Shia Muslims Massacred inPakistan
Column by Stephen Schwartz - Pakistancontinues its slide downward to definitive failure as a state. At the heart of its crisis, the Pakistani Taliban and their fanatical allies, claiming the mantle of Sunni Islam, maintain a homicidal offensive against conventional Sunnis, spiritual Sufis, and Shia Muslims, as well as Hindus and Christians. The various entities that carry on this atrocious campaign enjoy, as every honest commentator on South Asiaknows, protection from the Pakistani armed forces and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) apparatus. Similar patronage is extended byIslamabadto the Afghan Taliban.
Since the May 2011 liquidation of Osama Bin Laden, as the terrorist chief benefited from shelter by the Pakistani authorities, relations betweenPakistanand theU.S.have been stalemated. Islamabad chose to interpret the U.S.military raid that eliminated Bin Laden as a violation of its sovereignty. As these words are written, the former Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, the city wherePakistan’s eliteMilitaryAcademyis located, has been demolished. Pakistanstill refuses to break with its posture of laxity toward the Taliban and other jihadists.
The U.S. presidential administration of Barack Obama professes to believe that it can abate the Taliban problem inAfghanistanby diplomacy. Put plainly, theU.S.government seems intent on handing overAfghanistan, or a large share of its territory, to the Taliban, on the pretext of peace. An “agreement” with the Afghan fundamentalists would allow the U.S.to withdraw 22,000 troops, out of a current total of 90,000, from the mountainous redoubt by the end of this year, in line with the goal of general disengagement by the end of 2014. But, we are told, some NATO troops will stay in Afghanistan after 2014. Political overtures include the almost-unbelievable effort by Washington and Islamabad to help the Afghan Taliban establish a political office in Qatar. Pakistan appears committed to the Qatar scheme notwithstanding the irritation of Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who resents visibly being bypassed by theU.S. and Pakistan in their dealings with the Taliban.
Inside Afghanistan, a still-murky incident in whichU.S.troops burned copies of Qur’an set off a new round of assassinations ofU.S.personnel. But lethal attacks also continue within Pakistan’s borders. On February 19, a Shia cleric, Ayatollah Hafiz Muhammad Saqlain Naqvi, was shot in Ali Pur, near Bahawalpur in Punjab. He died on Monday, February 27, inVictoriahospital at Bahawalpur. His janaza (funeral) was scheduled for Tuesday, February 28.
Shia believers had called for prayers for the recovery of Allama Saqlain Naqvi, who directed a Shia seminary, the Jamia Daarul Huda Muhammadia (Congregational School of the Muhammadan Straight Path). He was on his way there at around 10 pm when he was attacked. Hospital workers said bullets had penetrated his chest and spinal cord, leaving him in a coma before he expired. Responsibility for the fatal assault has been charged to two ultra-radical groups, Sipah-e-Sahaba (the purported “Knights of the Prophet’s Companions”) and Lashkar-e Janghvi (LeJ or “Janghvi’s Army”). LeJ, named for a founder of Sipah-e-Sahaba, is particularly known for its hatred of Shias.
The radicals apparently targeted Allama Saqlain Naqvi because he had complained at the arrest of local Shia representatives when Malik Ishaq, the most sinister of LeJ’s agitators, appeared in Ali Pur. Shias had confronted the LeJ followers. After the shooting of Allama Saqlain Naqvi, Shia demonstrators accused the Pakistani police of failing to protect Shia leaders. News of the cleric’s death animated further protests, as his body was taken from the hospital by Shia devotees. According to the Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune, 10 anti-Shia attacks have occurred in the Muzaffargarh district of Punjab in the past year, with Shia sources counting up to 200 victims.
Allama Saqlain Naqvi was a son and follower ofPakistan’s most distinguished Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Allama Syed Muhammad Yar Shah Naqvi Najafi (1913-1990), who was born in Ali Pur and educated in religion at the Shia hawza (seminary) of Najaf inIraq. Allama Saqlain Naqvi completed his theological training at Qum in Iran.
The early months of 2012 have seen a series of brutal attacks on Pakistani Shias. On February 15, a young Shia prayer leader, Maulana Sadaqat Hussain, was killed by two men on a motorcycle in Liaquatabad,Karachi. In mid-January, a bomb in the Punjab city ofKhanpurkilled at least 21 Shias at a commemoration of Arbaeen, the fortieth day after the Ashura remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn at Karbala in 680 CE.
The Pakistani newspaper Dawn noted that the period between Ashura in December and Arbaeen had been peaceful. But LeJ and its allied fanatical networks were, it appears, merely waiting for the moment to commence a new wave of horrors. Meanwhile, the killers are reorganizing their propaganda effort. In an outrageous display of illegitimate rhetoric, Sipah-e-Sahaba has renamed itself “Ahl-e Sunnat Wa’l Jama’at” (The People of the Sunnah in Consensus), the title usually reserved for the moderate and Sufi-oriented Barelvi sect, which counts about half the Muslims in South Asia and in the Pakistani, Indian, and Bangladeshi communities abroad. Dawn has also noted the emergence of the “Punjabi Taliban” as a cover term for the extremist paramilitary and sectarian cadres sowing death and destruction inPakistan. New “Taliban” cohorts have becomePakistan’s leading product.
With theU.S.andPakistanat a standoff overIslamabad’s assistance to jihadists, commentators worldwide have fallen silent. The intractable nature of the situation offers no hope of solution, aside from the negotiations held out by Obama and his officials. Many observers will be tempted to classify the anti-Shia bloodshed in Pakistan as a parallel to the shadowy, regional Sunni-Shia conflict in the Mideast, of which the massacres inSyriaare considered a symptom.
While Saudi Arabiaand otherGulf statescall for the removal of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad, andIrancontinues bolstering theDamascusregime, it is easy to cast the Mideast conflagration in such terms. The esoteric Alawite sect that controls the Syrian state and army has been legitimized as a variety of Shiism. But not all of Iran’s clients are enthusiastic about defending Al-Assad. The Palestinian Hamas movement, which identifies with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Sunnism, while receiving considerable Iranian help, has abandoned its former headquarters in Damascus and called for the overthrow of Al-Assad.
Analysts may insist on perceiving revolutionary changes in the faded “Arab Spring” and indications of a looming and expanding Sunni-Shia confrontation in Syria and Pakistan. Aggressive maneuvers and rhetoric by ShiaIran, including the February 13New Delhiattack on an Israeli diplomat’s wife, lend credence to this diagnosis. But an objective view may indicate a different source for the breakdown of local authority and spreading collective desperation than a process of social transformation in the “Arab Spring” and a general strategy of religious competition in the Muslim lands. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, followed by the crisis in Syria, have not generated economic and political interests capable of reorganizing the Arab states. And violence against Shias in the name of the Sunnah is nothing new in South Asia or elsewhere.
Rather than revolutions and religious wars, the wave of violent and grisly events in the Arab states and Pakistan may reflect more accurately the pressure of the global financial crisis, beginning in 2007, on the weakest links in the international political system. Libya, which was liberated from the evils of Mu’ammar Al-Qadhdhafi by European and U.S. intervention, has fallen into chaos, without the appearance of significant Islamist or civil society organizations. Yemen has replaced its dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, after 33 years, with his former vice-president Abd Rabbo Mansur Al-Hadi, the sole candidate in the country’s presidential election on February 21. This may indicate a continuation of the former regime rather than its replacement by a democratic transition. But in the meantime, Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has made significant gains in the country.
In the context of post-dictatorial transitions, it may be that elections in Tunisia and Egypt, which produced a Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-led coalition government in the first case and a large majority for the MB and the so-called “Salafi,” i.e. Wahhabi “Hizb Ul-Nur” or “Party of the Light” in the second, were held too quickly after the defeat of the authoritarian rulers of the two countries. In other post-dictatorial transitions, the example of Spain after the death of Franco in 1975 is the most instructive, involving at least two years of institutional reconstruction before elections were held. Political parties and community interests had ample opportunities to present their programs before the public had recourse to the ballot box. Comparable and patient preparation was also observed in post-militarist political processes in Chile, Taiwan, South Korea, and Indonesia.
If the “Arab Spring” was headed toward democracy, one must begin by stipulating that elections alone do not define democratic governance, even if they provide opportunities for free competition by candidates. Elections may be “free” in their inventory of aspirants for votes, but “unfair” when results are corrupted, as may have occurred in Egypt. It has become a commonplace in American political discourse that to mention Hitler as an example in a political argument (known as the “reductio ad Hitlerum”) instantly empties the debate of seriousness; but Hitler won power by an electoral plurality in 1933.
Humanity today is dominated by an unwonted silence. No solutions are forthcoming for the European monetary predicament. Nobody can say if Israel will pre-emptively strike at Iran’s nuclear development facilities, or if Iran has the capacity to retaliate to such an action. The “Arab Spring” has so far produced Islamist victories, leaving the protagonists of democracy as silent as they were when the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes fell suddenly. Pakistan and Afghanistan are relegated to secondary media coverage. In the U.S. presidential race, foreign policy has become a forbidden topic. And much of the planet looks on passively as Bashar Al-Assad’s army turns its heavy artillery on residential districts, leaving countless dead.
This, I fear, is not the silence before a new storm of political change, but an intellectual and spiritual void. In these conditions the Shia dead in Pakistan may be mourned only by their coreligionists, and ignored by others. The Pakistani Shias have tended to blame their torment on the U.S., in a common chorus with the rest of Pakistani opinion. Such a foolish response is a symptom of moral disintegration, not of the tradition of social justice of which Shias are rightfully proud. More important, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a Shia, and Allama Iqbal favored reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias. Today’s Pakistani government, with its encouragement of anti-Shia lawlessness, has disgraced their memory.
Columnist, Stephen Schwartz, is Director with Center for Islamic Pluralism, Washington DC.