Wednesday, September 15, 2010

PAKISTAN: Minorities Under Siege


PAKISTAN: Minorities Under Siege

The suggestion, even if well-intended, that the communities being targeted by terrorists should voluntarily restrict their activities in the open, could have far-reaching adverse consequences.


After the carnage at the Karbala Gamay Shah, Lahore and Meezan Chowk, Quetta on September 3, some television anchors and some in the print media would have one believe that if only the organizers of the Quetta procession had stopped a few yards short, the slaughter of some 60 people including two media-men would have been averted.

For example, Mr Ahmed Quraishi, blogging for The Express Tribune, wrote this past weekend:

“It is important that non-religious and non-essential public events in Pakistan – political and religious – be curtailed under these circumstances, regardless of sect and politics. If the government and the army can call off parades on days of national significance, including Independence Day, then unnecessary public congregations can be curtailed as well”

While pointing the finger of blame at the elusive Indo-Zionist operatives, Mr Quraishi was essentially echoing a statement made by the federal interior minister Rehman Malik who has suggested for the communities under attack to (voluntarily) restrict their activities in the open. Mr Malik has made these atrocities sound like a breakdown in police-public relationship rather than a significant aspect of the ongoing war against terror. Such off-the-cuff remarks by government officials could have far-reaching adverse consequences and may even contribute to further marginalizing and even ostracizing the communities already under attack.

Given the history and nature of the violence against the non-Wahabi sections of the Pakistani population and the abysmal record of the administration to bring to justice even a single mastermind or perpetrator of the atrocities, Mr Malik’s advice carries zero credibility with the affected communities. Needless to say that the Ahmadiyyas praying at their Lahore mosques had not violated any police cordon, the Hanafi-Barelvi-Sufi followers of Data Ganj Bakhsh had not brought out any procession and the women shoppers at Peshawar’s Meena Bazar were not out expressing solidarity with Palestine, when they were brutally massacred by the Wahabists.

Unlike the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, no state-sanctioned anti-Shiite doctrine exists in Pakistan. However, the interior minister’s advice, perhaps given in good faith, is perceived as an attempt to replicate the Saudi model, where after violently targeting the minorities for years, the open observance of their faith was severely curtailed. In Saudi Arabia, the Shiite are considered Kafir (infidels) and mubdi’un (heretics or innovators) who should be converted to the “right” path (of Islam) i.e. Wahabism and attacks on their life and property are permissible (halal) in such attempts to convert. A systematic cycle of fatwas against the Shiite followed by physical violence has achieved the desired result of ghettoisation of the Shiites in the Kingdom. For three decades, the anti-Shia fatwas and violence have raged on in Pakistan; it should not be a surprise if they fear ghettoisation too.

The Lashkar-e-Jhangavi al-Aalami, while taking credit for the Lahore and Quetta bloodbath, has also warned against any future Shiite processions, just like their Taliban cohorts had warned the women of Swat against going to school or for shopping. The state machinery had capitulated then, only to see the emboldened barbarians demand more control and more territory. The height of naïveté would be to assume that confining the Shiite indoors would satisfy the jihadists for good. It is equally naïve, nay, irrational to dismiss the issue as a local police matter with the usual “law and order” implications.

In his 1888 short story “On the City Wall”, Rudyard Kipling mentions the police preparations in advance of the Muharram processions in the walled city of Lahore:

“Their passage is rigorously laid down beforehand by the Police, and detachments of Police accompany each tazias, lest the Hindus should throw bricks at it … Mohurrum time in a "fighting" town means anxiety to all the officials, because, if a riot breaks out, the officials and not the rioters are held responsible.”

There is no doubt that for years the Pakistani police have gone beyond the call of duty to work out the details of security arrangements at the Muharram or Rabi-ul-Awal processions. Indeed, officers like Khan Raaziq, the IGP Malik Saad and scores of policemen sacrificed their lives while carrying out such duties. The Pakistanis in general and the Shiite in particular owe a lot of their leftover freedoms to these fine men.

The tele-media’s lazy gimmick of grilling the police officers after the areas under their supervision are bombed or Mr Rehman Malik’s remedy of negotiating the procession routes and the code of conduct etc. and for that matter banishing the activity altogether from the public domain, is more in sync with what Kipling wrote more than a century ago. Lest they missed the happenings in the interim, the paradigm of sectarian persecution has undergone a massive change; it is not even the same as two decades ago let alone the 19th century brick batting.

Having started as the anti-Shiite terrorism of the 1980s and 1990s, the Wahabist violence against all groups that they consider heretic, is now a fully matured front in their global jihadist war. The violence against the Shiite, the Hanafi-Barelvis, the Sufis and the Ahmadiyya is not random and is perpetrated not just by the young suicide bombers. Battle-hardened, war-trained and thoroughly indoctrinated jihadists plan such attacks months in advance. To expect the police to counter this vast jihadist network in the usual course would be unfair to both the police and the populace. There is little doubt that during wartime, extra-ordinary measures must be adopted. But that requires building a national consensus with all stakeholders, including the affected communities. There are multiple examples where organizers of religious events have worked closely with the law enforcement agencies to modify or even suspend their activity due to the warlike situation.

Being in a war or warlike situation also begs the question as to what role, if any, have the country’s armed forces played on this front, other than cancelling the 23rd of March parade? If the three-year old siege of the Shiite part of the tribal Kurram Agency by the Taliban is anything to go by, the role of the armed forces is rather disappointing. While the Parachinar-Peshawar road route is open in theory, the Shiite from Kurram are still forced to travel to Kabul for an onward journey to Peshawar. But then it took the Pakistan Army good two years to move against Mullah Fazlullah in Swat.

Most leaders of the Pakistani jihadist-terrorist outfits, including the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, are the alumni of the Wahabist Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and its offshoots like Lashkar-e-Jhangavi. They work hand-in-glove with the al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, especially the Haqqani network and the Quetta Shura. While the Pakistan Army continues to boast victories in the war against terrorism, its inaction in face of the jihadist violence against the non-Wahhabi population raises serious concerns about such claims.

Peter Gourevitch notes that "the dead are innocent, the killers monstrous, and the surrounding politics insane or nonexistent" (in We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda). When the Taliban were ravaging Swat, the politics of resisting them appeared nonexistent. The media then, especially the English newspapers, did an admirable job of building the political and military will to fight the jihadists. Banishing the minorities has never stopped the fascists. One hopes that the Pakistani leaders and media call for banishing the barbarians, not their victims.

Dr Mohammad Taqi teaches and practices Medicine at the University of Florida.

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