By B. Raman
The genocide of the Shias continues unabated in different parts of Pakistan— particularly in Balochistan, Gilgit, the Kurram Agency and Karachi. The security forces and the intelligence agencies have been unable to prevent frequent massacres of the Shias in these areas and to crush the activities of the Sunni extremist Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), which has been openly admitting responsibility for these massacres.
The Police controlled by the Ministry of the Interior headed by Mr.Rehman Malik, is supposed to be responsible for controlling the activities of the LEJ, but it has not been able to. Different security agencies—the Army, the para-military forces, the police, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Interior Ministry—have dissociated themselves from responsibility for inaction against the LEJ and for the failure to protect the Shias.
The Army has not accepted the demand of the Hazara Shias of Balochistan, who are the worst affected, that it should take over the responsibility for their protection. As a result, the Hazara Shia anger, which was initially directed against the security forces/agencies as a whole, is increasingly getting focused on the Army as an institution and Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), as its chief.
The extent of this anger against Gen.Kayani has become evident after the massacre of over 100 Hazara Shias of Quetta on January 10 during two explosions targeting a local snooker hall located in a Hazara Shia area. It has been reported that the relatives of the Shias killed have refused to have their bodies buried till the Army takes over the responsibility for their protection and assures their safety.
The “Dawn” of Karachi ( January 12) has quoted Maulana Amin Shaheedi, a Shia leader, as telling a press conference: “I ask the army chief: What have you done with these extra three years you got (in office). What did you give us except more deaths?” The burials had been scheduled to take place after Friday prayers but the Shia leaders said the bodies would remain in place until the Shias receive promises of protection.“They will not be buried until the army comes into Quetta,” he said.
The “Dawn” has quoted Ali Dayan Hasan of the Human Rights Watch as saying:“Last year was the bloodiest year for Shias in living memory. More than 400 were killed and if yesterday’s attack is any indication, it is just going to get worse.”
The Army’s focus has been on crushing the Baloch freedom struggle. It is not prepared to divert its resources in Balochistan for protecting the Hazara Shias. Moreover, the fact that the Hazaras originally migrated to Pakistan from Afghanistan has created a certain lack of interest in the Army in protecting them. Initially, they migrated to Afghanistan from Iran. They have Persian features and speak a Persian dialect.
The Hazara Shias have also been suffering due to the fact that while there is sectarian solidarity among the Shias of Pakistan, there is very little ethnic solidarity between the Shias of Afghan origin and native Pakistani Shias.
In the past, Shia anger against individual officers of the Army had led to the assassination of Lt.Gen Fazle Haq, a close associate of Gen.Zia-ul-Haq in 1991. He used to be the Martial Law Administrator of the then North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). He also co-ordinated the training of the Afghan Mujahideen. The Shias allegedly killed him because of his suspected involvement in the assassination of a respected Shia cleric.
The death of Zia in a plane crash in August 1988 was itself suspected to have been due to Shia anger over a massacre of the Shias in Gilgit in the beginning of that year.
The Army also ought to be worried about the impact of the anger of the Hazara Shias against Gen.Kayani on the Shias serving in the Armed Forces but the Pakistani security agencies seem to believe that the anger of the Hazara Shias against Kayani may not infect the native Pakistani Shias. This belief may be belied if the massacres of the Hazara Shias continue. Ultimately, sectarian solidarity may prevail over ethnic differences.
About the author: B. Raman
B. Raman was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: [email protected]