How Pakistan's Largest Religious Minority Has Come Under Siege

Discussion in 'Religion & Culture' started by ajtr, Jan 29, 2011.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    How Pakistan's Largest Religious Minority Has Come Under Siege

    Pakistani security officials examine the site of a suicide bombing in Lahore on Jan. 25, 2011

    For Pakistan's Shi'ites, the horrific scenes were depressingly familiar. On Tuesday, as thousands of Shi'ite worshippers solemnly shuffled through the medieval and narrow streets of Lahore's Old City, past its historic displays of Mughal grandeur, a teenage suicide bomber blew himself up nearby at a police checkpoint, killing 13 people and wounding scores. An hour later, in Karachi, a bomb exploded near a second procession, slaying two policemen. "It's very tragic," Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, tells TIME. "One can only despise the elements who are killing innocent people, people who are performing their religious duties." The marchers were marking the final day of an annual Shi'ite mourning period that recalls the 7th century martyrdom of their most revered saint, Imam Hussain.

    Most traditional days of mourning are now followed by fresh ones. Last September, as Shi'ites marched through Lahore's same streets to mark the day of Ali, the Prophet's cousin, a triple suicide bombing ripped through the city, killing 31 worshippers and wounding more than 200. And just two days later, terror struck again, with over 43 Shi'ites slain in the southwest city of Quetta amid an annual march in support of Palestinians. A year ago, 32 people were brutally killed in Karachi on Ashura, the holiest day for Shi'ites, who are a minority in predominantly Sunni Pakistan. "Sadly, you can predict a terror attack on any of these days and you won't be wrong," says Talat Masood, a retired general turned security analyst. (See pictures of Christians under siege.)

    "We don't want sectarian strife," says Qureshi. "Shi'as and Sunnis have lived together for centuries in harmony." The processions are a centuries-old affair that have traditionally enjoyed the support of the local Sufi-leaning Sunni population. But the sad reality is that in a country founded by a Shi'ite, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and previously led by two Shi'ite Prime Ministers, members of the community feel increasingly under siege. Over a quarter of Pakistan's population is thought to be Shi'ite, making it the second largest home for the community after Iran. But in the holy month of Muharram that has just passed, many community members have been reluctant to join processions. They have held their majalis, or gatherings for mourning, in much smaller numbers. Some Shi'ite politicians say they feel the need to keep their faith a secret. (See "The Martyrdom of Pakistan's Advocate of Tolerance.")

    The Lahore bombing would have claimed more lives had the attacker managed to pierce a security cordon. The teenage boy, the latest in a series of child suicide bombers, was stopped by police before he could get to larger crowds. The grim news is that there are many more like him out there. "There are thousands of boys who are ready to become suicide bombers. They just need a nudge," warns Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, an Emmy-winning filmmaker who has spent years studying the phenomenon. For the militants, children are easy to recruit and train, highly susceptible to brainwashing and usually stand a better chance at evading security measures. "Most of the children I've encountered are madrasah students," she adds, referring to traditional Islamic schools. "They get recruited there and are then sent for training." For many poor families, the madrasahs — which mainly teach pupils to read and memorize the Koran — continue to be a convenient and free education option. (See why Pakistan's Christians are nervous.)

    There are several stages involved. "First, the children are isolated," says Obaid-Chinoy. "There is no communication allowed with their families, and they are not allowed to watch television or read anything." Older boys then appear, who motivate them with speeches on the virtues of jihad. The next step is to subject them to hours of propaganda videos, alleging atrocities against Muslims at the hands of the Pakistan and U.S. armies. "That's the turning point," Obaid-Chinoy says. The training is not just taking place in the wilds of the northwest, but also in Pakistan's heartlands.

    The militants' anti-Shi'ite attacks are part of their broadening assault on all religious communities they deem to be heretics or apostates. In recent years, they have attacked Christians, Sikhs, members of the Ahmadi Muslim sect and even the Barelvi Sunni sect, whose adherents form the majority of Pakistani Muslims. "They want to deny space to anyone who doesn't follow the brand of Islam they are propagating," laments analyst Masood. Anti-Shi'ite violence goes back to the 1980s, when the dictatorship of General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq — with Saudi funding — backed sectarian groups with the aim of countering Iranian influence in the region. Many suspect that funding continues. "I would not be surprised if Saudi individuals, if not the state itself, still fund groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi," adds Masood, referring to groups that began life as anti-Shi'ite but have since attacked other minorities.

    When al-Qaeda arrived in Pakistan in late 2001, these groups were natural allies, sharing their sectarian agenda. "They had a network spread throughout the country for al-Qaeda to use," says Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies. Over time, those links have deepened, reviving sectarian attacks that had diminished in the late 1990s. Senior military officers report that when Pakistani soldiers were held hostage and executed by the Pakistani Taliban and their allies, the Shi'ites would be the first picked out. Many analysts now consider Lashkar-e-Jhangvi — the even more vicious offshoot of the Punjabi group Sipah-e-Sahaba — to be the most dangerous group operating in Pakistan today. It is headquartered in North Waziristan, the one tribal area along the Afghan border that remains untouched by Pakistani military offensives. And it has cells seeded throughout the country, where they routinely menace Shi'ite communities.

    Such attacks have traumatized the Shi'ites living in Parachinar near the Afghan border, Hangu and Dera Ismail Khan in the northwest, Quetta in Baluchistan, Jhang in Punjab and Gilgit in the northern hills. "The communities there feel they are not being given ample protection by the government," says Marvi Memon, an opposition lawmaker who regularly visits Shi'ite communities there. "They also say that the government hasn't been able to take action against banned terrorist groups. In fact, we are seeing compromises with these terrorists."

    Such compromises were on display last year, when the Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan courted votes alongside the leader of the Sipah-e-Sahaba, a banned anti-Shi'ite group that has resurfaced under a new name. "We hope the Punjab government is looking at the problem also," says Foreign Minister Qureshi. "They need to focus more closely on the extremist groups there." The child suicide bombers are also increasingly being recruited from the south of the province. "Most of the students I saw were from the northwest, but many are now Seraiki-speaking as well," says filmmaker Obaid-Chinoy. Seraiki is the language predominant in southern Punjab. (Comment on this story.)

    And it is Punjab, the largest and wealthiest province, that may require the greatest attention in terms of Pakistan's future stability. "While there's a genuine insurgency issue in the tribal areas," says senior opposition politician Mushahid Hussain, "there's a genuine terrorism issue in Punjab. In the long run, it's even more dangerous than the tribal areas. We are talking about the very heart of the country."

    As Nirupama Rao has been saying, the Frankenstien monster created by Pakistan is out to devour it, and pseudo-liberals who brush this under the Shiite & Ahmedi-blood-stained carpet, will only encourage more jihadists to flourish.
  3. Tshering22

    Tshering22 Sikkimese Saber Senior Member

    Aug 20, 2010
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    Gangtok, Sikkim, India
    The thing is, there is no change in the mentality of Pakistanis in general event today. Talk to them on international forums and they still perceive to the same Cold War thinking. They cannot come out of the paranoia that they will be invaded---despite the guarantee that they have a FIRST USE nuclear policy against us and the fact that all their nuclear missiles are pointed towards us.

    The society of Pakistan still feels that it is the sole custodian and protector of Muslims all over the world especially in India and Israel when they have little to do with Pakistanis in general. This sentiment when mixed with politics and encouraged, turns the militant nature of people on. Furthered by this, a large section of Pakistanis and I will repeat this again; a LARGE section of Pakistanis are extremists in their interpretation of religion. The state also encourages this throug blasphemy laws, the official title of Pakistan and other such signals.

    What seemed to be their potential cure, the voices of people like Taseer also seems to have vanished. Day by day, society is manipulated by mullahs and despite the knowledge of this, neither Pakistani military nor their government does jack about it.

    Their continued insistence on the state of Jammu and Kashmir and their relentless support of terrorists still in the form of freedom fighters is a reflection of their mentality that continues till date. The ruling Indian government of UPA has been criticized a thousand times for soft-approach, weak and indecisive policies and a rampantly corrupt-foreign influenced governance by Indians especially after 2008 Mumbai massacre.

    However, stubbornness is still the characteristic of Pakistani government and their military and foreign policy. There is a saying in Sanskrit literature that has been quoted with regard to such a situation:

    लभेत सिकतासु तैलमपि यत्नत: पीडयन्

    पिबेच्च मृगतृष्णिकासु सलिलं पिपासार्दित:|

    कदाचिदपि पर्यटन् शशविषाणमासादयेत्

    न तु प्रतिनिविष्टमूर्खजनचित्तमाराधयेत् ||

    When loosely translated, it means "One should crush the sands forcibly and extract oil;a thirsty person should drink water from a mirage; wandering ceaselessly, obtain a hare's horn; but one should never try to reason with a fool who is characterized by stubbornness".
    ajtr likes this.
  4. Nagraj

    Nagraj Regular Member

    Jan 7, 2011
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    o boy!!!!
    what is sad is that pakistan was created in name of muslim however it was hijacked by molvis and mullas.......
  5. Awesome

    Awesome Regular Member

    Mar 7, 2011
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    Its not just Pakistan's issue with Shias and Sunni segregation. This is deep rooted in the Muslim's own divide. Even though in 99% cases its not like there is hostility towards one another, but there is a deep rooted segregation. They have different prayer timings, open and close ramadan fasts at different times, different mosques, different duas and following different religious books.

    In Pakistan you see shias as the victims just because they are in lesser numbers. We both have equally radical groups that will kill each other given the chance. A lot of people from privileged societies however are making a change. #1 They have a lot less intensity in their religiosity (nonetheless still religious people) #2 There is a realization about the superior value of unity over ideology.

    You have to wait and see how the cookie crumbles.
  6. maomao

    maomao Veteran Hunter of Maleecha Senior Member

    Apr 7, 2010
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    I am eagerly waiting for this over-baked cookie to crumble on its on before someone crushes it :)
  7. Tronic

    Tronic Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

    Mar 30, 2009
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    The divide may be there but you must look at the tolerant societies in the Middle East to follow, and not the intolerant when waving it off as segregation through the entire Muslim world. Religions vary, the issue is about tolerance. Look at the Lebanese, they are working well despite a large Shia-Sunni-Christian presence in that country. What is so wrong if the Shias have differing versions of the Sunnat than the Sunnis; why take an academic divide onto the streets?

    For your second point, I have been waiting to see how that cookie crumbles and it doesn't look good. Educated middle class is normally more tolerant as a society, but what do I make when a person from that liberal class of Pakistan, namely Salman Taseer, gets assassinated, and his killer is showered by petals and applauded, not by anyone else, but the same middle class who is suppose to be moderate!
    hit&run likes this.
  8. Syd

    Syd Regular Member

    Aug 18, 2010
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    Ironically, the "father" of Pakistan Mohammed Jinnah , was a Shia. Although he pretended to become a Sunni to win mass support he remained a Shia in private and was given the last rites by a Shia imam in private before a public last rites by a Sunni imam for public consumption.

    Also though off topic for this thread, is the treatment of Ahmadi Muslims. In fact the word "Muslim" has been removed from the gravestone of Abdus Salan leaving it to read "the first ..... Nobel Prize winner"

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