Facing a wave of sectarianism in globalising ‘Islam’
Daily Times, January 29, 2007
We predicted two days ago in this column that the NWFP would be targeted this Muharram and urged the NWFP government to be prepared to forestall the menace. Unfortunately, judging from the top police officers killed in the latest suicide bombing in Peshawar, the police was the first target of the Sunni extremists. A Muharram procession near Qasim Ali Khan Mosque in Qissa Khawani Bazaar was targeted, killing 15 people and injuring around 60. The bomber took the life of the city’s senior police officers: Peshawar police chief Malik Saad, DSP Khan Raziq and Kabuli SHO Nawaz Khan. Also killed were the leaders of the city government: Union Council nazims Mohammad Ali Safi and Mian Iftikhar.
Most of the killed were police officials because they were there to stop suicide-bombers from joining the Shia procession observing the rituals of Muharram. But the NWFP law minister put a convenient gloss on the incident: since the Sunnis were killed, he thought it was not a sectarian incident but an act of terrorism. This is wrong. Once we dub an incident as a ‘terrorist’ one, then we open the doors of speculation and are free to blame the ‘enemies of Pakistan’ — which are many — and see the ‘foreign hand’ all over the place, which mostly means India or Kabul. Twist the argument a little more and we have it running like this: the Indians took advantage of Muharram and the sectarian scene in Pakistan and did the dastardly deed to make ‘Muslim fight Muslim’. But this is ridiculous.
We should take stock of the new situation developing out of a worldwide standoff between the two sects of Islam symbolised by the sectarianisation of Al Qaeda in Iraq. For far too long we have accused India of exploiting the schism in Pakistan without producing much evidence to prove the charge. It is also self-damaging to lean on the “no-Muslim-could-do-this” rhetoric because that prevents us from taking any effective remedial action. We are in fact much past the stage when Urdu columnists could get away by praising the Shia leaders (including Grand Ayatollah Sistani of Iraq) for declaring that the Shias killed in Pakistan and Iraq on Ashura in 2003 and 2004 were killed actually by the Americans. In a shoddy follow-up, an ex-chief of the ISI blamed the 2005 suicide bombing of Barri Imam shrine near Islamabad on the Americans and the Jews!
Nor is the NWFP exempt from the curse of sectarianism. The district of Kohat has always been a hotbed of violence between the two communities aroused by unconscionable clerics. Sub-district Hangu was recently the arena of sectarian killings. There are local leaders who openly declare that they are at war with the Shia community and are being lionised in a section of the national press for fighting legal ‘human rights’ battles in Peshawar to free the Al Qaeda men caught in the province. The contagion trickles down from the Kurram Agency where the first carnage occurred in 1986 on the watch of General Ziaul Haq. Later rulers have paid no attention to the war spreading downwards to Aurakzai Agency and from there to the settled district of Kohat. In Aurakzai last year the two communities fought a pitched battle over a common shrine and accounted for scores of dead.
There is little defence against a man who wants to kill himself with explosives strapped around his body. In 2006, the Nishtar Park massacre was accomplished against the Barelvi leadership of Karachi when the ground was under the surveillance of the police. The Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) that rules the NWFP had both the Barelvis and the Shia parties in its alliance but could do nothing to stop their big leaders being killed most probably by boys from the very seminaries which the MMA leaders guard as their own. The disease lies in the discourse of the Pakistani clergy. The language in which they speak to the people is so self-righteously violent that it can only seduce people into killing each other.
It may be recalled that our intelligence establishment and politico-religious leaders continued to support the Taliban in Kabul even after the Taliban could not prevent their soldiers from killing the Shia of Central Afghanistan. Indeed, the idolisation of the Taliban was so great among such forces that even their worst atrocities and glaring weaknesses were not admitted. Thus when Al Qaeda gave refuge to Lashkar-e Jhangvi killers in its training camps outside Kabul no cleric in Pakistan rose to protest. Even today, the Sunni clerics are willing to change course. Therefore our fear is that when the 10th of Muharram comes up, Karachi may see another massacre. *