killed in twin boming attacks on Alamdar Road Quetta targeting Hazara Shia. 1000 Hazara Shia have been killed in Balochistan which are part of the total 21,000+ Shia killed. After the attack, the families of the victims refused to bury their dead and organised a sit-in protest on the site of attack with more than 80 dead bodies. They demanded action against Lashkar-e-hangvi and anti-Shia militant organisations, end of the provincial government and more. They were joined by protesters across the country: thousands gathered at Governor House Lahore and Liberty Chowk, several protests were held in Karachi including Bilawal House. There were reports from nearly a 100 cities of Pakistan where protests were held. Similarly, international cities across Europe, Scandinavia, Americas and Australia registered protests. As a result, the provincial government in Balucistan was dismissed but action against anti-Shia militants still remains a pending demand to be implemented.
One important and crucial dimension of the recent political activism of the Shia community against Shia Genocide was some bold statements by Shia leadership. MWM issues some challenging statements to the Pakistan’s security establishment clearly showing their discontent with the state and articulating clearly, for a change, that Pakistan state (security establishment) is party to Shia Genocide.
Shia of Quetta refused to bury their dead and protested with 86 dead bodies in Quetta and thousands protest with them globally

Shia of Quetta refused to bury their dead and protested with 86 dead bodies in Quetta and thousands protest with them globally

Global Protests by Shia in response to Quetta Massacre

Global Protests by Shia in response to Quetta Massacre

Shia leaders take on Pakistan security establishment in response to Shia Genocide

Shia leaders take on Pakistan security establishment in response to Shia Genocide


1 official estimate, the actual figure from 1981 to 1998 was nearly 3%




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