by Abdullah Zaidi:
A few days ago, at least 20 Shias headed for Gilgit-Baltistan were shot dead in Mansehra by militants. A day later a bomb attack on the Al-Quds rally resulted in the death of one Shia youth. Although, targeted killing of Shias is not a new phenomenon, but because of the recent surge in these episodes, I expected a stronger and more importantly, a definite reaction. To my dismay none of that came about.
Instead, all one can hear regarding sectarian terrorism is general throat-clearing rhetoric which ends at condemning the attacks in isolation. Sometimes, the whole issue is simplistically reduced to lack of law and order and the government’s unpreparedness without any attention to the context of such attacks. Sectarianism in Pakistan started emerging in late 70s around the Iranian revolution. The Islamisation programme under Zia-ul-Haq through its Madarsah reform changed the face of sectarian conflict. The Zia regime, hoping to change the character of the country’s electorate, encouraged the expansion and politicisation of Madarsahs. Firstly, the regime offered that Madarsah graduates would be treated equal to school graduates if they undertook certain reforms. Secondly, the regime introduced financial support through directing the Zakat funds that it collected to these Madarsahs. This not only led to an exponential increase in Madrasah graduates but also led to a decline in the quality to education as the focus shifted from traditional Islamic scholarship to providing the state with an ‘Islamic bureaucracy’. With the end of Zia regime these policies were reversed and these new Madrasahs and their graduates were left without means of funding or prospects of access to the state. These less traditional and more political graduates then joined the ranks of frustrated unemployed. According to some, sectarianism began to shape around the revolt these ‘petty Ulama’.
Disillusioned with the state these petty Ulama started to look at other avenues for support. With Saudi Arabia and some other states willing to extend financial support these political Madrasahs started vying for funding. These Madarsahs tried to outdo one another in acts of terrorism against Shias in order to secure their chances of funding. The rise of Taliban in the 1990s and Pakistan’s policy of strategic depth added to the surge in Sectarian incidents. It is important to delineate how Pakistan’s policy of propping up the Taliban encourages sectarian violence in Pakistan. The defence establishment assumes that it can control and compartmentalise these militant groups. What it does not realise is that these militant groups are steeped in the same exclusive pan-Islamism which causes them to pursue their own agendas. Secondly, it is useless to make distinctions between these groups as there is considerable overlap in the membership of these groups. Many of these militants groups which once worked for the ISI abandoned it because they say their true calling as fighters for Al-Qaeda. Lastly, it is known that the Taliban, which also come from the same structure of seminaries, would routinely call upon these Madrasahs to provide them with recruits.
Today, the problem of sectarianism is not only a problem of governance but of education reform, funding of seminaries, counterterrorism and civil-military imbalance. It is by addressing these issues that the problem can be solved and not by talking of non-existent conspiracies hatched by Zionists and Americans trying to create divisions between the brotherly Shia-Sunni population of Pakistan. If you think that those misled by these escapist narratives are a minority, think again. The Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen, an Shia activist organisation which seeks to highlight and stop sectarian genocide, issues statements calling on Muslims to unite against Israel and America’s imperialist designs in response to sectarian killings. I was surprised to know that the Al-Quds rally, organised by the Shia outfit Imamia Students Organisation (ISO), is actually a protest against Israel. After the bomb attack, ISO asked the police to register an FIR against the US Consul General of Karachi along with others. If the self-acclaimed leadership of the very minority being targeted is going to behave this way, it is a cause of concern for that minority.
The question worth asking would be; why is the recent surge in sectarian attacks based in Balochistan which also happens to be the new Taliban base and what steps has the government taken to stop the militants from turning the province into a safe haven. Secondly, the Taliban have catapulted once regional organisations such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Laskhar-e-Jhangvi into a national terrorist outfit and enhanced their capacity enormously. Finally, the issue of maintaining law and order in Balochistan is not just the provincial government’s ineptitude but also of Balochistan Police, Frontier Corps and Levies working on different and often contradictory agendas. In conclusion, it is important not to lose sight of the context of sectarianism in Pakistan. A holistic approach is needed in order to root out the menace of sectarianism completely.