Pakistan: Stifling Minorities In Sindh – Analysis
By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
On February 3, 2023, activists of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) vandalised and demolished the minarets of an Ahmadi Mosque in the presence of the Police, near the mobile market in the Hashoo Market area of Saddar Town, Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh.
On January 18, 2023, TLP activists demolished the domes and minarets of an Ahmadi Mosque in the Martin Quarters area of Jamshed Town, Karachi.
On January 18, 2023, a historical place of worship of the Ahmadi community, located in Moti Bazar, Wazirabad, which was established back in 1905, was desecrated by the District Administration on a complaint lodged by local TLP leader Irfan Iliyas Butt.
TLP is a far-right Islamic extremist political party committed to the protection and enforcement of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws and to punish blasphemers. The Ahmadiyya religious sect, founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1889 in Qadian town near Amritsar in Punjab (India), is regarded as heretical by the majority Sunni sect, and was declared ‘non-Muslim’ in 1974, according to the Constitution of Pakistan. In 1974, Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto enacted an amendment to the constitution, declaring Ahmadiyyas non-Muslims, and barring them from going to mosques. The military dictator Zia-ul-Haq’s 1984-ordinance introduced explicit discriminatory references to Ahmadiyyas in Sections 298-B and 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). In 2002, a supplementary list of voters was created in which Ahmadiyyas were categorised as non-Muslims, and were brought under a separate electoral list. Ahmadiyyas have faced sustained persecution throughout Pakistan.
On February 7, 2023, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP, a non-government body) called attention to the continued marginalisation of religious minorities in the country. In its report, A Breach of Faith: Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2021-22, HRCP observed that the incidence of forced conversions in Sindh remained worryingly consistent. Reports of religious minorities’ sites of worship being desecrated have continued, but with no response from the state, especially when such incidents involved sites associated with the Ahmadiyya community.
While Islamic radicalisation continues to stalk the province, Islamic terrorism has taken a back seat. Terrorism-related incidents were at an all-time low in Sindh in 2022. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Sindh recorded 21 fatalities (12 civilians, two Security Force personnel and seven militants) in 12 terrorism related incidents in 2022, as compared to 28 fatalities (19 civilians, three SF personnel and six militants) in 13 terrorism related incidents in 2021, a decline of 25 per cent. The highest terrorism-related fatalities in the province were reported in 2013, at 1,656.
The only major incident (involving at least three fatalities) in the province during 2022 was reported on April 26, when the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) female Fidayeen (suicide cadre) Shaari Baloch aka Bramsh, from the Majeed Brigade (BLA’s suicide bomber squad), blew herself up near a van transporting Chinese nationals from a Karachi University (KU) hostel to the Confucius Institute. Five persons, including three Chinese nationals, their Pakistani driver and a security guard, were killed. The female suicide bomber, Shaari Baloch was the first Baloch woman suicide bomber in the history of the Baloch insurgency in Pakistan.
While other parameters of terrorism remained low, there was an increasing in incidents of explosion in Sindh, as compared to the previous year. There were 10 incidents of explosion in 2022, resulting in 12 fatalities, as compared to nine such incidents in 2021, resulting in 14 fatalities.
Meanwhile, out of 29 Districts in Sindh, the capital city, Karachi, remained the epicentre of terrorism. Out of 21 fatalities reported in the Province in 2022, Karachi alone recorded 19. The remaining two fatalities were reported from Jacobabad District and Jamshoro District.
Worryingly, street crime remained a major headache for the security establishment, with as many as 85,000 incidents of armed street robberies recorded in in Karachi in 2022. This was disclosed by Sindh Chief Minister, Syed Murad Ali Shah, on January 5, 2023, while he was chairing the meeting of the Apex Committee, during a mention of the crime data compiled by the Citizens Police Liaison Committee (CPLC). Over 100 persons lost their lives in these incidents, while more than 400 citizens suffered injuries. In 2021, Karachi recorded over 73,000 armed street robberies, resulting in the killing of 69 citizens and injuries to another 418.
Apart from the April 26-suicide attack on the Chinese commuting from Karachi University, unidentified gunmen killed a Chinese man, Ronald Raymond Chou, in a private dental clinic in the busy Saddar commercial area of Karachi on September 28, 2022. The clinic was run by Chinese national Dr. Richard Hu, his wife Phen Teyin and their assistant Ronald Raymond Chou. A marginal Sindhi separatist group, the Sindhudesh People’s Army (SPA), claimed responsibility for the attack. The group’s ‘spokesman’, Soreh Sindhi, released a statement that his group claimed responsibility for the attack and warned the Chinese government against cooperating with Pakistan, which it said was an occupier of ‘Sindhudesh’. The statement also demanded that China should end its projects in the province.
Other prominent Sindhi separatist groups, such as the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA) and Sindhudesh Liberation Army (SLA) though, have not reported any significant attacks in 2022, though they have registered their presence by engineering explosions from time to time. On April 28, SRA blew up a railway track at the Jungshahi Station in Tatta District and a High Transmission Line in the Bolhari area of Kotri tehsil in Jamshoro District. While, claiming responsibility for the attack, SRA ‘spokesman’ Sodho Sindhi vowed to destroy all ‘Supply Lines of Punjab’ which were exploiting the economic resources of Sindh, and that the national resistance struggle would continue till the complete freedom of Sindhudesh was achieved.
Meanwhile, the state’s atrocities against people and groups associated with the Sindhi Nationalist movement have been growing. On January 17, 2023, Police opened fire on Sindh nationalists who had gathered to celebrate the 119th birth anniversary of Sindhi nationalist leader Ghulam Murtaza Syed, in the Sann Town of Jamshoro District. Three Policemen and two activists were injured while two Police vehicles were burnt during the violence. Hundreds of activists, workers, and leaders visited Syed’s grave to pay homage. Organisations such as the Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM), Jeay Sindh Mahaz (JSM), Jeay Sindh Freedom Movement (JSFM-Zafar Sahito) and the Sindh United Party (SUP) headed by Syed Munir Haider Shah – the great grandson of Ghulam Murtaza Syed, the founder of the Sindhi nationalist movement – led the protests demanding an independent Sindh. The protestors clashed with the Police, after which dozens of people were arrested.
In addition to banning and using force against organisations lending support to the ‘freedom movement’, the Government continues with its policy of enforced disappearances. According to Pakistan’s Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED), Sindh accounted for a total of 1,759 cases of missing persons between March 1, 2011, (the date of inception of the Commission), and January 31, 2023. According to the Commission, of these 1,759 persons, 1,129 were traced – 61 dead bodies, 265 in prisons, 41 in internment centre and 762 returned home. The Commission ‘deleted’ cases of another 464 missing persons, claiming that these were “closed due to not being cases of enforced disappearances, incomplete address, withdrawal by complainants, non-prosecution, etc.” Thus, according to the commission, a total of 1,593 cases were ‘disposed of’, leaving 166 cases ‘under investigation’.
The nationalist Sindhi organisation Jeay Sindh Freedom Movement (JSFM) organised a rally in Karachi on December 9, 2022, to highlight issue of illegal migration in Sindh and to focus on the plight of missing persons. In a press release, JSFM Chairman Sohail Abro claimed that abductions of political workers by Pakistani forces and intelligence agencies had intensified. He alleged that state forces had been breaking into houses and violating the sanctity of Sindhi homes.
On January 19, 2022, concerned about the Government’s lackadaisical attitude – both at the Federal and Provincial level – regarding the recovery of missing persons, the Sindh High Court directed the provincial authorities to constitute an Enforced Disappearance Task Force to exclusively focus on such cases. However, nothing has been done over the intervening one year. On January 24, 2023, the Sindh High Court issued notices to the Federal and Provincial law officers and others, on petitions against the enforced disappearance of citizens from different parts of Karachi. Earlier, on October 28, 2022, the Court had expressed dissatisfaction over the progress reports submitted by the investigating officers for the recovery of missing persons, and directed the home secretary to hold provincial task force sessions every month for these cases. The Court observed that it appeared that investigating officers had failed to take steps for the recovery of missing persons.
While the Sindhi nationalists faced State oppression, Hindu and Christian minorities have been confronted with a sustained campaign of the abduction and rape of women for forced conversion at the hand of Islamic fundamentalists. A Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) report on April 20, 2021, documented a “conversion factory” in Sindh, which openly and forcibly converted Hindu girls to Islam and then married them off to Muslims. The report claimed that, annually, around 1,000 Hindu women were forcibly converted in Pakistan, and most of them were from Sindh.
According to a January 19, 2023, report, the Lahore based Centre for Social Justice documented at least 46 abductions and forced conversions of minor girls in 2022. These include 33 in Sindh, 12 in Punjab and 1 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In the beginning of 2023, three cases of abduction and forced conversion had already been reported in Sindh in January:
On January 30, 2023, one 11-year-old Hindu girl Asho, daughter of Haryo Kolhi, was abducted by Abdul Rehman Pathan in the Khipro area of the Sanghar District of Sindh.
On January 21, a Hindu girl, Jamna (14), was abducted from the Tando Allahyar District of Sindh and was later forcibly converted to Islam.
On January 18, 2023, a married Hindu woman Shanti Jog was abducted in the Samaro town of Umarkot District in Sindh and was raped after she refused to convert to Islam. The woman alleged that she was gang-raped by Ibrahim Mangrio, Punho Mangrio and their accomplice for three days, before she managed to escape.
Earlier, on October 26, 2022, a 16 page letter was sent by a group of six United Nations Special Rapporteurs, to the Government of Pakistan, on the issue of forced conversions, which openly accused the Pakistani Police of collusion with the kidnappers. In all but one of the many cases mentioned by the Rapporteurs, the girls were minors, and could not have married under Pakistani law. Police officers, the Rapporteurs asserted, forced illiterate parents to sign documents they did not understand, or blank forms subsequently filled in by the Police, stating that the girls were not minors and that they had married willingly.
It’s not that Government is not aware of what is the situation on ground. Earlier, on December 9, 2022, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah claimed that the Provincial government was taking “all-out measures” to curb incidents of forced conversion in the province. He declared that his government was committed to countering cases of forced conversions to protect the rights of all minorities.
But the mockery of the state and apathy towards minorities was demonstrated by the fact that Mian Abdul Haq alias Mian Mithu, a cleric of the Bharchundi Sharif shrine in Ghotki District of Sindh, who has been responsible for numerous forced marriages and forced conversions of non-Muslims and minors, was invited to a seminar on “Religious Conversions: Issues, Controversies and Reality”, organized by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony (MoRA&IH) at a hotel in Islamabad on January 31, 2023. Mian Mithu was placed on the British Government’s sanctions list on December 9, 2022.
On January 16, 2023, United Nation (UN) experts expressed alarm at the reported rise in abductions, forced marriages and conversions of underage girls and young women from religious minorities in Pakistan and called for immediate efforts to curtail the practices and ensure justice for victims. “We urge the Government to take immediate steps to prevent and thoroughly investigate these acts objectively and in line with domestic legislation and international human rights commitments. Perpetrators must be held fully accountable,” the experts said. “We are deeply troubled to hear that girls as young as 13 are being kidnapped from their families, trafficked to locations far from their homes, made to marry men sometimes twice their age, and coerced to convert to Islam, all in violation of international human rights law,” the experts stated.
While the situation for minorities has been deteriorating in the Province, the Government’s amendment of Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2023, passed unanimously in the National Assembly on January 17 to increase punishment for using derogatory remarks against religious figures, will further aggravate the misery of minorities. The HRCP on January 20, 2023, expressed deep concern over this amendment. “While the stated aim of this bill is to curb sectarianism, HRCP believes it is likely to exacerbate the persecution of Pakistan’s beleaguered religious minorities and minority sects,” the statement added.
Though, there has been a significant improvement in the situation related to terrorism in Sindh, but the growing radicalisation of society backed by Government apathy will further make the life of minorities miserable.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management