More than three dozen Shia Muslims have been killed by terrorists in Pakistan this month, pushing the number of victims over three hundred so far in 2014. This epidemic of suicide bombings, bomb explosions and targeted assassinations against the Shia community has extended to Karachi, Hyderabad, Khairpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Quetta, Peshawar, Kohat, and Gilgit, together with the main pilgrim routes.
Since 2008, extremist terrorists have openly declared on the social media that they intend ultimately to exterminate the whole Shia population of the country, numbering between 17 and 30million – unless they convert to the fundamentalist brand of Sunni Islam the terrorists espouse. Thousands have been murdered already, and their properties and places of worship destroyed. This campaign of religious cleansing also extends to other minorities, strikingly similar to what the Daesh are doing in Iraq and Syria. Its time the international community joined the dots, and recognised that we have to contend not only with the territorially based pseudo-caliphate in the Middle East, frightening as that is to all civilised people, but also with its metastasising growths in other vulnerable states, of which Pakistan is the main example.
Malik Ishaq, the leader of the most notorious anti-Shia extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ Deobandi) says that Shia Muslims are “the greatest infidels on earth” and demands that the Pakistani state “declare Shia non-Muslims on the basis of their beliefs”. The LeJ is officially banned, yet Ishaq was released from prison in May when the prosecution failed to produce evidence against him and he was acquitted of charges including the master-minding of a bomb attack on Shias in Quetta which killed 90 people. Not a single one of the genocidal killers of the LeJ and other terrorist groups has been finally convicted and put behind bard: some are arrested and spend a few months in custody, but somehow they all get away with their heinous crimes in the end.
Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat Deobandi, the parent organisation of the LEJ Deobandi, which was banned by Pakistan in March 2012, has nevertheless been staging public rallies in Quetta, Karachi and other cities by the Nawaz Sharif government, fomenting religious intolerance and extremism. At the same time the Army Chief General Raheel Sharif has launched an operation against the terrorists in North Waziristan, the lawless province in the northwest of the country bordering Afghanistan which is the cradle of terrorist activity. The government doesn’t see any inconsistency between giving terrorism a free rein to commit atrocities and spread their doctrine of hate in the main centres of population, while attempting to root them out in one remote area.
The same double-standard is the hallmark of Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of Pakistan Peoples’ Party, which has ruled Sindh since 2008. Addressing a gathering in Lahore, he says: “now there is a security threat to Sindh I am looking into it”. He has turned a blind eye for six years to the targeted killings of Shia Muslims in Karachi, now a daily occurrence. The construction of several thousand seminaries without permission is in full swing, aimed at radicalising the population of Sindh. What on earth is Zardari looking at and how long will he ignore the threat to the very existence of Pakistan as a democratic state?
Imran Khan, leader of the opposition, advocated negotiations with the terrorists during the election. He denounced them briefly as enemies of Islam in the early months of 2014, but lapsed into silence since then. He too fails to recognize that extremist outfits with an ideology almost identical to that of the Daesh in Syria and Iraq present an existential threat to Pakistan.
Today is the start of the holy month of Muharram, which has seen an upsurge of violence against traditional Shia ceremonies across the nation in recent years. The politicians should forget their differences and come together for once, appealing to their followers of whatever belief to join the processions as they used to do in the old days, in an act of defiance against the anti-Islamic merchants of hate.