With the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, a new situation has emerged in Pakistan. Many contradictions and myths within Islam have begun to the surface. The controversial view expressed in the Clash of Civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington has assumed a new significance (i).
That is not to affirm Huntington’s viewpoint. On the other hand, the increasing pace of sectarian violence within Pakistan since 1979 serves to negate Huntington’s thesis. Similarly , the fact that Iran never supported the Taliban in another case in point.
In the context of Pakistan, sectarian violence means conflict between the two main sects of Islam – Sunni and Shia. During the movement to establish an independent Pakistan, this was not an issue. Mohammad Ali Jinnah (founder and first Viceroy of Pakistan) was himself a Shia.
When Hazrat Ali, the fourth Caliph and son-in-law of the Holy Prophet, was assassinated in AD 660, his son Husayn was expected by some to become his successor. But the succession was contested by Amir Muawiya, who wanted to shift the Caliphate from Madina to Damascus. Amir Muawiya was a powerful man with considerable support and Husayn acquiesced in order to avoid a serious split in the young Muslim community (Umma). However, Ali’s younger son Husayn did not accept Muawiya’s right to the Caliphate. Husayn shifted to Kufa, where his father had ruled the Umma for some years(ii).
Husayn left Madina with a handful followers to join his supporters at Kufa, but on the way he was ambushed by Yazid’s troops at Karbala. Husayn was pressurized by Yazid to recognize the superiority of Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus. But he rejected this offer and was assassinated at Karbala in AD 680(iii). Yazid was then able to establish the hereditary Umayyad dynasty. The assassination of Husayn is a key point in Shia belief, and is the subject of ritual grief and waving during the annual festival of Muharram. This violent historical episode , however, has nothing to do with the teaching of the Holy Quran.
Despite these conflicts, sectarian violence was not a significant feature in Pakistani society. The number of Shias is disputed, but according to various sources they make up between 20% and 25% of the population. Shias are scattered across Pakistan but they are equal to Sunnis in the Jhang District of Punjab and, along with the Ismailis (similar to Shias –in social and religious rituals) are the majority in northern areas of Pakistan. Although small in numbers, Shias are influential minority in terms of possession of land property, education and their comparatively liberal attitudes in comparison with their Sunni brethren.
Before General Zia (1977-1988), the rulers were not intent on accentuating the differences between the Shia and the Sunni sects as part of their political ploys.
General Zia was the first ruler to allow the Islamists into the corridors of power. He toppled the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Therefore, Zia initially feared a probable public backlash against his illegitimate rule. So he tried to distract people with the slogan of Islamisation. He claimed that Allah gave him direct instructions to implement Nizam-e-Mustafa, or Islamisation, in the country. Through the process of Islamisation, he incited Sunni fanaticism. Shia leaders watched this situation developing with trepidation, as they sensed that it was threatening the interests of the community. When they started protesting against the implementation of taxes which, they held, violated Shia beliefs, Zia amended the laws and exempted Shias from paying the taxes. Some of the important sectarian groups are appended below:
Shia groups 1- Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan, (TJP) 1979. 2. Sipah-e-Mohammedi Pakistan (SMP), 1990.
Sunni groups 1. Jamiat-e-Ulema –e-Islam, 1941/45 2. Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP),1984. 3. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ)1995. 4. Harkat-ul-Ansar (HUA) 5. Sunni Tehrik-1990 6. Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) 1994 7. Tehrik-e-Tulba 8. Jihadi groups
During British rule in India, the Northern Areas then called as the Gilgit Agency belonged to Kashmir. After independence it remains part of Azad Kashmir. This area has a Shia majority. In 1988, Sunni and Shia inhabitants of the small Himalayan town Gilgit quarreled over the start of Ramadan, the pious month of fasting. Before the end of the month of Ramadan, Shias were branded as kuffar (Non-Muslims). Infuriated over this derogatory nomenclature Shias attacked Sunnis in the pockets where they had influence. Sunnis reciprocated immediately with the active support of the governmental machinery and consequent violent clashes resulted in the killing of 800 people(iv).
Gilgit and its vicinity still remain in a permanent state of sectarian tension. A very interesting fact worth mentioning here is that former President General Pervez Musharraf was the Corps Commander of Northern Areas, when anti-Shia violence erupted in 1988. He had hired the services of Osama-Ben-Laden and his companions to suppress the Shias brutally(v). Such a kind of brutality against the Shias is still going on even an elected government led by the PPP is ruling over the country since 2008 and will be first elected government in the history of Pakistan to fulfill its tenure in March 2013 and insisting the process of reconciliation. President , Asif Ali Zardari, Chairman of the Senate and National Assembly – three constitutional officer holders are Shias but they seldom speaks up for the community for fear of losing political clot or support of non Shias. The PPP led government policy of reconciliation did not make any dent on sectarian violence even it is growing. Former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007 and since than Pakistan is engulfed by flood of violence. This violence has taken a huge tool. According to President Zardari address to UN General Assembly in September 2012, Pakistan has lost 37,000 civilians and 7,000 security forces in last five years while confronting terrorism(vi). . Within this figures Shias are dominant number killed by the terror network.
Sectarian Violence and Terrorism
In this section, it will be argued that the ongoing terrorism which has been taking roots for years in Pakistan and Afghanistan is not really Islamic terrorism especially my argument will try to prove that it has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism as such. We have numerous examples to prove that this Islamic terrorism is Sunni fanaticism and out of its various aims; one basic aim is to build up pressure under which Shia would be declared “Non-Muslims” as happened in the case of the Ahmadiya community. Obviously Shias are not in symbolic number like Ahmadiyas and secondly Iran is hell-bent to protect the Shias interest worldwide. It is clear from the December 2002 statement of Iranian president Khatami in a joint Press Conference with Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zaffarullah Khan Jamali in Islamabad, in which he condemned Pakistan’s inability in controlling sectarian violence against the Shias.
It involves Islam and terror groups claims that they are fighting against” the evil designs” of the west led by the U.S. to preserve Islamic ethos. It will be argued that whatever violence in the shadow of Islam, terror groups including much debated TTP perpetuates, is actually Sunni Fanaticism; therefore it would be important to mention the provisions of the Holy Quran, which permits Jihad. According to the Quran, there are two kinds of Jihad. First is the Greater Jihad, popularly known as, Jihad-E- Akbar , The Greater Jihad is fighting one’s animal tendencies. It is internal rather than external. Man shares certain characteristics with animals, which can make them very dangerous and destructive. This Jihad is essentially against such tendencies.
The latter Jihad-E-Askar involves fighting on behalf of the community; in its defense and is a duty of incumbent on a Muslim only if he is attacked. A man has the right to defend his life and property, and he has to organize himself along these lines(vii).
According to both concepts of Jihad, there appears to be no basis for their interpretation. Taliban had killed Shias and promoted and protected sanctuary to Sunni sectarian terrorists during their rule in Afghanistan (1994-2001).
The Taliban, who have close links with Pakistani society, had one foot in Pakistan and another in Afghanistan. They played an active role in September 1996 and in March 1998’s, clashes between the Sunni Orakzai and the Shia Bangash tribes in Parachinar and Hangu [NWFP], which claimed over 300 lives(viii).
The links between the SSP and the Taliban are well known. Since 1994 till the fall of the Taliban in 2001, SSP activist have been trained in Afghanistan and thousands of them have fought with the Taliban and administered captured areas. They saw the Taliban’s victories as a victory of Sunnis, Preachers in Pakistani mosques issued statements to the effect that once the Taliban captured the whole of Afghanistan, they would transform Pakistan into a real Islamic state purged of the Shias and the Barelvis.
When the Taliban murdered Iranian diplomats in Mazar-A-Sharif in 1998, it created tension between Iran and Afghanistan and war between both countries seemed imminent.
Taliban mullahs proclaimed from the city’s mosques that the city’s Shia had three choices, convert to Sunni Islam, leave for Shia Iran or die. All prayer services conducted by the Shia mosques were banned. The Taliban declared Hazaras to be non- Muslims who were to be killed. ‘’You either accept Sunni Islam or leave Afghanistan. Wherever you go we will catch you. If you go up, we will pull down by your feet; if you hide below, we will pull you up by your hair, Taliban local commander Mullah Niazi is said to have declared from Mazar’s central mosque’’(ix). According to the UN and other international bodies, between 5000 to 6000 Hararas (Shias] were killed by Taliban(x). Hazaras [Shias] constitutes 20% of Afghan population. As they captured the city, they went on a killing Frenzy, driving their pick-ups up and down the narrow streets of Mazar shooting to the left and right and killing everything that moved shop owners, cart pullers, women and children, shoppers and even goats and donkeys. Contrary to all injunctions of Islam, which requires immediate burial, bodies were left to rot in the streets. Soon the streets were filled with dead bodies and blood. No one was allowed to bury the corpse for the first six days. Dogs were eating human flesh and going mad and soon the smell became intolerable(xi). To ensure death, people were shot three times on the spot, one bullet in the head, one in the chest and one in the testicles. According to one widow(xii) who survived said that when they stormed into our house they shot my husband and two brothers on the spot. Each was shot three times as mentioned above and then their throats were slit according to Halal.
The Taliban’s medieval torturous way of killing is being emphasized to establish the argument that they have nothing to do with Islamic terrorism. In reality they were and still are engaged in the persuasion of Sunni fanaticism. The Taliban had provided training to the various terrorist groups which are engaged in terrorist activities in India, China and elsewhere like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), Harkat-ul-Ansar (HUA), and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) etc.
Since last 5 years Pakistan has become one of the most deadly places of the planet. Iran is next door neighbor and patron of Shias globally. Saudi Arabia on the other hand started exporting Wahbism [Intolerant version of Islam] since early 1980,s using its patro dollars. In 1979, due to influx of USSR Red Army, the United States formed an alliance of Muhajedin forces to resist invading Red Army and thus pave the way of radicalization of Global Islam because that movement recruited Muslims youth from Morocco to Mindanao. China was also an important contributor in this exercise. Pakistan’s infamous ISI became coordinator of this movement and slowly they gave the birth of militant Sunni groups. They armed them and protection. Another point is significant to mention that beside the fact that Afghan war provided weapons to sectarian groups but it was also supported by military. General Zia was well aware of the fact that PPP solid political support comes from Shias therefore he decided to weaken the support base of the PPP and incited the demand of Shias as non- Muslim like Ahmadiyas.
These illustrations vindicated that these so called Islamic terrorist groups have been perpetuating sectarian violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan at one hand and on the other they have spread terrorism in India, China, Russia and Central Asia too.
China as a Victim
China-Pakistan relations are considered as all weathered friendship. Former Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani described the relationship between Pakistan and China as being ‘higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey.’(xiii) In 2006, Chinese President Hu Jintao had declared equally evocatively that ‘China can leave gold but not friendship with Pakistan’. Shorn of the hyperbole, these statements accurately capture the essence of the two countries’ long-standing partnership based on mutual trust and understanding.(xiv) ’
From China’s perspective, Pakistan serves many of its vital geo-strategic objectives in the region. First, friendship with Pakistan provides a useful counterbalance to India’s pre-eminence in South Asia, helping to check India’s growing presence and clout in the region. Second, Pakistan serves as an important gateway to the Muslim world. It also provides China an access to energy rich countries in Western Asia, helping China meet its growing energy requirements(xv). It also provides a quick physical channel to China’s relatively less developed Western parts, particularly spurring development in the restive province of Xinjiang, which is crucial to China’s internal security. The support of Xinjiang,s insurgency by terror network of Pakistan is only point of divergences between China and Pakistan.
An issue which has acquired urgency in recent years and can have long-term security implications for China is the rising extremism in Pakistan, and its spread to China’s Xinjiang province, bordering Pakistan. Xinjiang is China’s largest province in terms of landmass and the second largest producer of gas and oil respectively and therefore its importance to China is critical in more ways than one. It is one of the most geo-strategically province for China connecting it with Central Asian Republics, Pakistan and Afghanistan The Uighurs [Dominant ethnic group and Muslim] have been fighting for a separatist state for a long time, but in the last few years, Xinjiang has visibly become the centre of revolt against the Chinese central authorities. China fears that religious fervour could further inflame separatist sentiments among the Uighurs against it, and undermine its national integrity and control. It is particularly wary of violent incidents such as the riots of July 2009 and the more recent clashes of July 2011, which embarrassed China internationally. China clearly has long-term concerns of possible links between Uighurs and extremist groups operating in and around the border regions of Pakistan. There are growing reports of the Uighurs receiving training in Pakistan and having linkages with Islamist militant sections including the Al-Qaeda(xvi). As discussed earlier these terror network is Sunni oriented and killing Shias in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This terror network is providing training and other active support to the terrorist active in India, China, Central Asia and Russia also. Despite huge PLA presence in Xinjiang, incidents of terror is sustainable and it is matter of severe concern for the Chinese which prompted Chinese to periodically reminding Pakistan to act against the terror network.
It is candid clear from above discussion that the terror network including TTP is perpetuating Sunni terror and they have nothing to do with Islam. Islam did not differentiate among its disciples on any basis and believes in equality to all adherents. They are killing Shias in Pakistan and Afghanistan but elsewhere in India, China and Russia they are claiming to be a harbinger of Islam.
Shias are numerically strong. They have comparatively better land holding, education and modernity. Because Bhutto family is Shia therefore Shias have extended their support to the PPP and thus pave the way of democratization. Shias upsurge has therefore has been attached against dictatorship and they fought for the restoration of democracy. The Mehran case is a point here to prove that how military had manipulated the outcome of 1990 election to prevent Benazir Bhutto to become PM again. In October 2001, the United States led NATO forces had launched operation ‘Enduring Freedom’ to flush out the Taliban and Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. Since than Hamid Karzai regime is ruling over Afghanistan with the presence of NATO Forces. It has forced the terror network to shift their network in Pakistan. It has also increased the pace of sectarian violence. Military has tacit understating with the sectarian terrorists and still working on General Zia thesis that Shias empowerment is detrimental for military dominance. Sunni groups have tried their luck in election but in majority of instances they have failed because still they did not have mass support of the majority of Sunnis but certainly they have sizeable pockets of support. Their support to any particular political parties is able to produce adequate results. Government of Pakistan has banned many sectarian outfits. Technically banned, the SSP and the LeJ have a free run with the new name –Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat [ASWJ] . The SSP- has tested electoral waters and has a vote bank. The ASWJ claimed that the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) won December 2012 by-election in Punjab with its help. They extended their support to the PML-N because they felt that PPP is a well organized party and for ensuring their defeat they are not alone sufficient. In return they are ensuring positive attitude from these parties.
Needless to say if the pace of sectarian violence will sustain in future it could be detrimental for Pakistan for gamut of reasons. The vulnerability of the state institutions and mismanagement of sensitive issues is what escalates the sectarian divide. The communal divide already has touched unprecedented heights and it has become difficult to even raise one’s voice in support of religious freedom of certain communities in Pakistan; the sectarian divide is not far behind as another hate-filled fault-line.
Sectarian violence has spread to all corners of Pakistan. Since 1979 to till date more than 10,000 people have been killed in sectarian violence mainly Shias The failure to address issues that can be resolved through a little vigilance and common sense reflect that the administration and bureaucracy also need ideological overhauling to refresh their vision. The containment of sectarian violence in Pakistan will reduce the pace of terror violence not only in Pakistan and Afghanistan but in India, China, Central Asia and Russia too.
(The writer is, Dr. Sudhir Rajput, Assistant Professor, Dep. Of Political Science, Dyal Singh College, University of Delhi, New Delhi, and Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)
i Huntington, Samual P, The clash of civilizations, foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, p. 23
ii Kufa was then inhabited by migrates from Yemen and the southern Arabian Peninsula, who cherished a tradition of descent in the allocation of political leadership. In contrast, northern Arabs favoured elected leaders
iii Sardar ,Ziauddin ,The party of the martyrs, Newstatesman,28 April 2003,P-25
iv ibid, p.60.
v B. Raman, Intelligence, Lancer Publication, New Delhi, 2002,p.54.
vi Dawn, Karachi, 27 September 2012.
vii Waddy, Charis, The Muslim Mind, Longman, London, 1976,P-101
viii Zahab, Mariam Abou, the Regional dimension of sectarian conflicts, in Christopher Jaffrelot (ed.), Pakistan, Nationalism without a Nation, Manohar, N.D., 2002, p. 123
ix Human Rights watch Report ‘Afghanistan, the Massacre in Mazar-e-Sharif, New York, 1999.
x Ahmed Rashid Taliban, Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia, I-B Tauris, London, 2000, p. 74
xi Private report by the UNCHR sent to the UN Secretary General Cited Ibid, p. 73
xii Ibid, p. 73.
xiii The statement was made during the visit of Chinese Public Security Minister, Meng Jianzho, to Pakistan in September 2011. ‘Ties with China hailed: Gilani cautions US on negative messaging’ Dawn, Karachi, ,28 September 2011 .
xiv 3 Hu Jintao said this during a state visit to Pakistan in November 2006. Dawn, Karachi, 26 November 2006.
xv Pakistan projects itself as an important country on the crossroads of Central, South and West Asia. As Pakistan’s Ambassador to China, Masood Khan, succinctly observed, ‘we are also a conduit for China to reach out to the Muslim world’. ‘Pakistan wants to develop further Gwadar port’, China Daily ,13 August, 2011.
xvi ‘Xinjiang Connection’, Dawn, Karachi, 3 August 2012.
xvii At the receiving end of Fanaticism, Anita Joshua, The Hindu, New Delhi, 17 December, 2012.