Killing and ghettoization of Shias and the responsibility of the State

Return of sectarian war

A suicide blast on the occasion of the “chehlum” of Imam Hussain has killed 32 innocent Shia Muslims in Dera Ghazi Khan in Punjab, hours after someone killed a Sunni in the neighbouring NWFP district of Dera Ismail Khan. The war is clearly one-sided because the Shia counter-upsurge of the 1990s is nowhere in evidence. But it might return, looking at the way the Shia of the Kurram tribal agency have been left to the mercies of Sunni fanatics; so much so that humanitarian and other assistance is now coming to them via Afghanistan, which may actually lead to the expansion of the sect-based conflict, to say nothing of deterioration of relations with Shia Iran.

The government must take realistic steps to curb sectarianism and militancy. DG Khan is an old seat of sectarian hatred because of a strong Sipah Sahaba presence there and its linkage to the invading Taliban and Al Qaeda elements. The spread of violence to DI Khan is of recent date, just as the killing of the Shia of Peshawar dates from the rise of the warlords in the neighbouring Khyber agency.

One is not unrealistically recommending that the army be deployed in the affected “Derajat” or the two Deras, but one must register objection to the conduct of the state in neglecting to make a study of the sectarian situation. No studies are available on the growth of the conflict and the gradual ghettoisation of communities after which the victims are rendered helpless in the face of their plight. Intelligence in Pakistan means concoction of conspiracy theories; there is no research on social change through appropriate funding at the various universities with capacity to do this work. Today, studies of the Hazara Shia community in Quetta are available with foreign universities, but the Quetta administration speaks about the Hazaras only as amateurs.

DG Khan is the hinterland of the Lal Masjid seminary in Islamabad whose leader was deeply engaged in sectarian violence and was finally killed by his victims in the courtyard of Lal Masjid. Another world-renowned head of a jihadi militia leader now living in Islamabad has been accused in the past of “helping out” Sipah Sahaba in DG Khan. The man who killed the Iranian consul in Multan in 1997 was captured and then shifted to a DG Khan jail from where he was allowed to escape. The man was later involved in another historic Shia massacre in Mominpura in Lahore in 1998. Such is the depth of sectarian passions in DG Khan.

DI Khan is the new victim, squeezed as it is between the rising Deobandi empire of warlord Baitullah Mehsud and the old sectarian hotbed of Sipah Sahaba in DG Khan. In the NWFP, the Shia are fast enclosing themselves in ghettos created in cities like Kohat and Hangu to live close to one another for the sake of security. But by doing this they are presenting themselves to the Sunni fanatics as easy targets. The problem of sectarianism is complex but it can be grasped if academic efforts are made to analyse it and the administration is educated about it. The British Raj officers did just that and prevented sectarian violence through an informed handling of cases as they arose. (Daily Times)