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Catch-44: Takfiri Deobandi Wahhabi intolerance and Shia genocide in Pakistan – by Mujahid Kamal Mir

Pakistan’s 65-year history of missed opportunities seized by other rapidly developing nations like Korea, Turkey, etc, tainted by military coups, political infighting and a form of crony capitalism that has stifled its economy were enough of the destablisers, and when it seemed like it could not go any worse, the cat dragged in the leviathan of religious and ethnic terrorism. The barbaric acts of cruelty against Christians, Ahmedis and in particular Shiites this country has witnessed over the past few years, all in the name of religion and God, can bring the likes of Ivan the Terrible and Attila the Hun to tears.

Literati and commentators blame the former military dictator General Ziaul Haq for making it a state policy to fund and arm Wahabi groups in the 1980s. It is an established fact that the general used these organisations primarily against the Shiites at the behest of the state financier, Saudi Arabia. Shiites had natural sympathies with Iran because of religious and emotional proximity and there was no doubt that Saudi Arabia was supporting Wahabi groups through General Zia to kill Iran’s support in Pakistan, and hence Pakistan became a battleground for the war between two states striving for regional hegemony. In retrospect, this war did not actually start in the 1980s as per the famous Indian writer, M J Akbar. He states the animosity between the Sunni majority and the Shia minority in the subcontinent dates back to the Mughal era where the Mughal Emperor Humayun became a converted Shiite when he returned from Iran along with Shia preachers, which resulted in a mass conversion of Hindus to Shiite Islam. In later years, Aurangzeb persecuted Shiites, who by that time had grown in numbers. In short, this animosity has always been embedded in the very fabric of the subcontinent for hundreds of years, but always remained confined to discussions and dialogues among the religious clergy, popularly known as ‘manazara’, and were never militant.

These manazras were publicly held in towns, cities and villages among the Sunni and Shia ulema, which resulted in the conversion of people to either of the sects — depending upon who won the day through arguments and proofs according to the spectators, most of whom were completely or partially illiterate — the practice which continues to some extent to date.

According to the Pakistani historian Dr Mubarik Ali, the Wahabi influence in the Indian subcontinent was as old as Wahhabism itself. Abdul Wahab, the Arabian Salafi theologian and the founder of the hardline Wahabi ideology, who died in the late 18th century, was considered to be the pillar of the Saudi monarchy and his puritanical ideology of religion still holds a guideline for the kingdom and its sister Gulf states. Wahabi preachers started coming to British India in the 1880s and motivated many Indian Muslims to fight against the British rule. The puritan Deobandi sect was also an offshoot of the influence of Wahhabism in India.

“In Pakistan, Wahabi groups and organisations enjoyed state patronage and flourished at the expense of other groups, which were snubbed by various Pakistani regimes. It is a bit strange because Wahhabism is a minority Sunni sect in Pakistani, and Wahhabism not only affected the polity of Pakistan but also damaged the pluralistic Indo-Pakistani culture. Wahabis are against any cultural plurality so they attack shrines, music festivals and other cultural centres respected and revered by the Hanfi/Barelvi Sunnis, which are not Islamic in their view. Wahhabism has seeped into the psyche of many Pakistanis, causing an ‘Arabisation’ of many traditions. People now say ‘Allah hafiz’ (May Allah protect you) instead of ‘Khuda hafiz’ (May God protect you) and ‘Ramadan’ instead of ‘Ramazan’ in an attempt to imitate the Saudis. All kinds of hardline Islam is traceable to Saudi Arabia,” writes Dr Mubarik Ali.

Deobandis, though not Wahhabis, have become increasingly ‘Wahhabi-ised’ during the Saudi-financed, US-sponsored Afghan jihad via Pakistan. Secular critics are of the unanimous opinion that Saudi money and influence have had a corrosive influence on Pakistani society, encouraging a tide of conservatism: more veiled women, Islamist ‘televangelists’, and public shows of piety than ever before. Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest allies of the United States in the Middle East and along with serving as a mediator between Washington and Islamabad, it has a very intimate relationship with the Pakistan premier intelligence agency — ISI. Saudi Arabia, in all its controversial manifestations is still revered by the majority of Muslims in the world because of the two grand mosques, Khana K’aaba in Makkah and Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) Mosque in Medina, situated in the Saudi mainland.

The post-Zia years were plagued by power struggles and tension between successive political regimes of Bhuttos, Sharifs and the army. Either all these governments failed to realise the potential danger to the state that the militant wings of these foreign financed organisations posed or all the reports of scattered acts of violence and extremism that were pouring in through the media and various intelligence agencies were being shoved under the carpet. All was deemed to be well because there were other ends to be tied, which were the tier one priority of these regimes (plundering of wealth not being the top one, of course), resulting in these organisations being able to operate with impunity. Beneath the country’s calm surface was the world of lurking monsters, amassing finances pouring in from around the world, especially our brethren Islamic states, in the guise of charity, ultimately giving them power and human resources to muscle themselves free from the controls of their handlers. Then they came exploding out of the social fabric, like a fiend reminiscent of the scene from the 1975 Spielberg classic Jaws, where the protagonist Roy Schneider gets petrified at the first sight of the monstrous shark and for the first time realises the enormity of the danger and how ill-equipped he was to take on the behemoth. The terror-stricken face of Schneider in that very shot must be etched in the memory of cinema lovers; such must have been the face of our polity when it finally came to terms with the fact. Even then, most of the media, politicians and religious clergy criticised the state, but said nothing against Saudi Arabia, and to some extent Iran — the main financiers of the several militant Deobandi-Wahabi organisations and at least one militant Shiite organization in Pakistan, Sipah-e-Muhammad, formed to counter the Shia genocide. However, Sipah-e-Muhammad was completely obliterated by Pakistani security agencies during the 1990s and its leadership was either slaughtered, sentenced, or took refuge in Iran. Therefore the anti-Shia militant organisations had complete freedom to operate with impunity, without having any fear of being apprehended, resulting in the massacre of Shia Muslims at the hands of these organisations. According to a rough estimate, at least 19,000 Shiite Muslims, thousands of Sunni-Barelvi Muslims and hundreds of Deobandi/Wahabi Muslims have been so far assassinated by terrorist organisations. They are running amok at present, most with their headquarters in the tribal areas of the northwest of Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan, along with sleeper cells all over the country under the guise of some madrassahs and mosques.

Senator Iqbal Haider of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and Sarvat Ejaz Qadri of Sunni Tehreek openly accused the Pakistani state of massacring Shiites and Barelvi Sunnis, especially in Karachi and the Gilgit-Baltistan area. Two weeks ago, 22 Shiite Muslims were brutally murdered by the same elements in Babusar while they were travelling in buses from Rawalpindi to Gilgit. The gunmen first identified them as Shiites and then killed them at point blank range. Thousands have been killed in Parachinar, Quetta, Karachi and other areas. “The army never tries to stop them,” said Senator Haider, adding that he conducted his own research on this issue and discovered that the Taliban militants from Afghanistan could enter Gilgit-Baltistan unhindered, unopposed by Pakistani security forces.

The same question when put to a retired army officer who has served in the echelon of military intelligence agencies, playing a pivotal role in General Musharraf’s regime in various capacities, the crux of the conversation was an eye-opener for me. He is of a view that the problem is not a simple one. It is multi-dimensional and too confusing for common man to understand. In the murky corridors of power, nothing is what meets the eye. No one in Pakistan’s top brass whether political or military is interested to rein in these elements, primarily because they are viewed as a strategic asset by the state. However big a collateral damage they might cause to a certain sect, they will still come in handy as and when required by the agencies against the archenemy. Albeit there are some rogue elements that have become too big for their boots but nothing that cannot be handled or suppressed, agencies be willing. As for the cross-border terrorism, the likes of which was seen in Chilaas, Babusar, Dir, cannot be controlled by the military completely because of a difficult terrain and the Pak-Afghan porous border. The operatives, trained in all sorts of warfare and espionage techniques, cross over from Afghanistan and can have all kinds of logistic and ammunition support available on the Pakistani side, which they use to do gruesome acts of terrorism and return or stay here, as they may please. Army apparently seems to be doing the best it can, but the monster has become too big to be controlled by just force. It has to be reined in through different strategies, which surely the people at the helm of affairs should consider seriously if they want to rescue Pakistan from the mire, which at the moment, is clear and present danger . How successful they are remains to be seen, though drones have been a great success but they have a negative impact as well, but then again, there are certain state agreements that have to be abided by.

“In my time I advised General Musharraf regarding certain precautionary and preemptive measures to be taken up and to bring the leadership of rightwing extremist organisation into mainstream through dialogue as they too have followers in hundreds of thousands and cannot be left out. However, the idea did not sit well with the decision-makers. Had serious efforts been made to bring the leadership of Sipah-e-Sahaba (RA) and Tehreek-e-Jafaria on one table and an agenda carefully prepared by taking into account apprehensions and considerations of both the parties with emphasis on strict implementation, this problem would have been sorted out. Again, the will to achieve was missing and the unrealistic approach of banning the organisations instead of bringing them on negotiations table took its toll. In my opinion there is nothing that cannot be achieved through negotiations. Sipah-e-Sahaba now ASWJ though vehemently denies its association with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi but it is an established fact that the leadership of ASWJ still holds considerable influence on the Lashkar’s operatives whether here or in Afghanistan. As for the agencies are concerned, it is not so easy to retract what has been done in the last four decades, there is no erase or rewind button, but the prime objective of agencies at heart is to protect Pakistan’s interests at all costs against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign, and no price is big enough to achieve the objective. One prime factor that cannot be ignored is the foreign element. If your house is on fire, your enemy will only add fuel to it so the enemies of the state are playing a major role in aggravating the situation, which is already deplorable. They bring in stockpiles of money and ammunition to distribute it among the elements who act as brokers to hire mercenaries and suicide bombers. In my time the rate for a young suicide bomber was Rs15, 000. We had all sorts of proofs, which we have given to the media as well as our neighbours. The problem is that this regime is not only corrupt but also inept and has no credibility in public to implement tough decisions as well as give it back to the neighbours diplomatically when they accuse Pakistani agencies of acts like the Mumbai attacks. Without taking any names, I can assure you that every political party in this country whether inside the parliament or outside the parliament is working on agencies direction, however vehemently most of them will publicly deny it, even speak against them in public and media, the fact remains that the funds and power still lie at agencies discretion. The kind of data agencies have of all these people however pious, revolutionary and upright they claim themselves to be, if printed might take twenty five acres of storage capacity at least. No one, not even a single politician, in this country can take on the agencies because they know that their careers will be completely decimated with the kind of things agencies hold against them. Army after the Musharraf’s era has taken a step back though, but everything is being monitored carefully and closely. Whether its the emergence of an old party in a new veil or religious parties, most faces would remain the same because they have delivered the purpose in the past. Difa-e-Pakistan council being a prime example, comprising of all religious parties including extreme hardliners who consider Shiites as heretics and openly express their sentiments in no uncertain terms. Just look at the people sharing stage at their rallies and figure out for yourself. There shouldn’t be any doubt that the same people or their cronies, give or take a few, will be at the helm of affairs with a new spearhead as many have already changed lanes and the rest who matter will do as and when directed. Pakistan’s youth have always been rudderless, especially the illiterate chunk, which is vulnerable to religious extremism, easily swayed by the mere mirage of ‘Islamic revolution’ or ‘Winds of Sociopolitical change’, which in reality is another attempt at maintaining the status quo marketed in a different package.” the former military man said.

There is an organised genocide of Shias, which comprises of 20-25 percent population of the country and scattered killings of Barelvis, which is a majority sect among the rest of Pakistani Sunni population slowly in process right under the very nose of the state. Additionally, leadership of ASWJ also accuses state of playing a major role in the killing of its founding leadership and workers, which according to them rake up in thousands too. After all these years the identity of the people benefitting from this sectarian and ethnic strife in Pakistan still remains an enigma but one thing is for sure that this country is slowly but surely heading towards balkanisation, a model in which a state is fragmented into many parts. The reality is chilling: organised militias of each sect and sub-sect takes up arms and run amok against all others not subscribing to their ideology of the religion. Realism already exists in short supply in Pakistan and whomever is intelligent enough to read between the lines can easily make out that the country is heading from a catch-22 situation to a catch-44 one.

Mahatma Gandhi’s quote “An eye for an eye will eventually make the whole blind” never seemed more apt.

The writer is a businessman and a social activist based in Lahore. He can be reached at mujahidkmir@gmail.com

Source: Daily Times