On February 28, 2012, armed men, disguised in Pakistani army uniforms in the Kohistan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, blocked a convoy of two buses and a van that was on its way back to Gilgit Baltistan from a religious pilgrimage of the holy sites in Iran. Reportedly, the passengers on gun point were forced to show their ID’s.
The selected men and women were then dismounted off the vehicles, lined up and shot at point blank range. Eighteen of them (including two women) died on spot while several others were injured. Those killed had one thing common; their faith. They all belonged to the Shiite sect of the religion Islam.
The faith based killings of the Shiites in Pakistan is not the first of its nature. Back in the 1990s, doctors and engineers of the mentioned faith were systematically targeted. Eighty seven Shiite doctors are reported to have been killed in these target killings until now.
With time the centre of these faiths based killings have moved from South Punjab to Parachinar (KPK) and Balochistan where the Shiite Hazara tribe is notably at the receiving end.
Here is the horrific timeline of the past one year that portrays a very bloody picture:
April 6, 2011 – 5 killed in Hazar Gunji, Balochistan
May 6, 2011 – Several people were killed in Hazara graveyard in a firing incident (Western Bypass Quetta)
May 18, 2011 – 6 people killed in an attack on a vehicle again in Hazar Gunji
July 29, 2011 – Several pilgrims killed when gunmen attacked a bus in Sohrab Goth, Quetta
August 30, 2011- 11 killed in a powerful blast outside Quetta mosque after Eid ul Fitr prayers
September 20, 2011 – In Mastung, 30 pilgrims were killed in an attack (similar to the one in Kohistan) on a bus going to Iran
October 4, 2011 – Baluchistan, 13 people were killed in a bus attack near western bypass
December 31, 2011 – Karachi, popular Shia activist Askari Raza was murdered along with his nephew
January 17, 2012- Khanpur South Punjab, bomb attack on a religious procession (Chehlum) killing 18 mourners
January 25-30, 2012 – Karachi, Eight incidents of sectarian violence and militants attacks took place in Pakistan’s economic hub that claimed 11 lives in systematic target killings.
February 18, 2012 – Parachinar, 41 people killed in a suicide attack after Friday prayers
February 19, 2012 – Muzaffar Garh, Popular Shia Scholar and School Principal Hafiz Saqlain Naqvi was attacked in a firing incident, who later died from his wounds.
Blogger Suleman Akhtar in his post found these killings no different from historic tragedy of Holocaust:
Last time it happened they called it the Holocaust. The Nazis did not annihilate the Jews for what they had done or for what they had not done for that matter. They exterminated millions of Jewish men, women and children for what they were – the Jews.
Changing political course
For the past ten years Pakistan has been a centre of religious militancy and extremism. Banned sectarian outfits like Sipah e Sahaba and Lashkar e Jhangvi that were allowed proliferate turned against their masters and this has resulted in the spree of suicide attacks all over Pakistan.
Religious and right wing parties called these suicide attacks a reaction to drone attacks. But the post-Osama Bin Laden scenario has altered the course of this new wave of terrorism. The example of such a change can be observed in the new developing alliance of 41 religious parties under the new platform of Defenders of Pakistan Council (DPC), led by former ISI chief and Taliban supporter Hameed Gul, General Zia’s prodigy and former minister Ijaz Ul Haq, Pakistani media’s favorite politician Sheikh Rasheed, and religious leader Sami ul Haq who is known for his close association with Afghan Taliban and banned sectarian outfits like Sipah e Sahaba, Laskhar e Jhangvi and Jamat u Dawa.
It is quite astonishing how the mentioned parties and people in DPC have changed their view point on the Pakistani army or country’s sovereignty overnight. They are holding rallies all over Pakistan apparently in support of the army. The money they are spending on their campaign is in the millions. What perks, privileges and liberty are they receiving in return, remains a frightening thought.
Failure of the law enforcers and judiciary
The continuous occurrence of faith based killings speaks volumes of the performance of the country's law enforcing agencies and the government. Those terrorists who ever get caught are easily acquitted thanks to loopholes in the judicial system. Murtaza Haider explains this fact in his post:
During 1990 and 2009, the anti-terrorism courts (ATC) in Punjab alone failed to convict the accused in 74 per cent of the 311 cases in which a final verdict was delivered. Most of the accused were acquitted not because they were able to demonstrate and/or substantiate their innocence, but because the judicial system in Pakistan is not capable of handling terrorism cases where prosecution’s case rests on circumstantial and forensic evidence, and not on the eyewitness account…. In 36 per cent of the cases, the courts acquitted the accused because they were not personally named in the FIR. This is an absurd requirement in terrorism cases.
No constructive measures by the parliament has been taken to control the growing faith based terrorism. Whether they are scared of the fallout from the religious parties or they are busy elsewhere is quite obvious to their voters.
Similarly, the Chief Justice of Pakistan who is very proactive to take Suo Moto notices (on petty issues like Slap Gate and the actress caught at an airport with a liquor bottle incident) has completely ignored the killings of Shiites and other minorities. No measure whatsoever is taken by the so called vibrant judiciary to reform the processes in the terrorist courts. One reason could be that minority killings in media are not as popular as Memo gate.
Suffocating silence of mainstream media and civil society
Dr. Muhammad Taqi writes about the attitude of media towards the killing of Shiites and other minorities:
Within minutes of many obscure happenings the traditional and contemporary media are alight with the particulars of those events — some more trivial than a pinprick on the skin of history. But when it comes to the slaughter of the minorities in Pakistan there is a certain lag time in publishing even sketchy details… Hardly an analysis or a talk show ever focuses on such mass atrocities. It is not clear why every such massacre becomes a Leontius moment for the media. Do they find the freshly executed corpses disgusting to look at or is it something else?
In the last few years Pakistani social media has come up as an alternate medium to change public opinions and pressurize corporations to take measures in public interest. The latest example is the Maya Khan campaign. But how many campaigns were run to highlight an issue as serious as this? None.
Suleman Akhtar explains:
As the state has miserably failed to protect its citizens, the intelligentsia and journalists – with few exceptions – share the proportionate blame for misrepresenting the spate of violence against Shias, that has come to be a systematic phenomenon. Deafening silence and misrepresentation of these inhumane killings have added to the miseries of the Shia community. …The identity of victims is usually missed out on purpose making it more difficult for common viewers / readers to comprehend the situation which is getting wretched with each passing day.
The seed of resentment
A similar bitterness on the mysterious disappearance and killings has been raised on various forums by the people of Baluchistan. Lack of empathy and constructive measures has turned that wound into a cancer. Are we happily fostering these tumors and ignoring the inevitable repercussions? Time will tell. Till then I leave you with these conclusive words:
It is up to the Pakistani minorities — the Shia, Ahmediyya, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs — whether they want to continue to ask the enablers of genocide to intercede on their behalf or raise the issue on every international forum possible. The Baloch have a taken a lead in this for they know that those committing genocide and their handlers are repeat offenders and would not stop on their own. (Dr Muhammad Taqi)
The problem at hand is not that who are the killers wreaking havoc across the country, but at first the question that our collective consciousness as a nation still ought to ask and reflect upon is that who are the people getting killed. Once this question, which has been buried under the debris of lies and misconceptions, is addressed and well conceived, the truth immersed in the mist will start to emerge. Once we comprehend why a community persecuted and mass murdered during WWII is remembered as the Jews and not as Germans, Polish or Netherlanders despite being the residents of all these countries, we will start conceptualizing the reality. (Suleman Akhtar)