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A comment on Sadanand Dhume’s WSJ article on the plight of Pakistan’s Shia

Mr. Dhume has taken an important first step in highlighting the silent mass murder of Shia Muslims currently taking place in Pakistan
Dhume's article is an important first step in highlighting the silent mass murder of Shia Muslims in Pakistan

Source: Pakistan Blogzine

We are pleased to cross-post an unusual article in Wall Street Journal which highlights the silent systematic mass murder of Shia Muslims in Pakistan by the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Taliban (TTP) etc which is on going since late 1980s.

The author clearly refers to this petition (initiated by our fellow blogger Laibaah / Pakistan Blogzine) when he writes: “The country’s Shia are worried. In July, hundreds took to the streets of Quetta to protest the ongoing killings. Others have begun an online petition to draw attention to their plight.”

Sadanand Dhume’s article is an important first step in highlighting the silent mass murder of Shia Muslims currently taking place in Pakistan. While we appreciate the author’s interest and courage in highlighting the suffering of Pakistani Shias, we also encourage him to take a step further and investigate the dubious role played by Pakistan army/ISI in supporting, training and protecting the Jihadi robots which in turn implement their bigoted version of jihadi-ised (or Saudi-ised) Islam by target killing Shia Muslims, their own compatriots.

We encourage the author to investigate the institutional role of the Teen Jeem (Jeneral, Judge, Journalist), i.e., how army/ISI has influenced the judiciary and media to pay little to no attention to or misrepresent the systematic and ongoing mass murder of Shia Muslims in Pakistan. We advise the author to not to fall into the artificial Sunni-Shia binary (an ISI narrative made popular in Pakistani media) while reporting on the suffering of Shia Muslims in Pakistan. Clearly, SSP, TTP, LeJ and other similar organizations do not represent Sunnis, instead such terrorist organizations only represent the institutions which have created and trained them and are still supporting and protecting them!

Here is a copy of the full article from WSJ pages:

The Plight of Pakistan’s Shia
The country’s largest religious minority is a bellwether for its struggle against radical Islam.

by Sadanand Dhume

Source: Wall Street Journal

Is Sunni-majority Pakistan in the midst of a low-grade war against its minority Shia population? Scarcely a month goes by without word of a new atrocity: a car bomb outside a Shia mosque in Quetta during Ramadan, a suicide bombing of a Shia procession in Lahore, Shia doctors mysteriously shot in Karachi.

In July, after prosecutors failed to find evidence of his alleged involvement in the murders of scores of Shia, the Supreme Court released Malik Ishaq, leader of the banned Sunni sectarian group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. He promptly received a hero’s welcome from his followers. The Pakistani government has allowed Sunni-ruled Bahrain to openly recruit Pakistani mercenaries to put down a restive Shia majority demanding democratic rights in the oil-rich kingdom.

The country’s Shia are worried. In July, hundreds took to the streets of Quetta to protest the ongoing killings. Others have begun an online petition to draw attention to their plight. In private, some Shia wonder whether over time they will meet the same fate as the heterodox Ahmadiyya community, stripped of their recognition as Muslims and hustled toward the margins of national life.

All this over what to many people is an obscure theological debate shrouded in history. Shia revere Ali, the prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law and Islam’s fourth caliph. They regard the denial of Ali’s alleged right to succeed the prophet on his death, his subsequent murder, and the martyrdom of his son Hussein at Karbala (in present-day Iraq) later as seminal events.

To be sure, compared to other religious minorities—Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus—the Shia are relatively fortunate. They have so far faced no battery of discriminatory laws, and their exposure to the country’s toxic culture of permissible violence is both relatively recent and somewhat limited. But this position of comparative privilege is precisely why the Shia matter so much to Pakistan’s future.

The 36-million-strong community is a bulwark against the violent Sunni fundamentalism of groups such as the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Punjab-based Sipah-e-Sahaba. Reverence for Islamic shrines and other practices considered impure by Sunni extremists make them among the fiercest opponents of the intolerant, triple-distilled Islam of the Taliban.

Judging by Pakistan’s history, that Shia in this country face any degree of violence or discrimination is ironic. The country’s founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, belonged to a Shia sect, the Khoja, whose followers are famous in the subcontinent for their business acumen. Many of Jinnah’s top lieutenants in the Pakistan movement were also Shia.

Unlike much of the Arab world, where Shia have traditionally constituted an underclass, the community in Pakistan began with a seat at the head table of power. In the early decades of independence, Pakistan had two Shia presidents and at least one Shia prime minister. The list of prominent generals, businessmen, ambassadors and newspaper editors from the community is too long to recount.

Only in the 1980s, under the fundamentalist Sunni dictatorship of Gen. Zia ul-Haq, did the compact between Sunni and Shia begin to fray. Partly to protect their distinct identity, Shia protested the general’s clumsy attempt in 1980 to impose a uniform alms tax on all Muslims.

Around the same time, Pakistan was sucked into a shadowy proxy war for influence between two rival strains of radical Islam: the messianic Shia variety propagated by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, and Wahhabism, an austere back-to-basics form of Sunni Islam championed by Saudi Arabia.

The explicitly anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba (Soldiers of the Prophet’s Companions), born in southern Punjab in 1985, took up the cause of Sunni peasants in a region dominated by large Shia landowners. Over the years, a clutch of Shia rivals, including the banned Sipah-e-Muhammad (Soldiers of Muhammad), have attempted to fight back.

Over the past three decades, violence between Sunni and Shia has ebbed and flowed, but two things are clear. First, despite spawning banned violent sectarian outfits of their own, the Shia have largely been on the receiving end of violence. In a 2005 report, the International Crisis Group estimated that Shia accounted for 70% of sectarian deaths over the previous 20 years. In recent years, the violence has spread from southern Punjab and (sporadically) Karachi to Quetta in Balochistan, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on Pakistan’s troubled border with Afghanistan.

Second, the space to be publicly Shia in Pakistan has shrunk dramatically. This is most obvious in the tale of the Bhutto family. Though not overtly pious, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who ruled from 1971 to 1977, is described by Vali Nasr of Tufts University as marking “the pinnacle of Shia power in Pakistan.”

But by the late 1980s, Bhutto’s daughter Benazir, who herself became prime minister, had begun to call herself a Sunni. Her husband, current President Asif Ali Zardari, maintains a studied silence on the subject, an apparent attempt to attract Shia support without tempting fundamentalist Sunni ire.

For Pakistan, founded as a homeland for all Indian Muslims, the Sunni-Shia divide is an awkward subject that many would rather ignore. But the rest of the world needs to pay more attention to this conflict in the shadows. If Pakistan can’t even protect its numerous and well-connected Shia, then the odds of moderates prevailing over extremists in an ongoing battle for the country’s future look exceedingly slim.

About the author

Abdul Nishapuri

12 Comments

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  • Kudos to Dhume on writing on this taboo subject.

    An Indian journalist showed integrity and courage, where are you Mosharraf Zaidi, Ejaz Haider, Sherry Rehman and others? Are Pakistani Shias children of a lesser God?

  • I disagree with the author. Sunni-Shia terrorism does not exist in Pakistan. Sunnis do not support SSP, LeJ terrorists.

  • We should distinguistish between Sunnis and Wahabis. Deobandis are the Wahabi version of subcontinental Islamofascism.

  • @Omar Khattab
    I agree. It is important to distinguish between various sections of Sunnis not all of whom are violent or hateful towards Shias.

    However, it is also important to note that the bulk of anti-Shia violence in Pakistan is not by Salafi or Wahhabi groups (e.g., LeT, JuD). It is the extremist Deobandi organizations such as SSP, LeJ, JeM, Taliban etc which are responsible for 99% of target killings and other acts of violence against Pakistani Shias.

    Indeed there are hardly any incidents of target killings of Shias in the Wahhabi kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

    Thus, the matter at hand is something more complex. The monster we are currently dealing with is an end product of the joint venture between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan army.

    During the so called Afghan jihad, Saudi Wahhabis and Pakistan’s ISI were able to indoctrinate and prostitute Pakistani Deobandis to promote their global strategic interests. The breed they were able to produce was only effective at one thing, i.e. ethnic cleansing of Shias, Ahamdis, Christians and other minority groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    TTP-SSP-LeJ types represent no religion or sect. They, along with their creators and apologists, are criminals and must be treated as such.

  • @Abdul
    These Deobandis are supported and financed by the Wahabi House of Saud. The Suadi ambassador to Pakistan was kicked out in 2009 for distributing money to Deobandis. What I am saying is that the Saudis are using the Deobandis to do their dirty work in Pakistan. They are keeping their fellow Salafi-Wahabis safe. Maybe they have different agenda for them. The Deobandis are taking money and protected by the ISI (also taking money from the Saudis) they act without impunity.

  • @Omar
    “What I am saying is that the Saudis are using the Deobandis to do their dirty work in Pakistan…The Deobandis are taking money and protected by the ISI (also taking money from the Saudis) they act without impunity.”

    Spot on!

  • farhan zaheer wrote:

    The articles is fraction of what is happening with religious minorities in Pakistan. But, i would ask the writer to ask US government when it stop supporting Saudia -a country that fuelled extremism in Pakistan?

    Baqir Sajjad wrote:

    It would be surprising for many to know that Pakistan army has abdicated its responsibility to protect shias. To quote couple of examples: when Pakistan army launched operation in Kurram it did not act against sectarian killers in lower part of the tribal district saying it was a sectarian matter and did not constitute terrorism; moreover, Shias in Quetta have been left at the mercy of terrorist organizations — a reference to which was made in the WSJ article also — just because the army uses those groups as a counterweight against Iranian influence in restive Balochistan province and the separatists.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904353504576568251074910290.html?mod=googlenews_wsj#articleTabs%3Dcomments

  • Thanks for your comments. To clarify, I don’t believe that the problem is with most Sunnis. The focus of my article is on the growing influence of violent anti-Shia groups such as LeJ, SSP and TTP, and the fact that they appear to enjoy a certain amount of protection and support among fundamentalist Sunni elements of society.

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