It is difficult to believe but true that Pakistan, a country created for Muslims, for Sunnis and Shias alike, has today become a nightmare for millions of Shias living there. A well-known writer and a member of the famous political family in Pakistan, Fatima Bhutto, said the country had become a “country of ghosts“ for minorities, especially for Shias.
In a May 2016, a report came forth from the Jinnah Institute run by an equally well known writer and political leader, Sherry Rehman.
The institute pointed out that Shia muslims in the country have been victims of rising levels of violence in the recent past. The report puts the number of Shias killed in various violent acts to be over 1900 between 2012 and 2015.
To quote the report: “There has been an upsurge in attacks against Shia Muslims in Peshawar, Rawalpindi and southern Punjab…The Shia Muslims have been …. besieged for a very long time as violence has grown in some parts of Pakistan, particularly in Quetta, Karachi and north of the country…
Pakistan is home to 40 million Shias, the second largest concentration after Iran. Most of them have been living in their traditional home even before the Partition. But they have been facing systematic discrimination and repression a few years after the creation of Pakistan.
But now Pakistan is become a scene of war and violence with militant groups actively operating here.
The institutes’ report suggests that Shias, among other minorities, have been the victims of gravest religious violence in Pakistan in the last three years. In this period, there have been at least 23 targeted attacks on religious places of Shias and over 200 targeted killings of Shias in the country. These killings and attacks have been most in Punjab and Sindh but have also been reported from other provinces.
In Balochistan, anti-Shia messaging in public space has been on the rise. In Khyber Pakthunkhwa, violence is driving Shias out of the province to safer areas. The most serious attack on Shias took place in May 2015 in Karachi when assailants sprayed bullets on a bus packed with Shias and other minorities.
In the past a faction was subjugated in the same fashion, Ahmadis, the first ones to be targeted. Merely six years after Pakistan was created, Sunnis under state patronage began first intimidating and then openly attacking Ahmadis and their religious places. The violence unleashed by the Sunnis, supported by the state political and military leadership, culminated in widespread riots and arson in Lahore. The Ahmadis since then have been officially marginalised, prohibited from visiting mosques, offering prayers in public and discriminated in all possible spheres of life.
The targeting of Ahmadis was a long-term project of the state to divide any other faction but Sunni, later to, then destroy their faith. The process got a decisive boost when military dictator Zia-ul Haq took reins of power and began converting Pakistan into a fundamentalist Sunni state, a U-turn from what the country’s founding fathers had conceived. Zia’s fundamentalist plan however misfired when Shias and other minorities strongly protested and came out into the streets.
Nonetheless, Ahmedis were declared Non-Muslims with a segregation in their ID cards and Passport. This is what the state desires of all other factions in Pakistan, a Takfiri State.
Shias were taught a lesson for challenging Zia’s authority, as he sponsored a rabidly anti-Shia Sunni group called Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan which later on spawned an armed extremist group known as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). This armed group, with a stated agenda of targeting Shias, became the recruitmentagency for terrorist groups like al Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT, JeM and various other extremist groups based in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Zia-created anti-Shias indulged in targeted killings of Shia professionals with immunity in all major cities across Pakistan. The Sunni group became so powerful that its leaders were courted by the political leaders of all parties and the military and police were wary of their close relationship with terrorist groups which also targeted Pakistan’s military and security personnels at times.