The sectarian-ethnic scourge in Pakistan: The legacy of General Zia-ul-Haq

The sectarian-ethnic scourge

The killing fields of Dera Ismail Khan in the NWFP claimed more victims on Tuesday as a grenade attack killed one man and wounded 18 others inside a Sunni mosque. The attacker hurled the hand grenade at the worshippers during evening prayers, causing a stampede and leading to more injuries. This is not a good sign because heretofore it was the Shia community in DI Khan that bore the brunt of attacks from banned Sunni sectarian organisations aligned with the Taliban in the neighbouring territory of South Waziristan.

As if this was not enough worry, the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) owned Tuesday the cold-blooded murder of five Punjabis in Noshki and Mastung districts of Balochistan, saying it was “retaliation for the firing by security forces on a wedding ceremony in Dera Bugti”. The target in Noshki was the shop owned by a Punjabi settler for generations which had been attacked earlier too. In Mastung, the victim was an innocent man standing at a bus stop. In the past few days, Punjabis have become victims of terrorism, including one in Quetta, for violence allegedly committed by the law enforcement agencies against the Baloch. A BRA spokesman told the press, “We will carry out attacks on all Punjabis wherever they live in Balochistan. We do not tolerate Punjabis on our land. It is the Punjabi forces attacking our people”.

There is more bad news. Layyah in Punjab is seeing a repeat of what an educational institution did to its Ahmedi students in Faisalabad last year: a movement led by the uncle of the local MNA wants 10 Ahmedi students expelled from a private tuition centre because of allegations of blasphemy against four students. Handbills distributed in the village ask the Ahmedis to leave the place by February 9 because their four children allegedly wrote blasphemous things on the walls of the latrines of a local mosque. The Layyah police say there are no witnesses and no evidence against the accused and, what is most alarming, the imam of the mosque admits that a false case has been registered by the police under pressure from a group of people that include the local head of the banned Jama’at-ud Dawa and some local journalists.

All these incidents on the same day point to the nature of terrorism in Pakistan. The umbrella of Al Qaeda and Taliban violence now gives shelter to old terrorist tendencies that existed in the country. The DI Khan incident goes back to the tacit permission of the state to consolidation of the power of Sipah Sahaba in DI Khan during the Afghan war. After the dominance of the Taliban in the neighbouring Tribal Areas the simmering animus of the sectarian terrorists found vent in suicide-bombing attacks on the Shia community. It appeared that the suicide-bombing factories of the Taliban and Al Qaeda were taking time out to kill the Shia too. But the latest killing at a Sunni mosque is even more alarming: it means the Shia have been forced to hit back because they have despaired of the state coming to their help.

The Baloch radicals have always accused the Punjabi of trespassing on their rights. In the past, there were cases of “cleansing” the government machinery of Punjabis; but today the “liberation” organisations find it convenient to “avenge” the acts of the Pakistan army by killing Punjabis although the Pakistan army may contain other nationalities like the Pashtun too. The Ahmedis have avoided ghettoisation and hence been relatively safe from attacks, but wherever they become identified they are subjected to ruthless violence through the instrumentality of two laws on the statute books: one specific, disallowing them Muslim rituals and practices; and second general, the law against blasphemy used to entrap Ahmedis and Christians alike to expel them from their property which is later annexed by the attackers.