Plight of Shias in Pakistan


By Manzoor Ahmed

On October 04, 2016, at least four women belonging to the Shia ethnic Hazara community were killed when unidentified assailants opened fire on a bus on Kirani road near Pud Gali Chowk area in Quetta.  The provincial government’s spokesman Anwarul Haq Kakar said that the bus was stopped and the women were shot because of their ethnicity.

While this was not the first such incident targetting the Shia community in Pakistan, and surely not the last one too, it is important for the world to stop and ponder as to why this phenomenon is rampant in Pakistan, the land of the pure.  There is no denial of the fact that every country has some elements in the society that pursue a racist agenda, but what bestows Pakistan a unique status in this is that the agenda finds wholehearted and unstinted backing from the government agencies, the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to be precise.

It is a well-known fact that Islamisation and radicalization of the military was successfully initiated and carried forward by General Zia-ul-Haq, which continues till date with varied effects on the Pakistani society and the country as a whole.

Majority of the media reports that covered the Quetta attack described the assailants as unidentified.  However, sources confirm that the assailants were in fact Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) terrorists. For the less informed, LeJ is a Sunni supremacist and Jehadist militant organisation based in Pakistan, with limited operations in Afghanistan.  LeJ is essentially an off-shoot of the anti-Shia Sectarian group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) formed by former SSP activists in 1995-96.

It is no secret that in 1974, under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan set-up a cell within the ISI directorate to undertake covert operations, which was successfully put to use by Zia-ul-Haq in sculpting Pakistan into a Sunni Islamic State following the 1977 coup.  Zia started his campaign by imposing certain rules specifically to antagonize the Pakistani Shias, and this gradually evolved into much bolder steps being taken including creation of and support to organisations like the LeJ to target the Shias. In all this, one aspect was, however, common and that was involvement of the ISI.

One can also not forget the manner in which the ISI-backed Punjabi judiciary demonstrated the institutional hatred it had for Shia Muslims by releasing Malik Ishaq, a notorious leader of LeJ (also known as Punjabi Taliban) to carry on the ISI agenda of targeting / massacring Shias and other minority community citizens of Pakistan.

LeJ came to the limelight when its cadres gunned down an Iranian diplomat Mohammad Ali Rahimi, during an attack on the Iranian Cultural Centre in Multan where Rahimi was a Director holding the rank of a Consul. Another brutal incident in which LeJ was believed to be involved was the famous 1998 killing of 10 Iranian diplomats of the Iranian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan.

While Pakistan has been very much involved in creating and supporting terrorists outfits of various hues and shades like the Taliban, LeJ, Hafiz Saeed’s LeT and JuD,  JeM of Azhar Masood, etc., the world community is yet to take any stern action against Pakistan, leave alone declaring Pakistan a State sponsoring terrorism.