By Anurag Tripathi
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
At least 60 persons were killed and 180 others were injured when two suicide bombers on motorcycles blew themselves up within a minute of each other outside an Imambargah (Shia place of worship) at Parachinar Bazaar (market) in the Kurram Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on July 26, 2013. Ansarul Mujahideen (AM), a subsidiary network of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attacks. Abu Baseer, ‘spokesman of AM’, stated that Shia community members were the target, and claimed, “We have planned more similar attacks against the Shia community in Pakistan to seek revenge of (sic) the brutalities of Shia on Sunni Muslims in Syria and Iraq.”
Earlier, on July 15, 2013, at least four people belonging to the Shia community were killed when unidentified militants opened fire on a vehicle on Masjid Road in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 410 Shias have been killed in Pakistan in 39 targeted attacks on Shias since January 1, 2013, (all data till July 28). Balochistan witnessed the highest number of such killings, at 230 in seven incidents. Six of the seven incidents in Balochistan, resulting in 229 fatalities, occurred in Quetta, while the neighbouring Bolan District witnessed one such incident, leading to one death. Balochistan was followed by Sindh, 67 in 20 incidents; Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 51 in 10 incidents; FATA, 60 in one incident; and Punjab, two in one incident. Gilgit-Baltistan has, thus far recorded no such fatality in current year.
Prominent attacks targeting Shias in 2013 include the following:
June 30: At least 28 Shias were killed and 60 were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up near the Abu Talib Imambargah in the Aliabad area of Hazara Town in Quetta.
June 21: At least 15 Shias were killed and 25 were injured in a suicide attack at an Imambargah in the Gulshan Colony of Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP.
March 3: At least 48 persons were killed and another 70 were injured in a huge explosion that ripped through a Shia-majority neighbourhood of Abbas town in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh.
February 16: A remote-controlled bomb targeting Shias killed 84, including women and children, and wounded more than 200 in Quetta.
February 1: At least 28 Shias were killed and 46 were injured when a suicide bomber struck outside a mosque just after Friday prayers in the Pat Bazaar area of Hangu Town in KP.
January 10: At least 82 persons were killed and over 200 were injured in two separate bomb blasts at Alamdar Road in Quetta.
SATP data indicates that there have been at least 315 incidents of Shia killing in Pakistan between January 1, 2002, and July 26, 2013, which have claimed at least 2,074 lives.
Shia Killing in Pakistan: 2002-2013
Source: SATP, *Data till July 28, 2013
The United State Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its report on July 18, 2013, revealed that, in the preceding 18 months, 203 incidents of sectarian violence in Pakistan had resulted in 1,800 casualties, including 717 deaths. The report claimed that the Shia community was attacked 77 times, killing 635 members and injuring 834. These attacks included bomb blasts and 46 targeted shootings.
According to a report, titled, ‘Shia Genocide Database: A Detailed Account of Shia Killings in Pakistan from 1963 to 31 May 2013’, at least 21,470 Shias were killed in targeted attacks during this period. The report noted that, between January 1, 2002, and May 31, 2013, at least 3,229 Shias were killed. In the first five months of 2013, Pakistan recorded 403 Shia killings followed by 630 in 2012, 232 in 2011, 347 in 2010, 408 in 2009, 412 in 2008, 354 in 2007, 116 in 2006, 90 in 2005, 136 in 2004, 74 in 2003 and 27 in 2002.
There is clearly a broad trend of escalation in Shia killings in Pakistan.
According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook, Shias constitutes nearly 10-15 per cent of the population of Pakistan, and are geographically spread across the country. The highest concentration is found in the Gilgit Baltistan Province, where they constitute a majority. The Kurram Agency of FATA is a Shia stronghold in the tribal belt. Similarly, all urban capitals, Lahore (Punjab Province), Karachi (Sindh Province), Peshawar and Quetta have a sizable Shia populations.
Sunni militant groups backed by the authorities at the helm have sustained a violent campaign against Shia Muslims, particularly since the time of former dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. Prominent anti-Shia groups include the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jama’at (ASWJ), earlier known as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), and the TTP. Despite a Government ban on these terrorist organizations, they operate freely and brazenly. Sunni extremist formations have propagated their violent ideologies with impunity and in the most open manner possible. In June 2011, LeJ distributed pamphlets calling Shias wajib-ul-qatl (obligatory to be killed),
All Shias are wajib-ul-qatl. We will rid Pakistan of the unclean race. The real meaning of Pakistan is pure land and Shias have no right to live here. We have the fatwa (religious edict) and signatures of the Ulema (religious scholar) in which the Shias have been declared kaafir [infidel]... Our mission [in Pakistan] is the abolition of this impure sect, the Shias and the Shia-Hazaras, from every city, every village, every nook and corner of Pakistan...
Again, LeJ founder Malik Ishaq, in an interview with Reuters in October 2012, called Shias the “greatest infidels on earth”, and urged that “the state should declare Shias as non-Muslims on the basis of their beliefs”.
Despite these brazen threats, Governments, both at the Centre and in the Provinces, instead of initiating any corrective measures have taken steps that have worsened the rising graph of attack against the Shias.
Soon after the June 2011 LeJ threat, for instance, on July 14, 2011, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the release of Malik Ishaq – the former operational chief of LeJ, who had been charged in 44 cases involving the killing of at least 70 people, mostly belonging to the Shia sect – on bail from Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail. The Court stated that the prosecution had failed to produce sufficient evidence to support its charges. On February 22, 2013, Police again arrested Malik Ishaq in connection with sectarian attacks in Quetta that had killed nearly 200 people in 2013. However, he was again released on bail on May 23, 2013.
On June 21, 2103, Najam Sethi, former Punjab caretaker Chief Minister (CM), disclosed that at least 112 ASWJ-LeJ terrorists were released from Jail during his time as Punjab CM. He noted that no other person had as frequently promoted this unholy nexus, as the judiciary.
Moreover, reflecting the Governments apathy towards these atrocities, KP Information Minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader, Shaukat Ali Yousafzai, referring to the June 21 attack, declared, “Dhamaka hua hai, koi qayamat nahin aae” [A blast has occurred; it is not the end of the world.]
On January 11, 2013, Ali Dayan Hasan, the head of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Pakistan, observed:
As Shia community members continue to be slaughtered in cold blood, the callousness and indifference of authorities offers a damning indictment of the state, its military and security agencies. Pakistan’s tolerance for religious extremists is not just destroying lives and alienating entire communities, it is destroying Pakistani society across the board.
These developments give greater credence to the widely perceived notion that Shia minorities (among other minorities) across Pakistan are persecuted with the state’s connivance.
Other minorities also face persecution, as sectarian strife orchestrated by Sunni extremist formations continues to spread. According to the USCIRF report, between January 2013 and June 2013, there were a total of 108 attacks targeting other sects, resulting in 82 fatalities. The 22 Ahmadis were killed in these attacks; followed by 11 Christians; two Hindus; one Sikh; and 16 others.
The periodic escalation in Shia killings across Pakistan is a manifestation of the perpetual anarchy that has gripped the ‘land of the pure’, with no hope or refuge for the targeted community. Terrorist outfits like the LeJ and its allies, including TTP, backed by the continuous, if covert, support of the state as well as ideological endorsement from religious and power elites, has encouraged and sustained the massacre of the Shias.