Tag Archives: Lashkar-e-Jhangvi

Persecution of Minorities in Pakistan: A Failed State

Outlook Afghanistan op-ed published May 03

Persecution of minorities is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. After partition from India  as a movement of ‘equal rights for the Muslims of sub-continent’, religious and ethnic minorities were not only declared third-class citizens through state legislations, but they have also faced brutal violence since the day of Pakistan’s birth.

Religious radicalism was promoted as a state policy on a very fundamental level. School text books taught a whitewashed history, promoting hatred against non-Muslims, particularly Hindus. Christians were never accepted more than a social class of sewerage-drain sweepers in Pakistan. Terror groups were created for intervention in Kashmir, and Jihadi radicalism was let grow deep in society.

The first ideological blow to the crack was independence of Bangladesh in 1971, when the majority Muslim Bengalis separated after more than a decade with the Punjab-dominated military and bureaucracy that controlled the then East and West Pakistan. Though troubles had erupted consecutively in parts of Balochistan and Sindh too, junta dictatorships that ruled for more than half of Pakistan’s age have suppressed it through military operations.

After secession of Bangladesh, another radical downward spiral for Pakistan as a state was when its National Assembly declared Ahmadi Muslims as non-Muslim in 1974, not only making them third-class citizens deprived of many rights and systematically discriminated against in state laws, but also invoking the wrath of religious radicals grown loose in the last two decades, particularly the Kashmir-oriented Jihadism during the first and second Indo-Pak wars in 1948 and 1971. Since then, Ahmadis have been persecuted routinely, both by mobs and courts in blasphemy cases. The violence against Ahmadis has increased in recent years. Last year Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was murdered for his defense of a Christian women Asia Bibi accused of blasphemy. He was killed by one of his own security guards, who later confessed that the Governor was killed because of his advocacy for the Christian woman.

The small numbers of Hindus are another minority community facing discrimination on every level in Pakistani society. Recently human rights activist Marvi Sirmed in a press conference in Islamabad highlighted the large-scale kidnapping and forced conversion of Hindu girls to Islam in Sindh. Many Hindus have migrated abroad during the last decade from rural parts of Sindh and Balochistan.

Rivalry with India has been the mindset behind Pakistani security establishment’s promotion of religious extremism. The decade-long rule of General Zia-ul-Haq promoted radicalism to its peak. Followed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Jihadism started with state sponsorship had now spread to every nook and corner of Pakistan. And during that era, sectarian terror groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were created, and Shias became another Jihadi target in Pakistan after Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus. Thousands have been killed in the merciless sectarian violence during last few decades. Leaders of these terror groups roam free around the country. Pakistani Supreme Court recently released Malik Ishaq, leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an Al-Qaeda allied banned outfit.

One ethnic minority group under routine sectarian attacks in Pakistan is the Hazaras of Quetta. According to media reports and human rights organizations, more than 700 members of this community of 600,000 people have been killed since 2001. LeJ claims responsibility for all attacks. The previously targeted attacks on professionals and activists have now taken a new merciless turn on ordinary people with suicide attacks in residential areas.

Their visible racial features make them a turkey-shoot for LeJ operatives who are on a killing spree with impunity. Victims from Quetta tell me the routine attacks have traumatized people. The besieged minority community members have stopped traveling from one part of the city to another. Thousands have migrated abroad, many taking the deadly routes to western countries through illegal ways to seek asylum. Over a hundred have been killed in recent incidents of boat-drowning in sea waters of Indonesia and Australia.

The extent of violence has affected an entire ethnic minority group. In the poorest region of Pakistan, when the only breadwinner is killed, the entire family suffers as no one remains to feed them. Locals tell me they are living under constant threat and fear.  In a spate of attacks during last three weeks, about 40 Hazaras have been killed.

The question is, how can Pakistan’s security institutions fail to stop such a systematic killing which some have started calling a genocide-in-making? A bunch of sectarian terrorists besiege an entire community, and the whole state security apparatus fail. It is mind blowing. A humanitarian crisis is unfolding before the civilized world, but they have chosen to close their eyes and remain silent about it. In 21st century, such a brutal persecution of a minority group is nothing less than the severity of Jewish Holocaust under Nazis.

It is not mere failure of Pakistani security institutions.  Quetta is the provincial capital of Balochistan. Pakistan Army has a Corp of over 60,000 troops stationed in the city. The strong military intelligence Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has its regional station there.  The city is also home to headquarters of the paramilitary Frontier Corps and Police. Victims accuse, if it is not complicity, how a bunch of LeJ terrorists can kill with impunity in such huge presence of security institutions. I cannot believe that Pakistani intelligence agencies are unaware of the hideouts of LeJ operatives.  But not a single killer has been prosecuted in last ten years of consecutive systematic killings.

Due to lack of coverage of such a horrible humanitarian crisis in international media, there has not been due reaction. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have released several reports about the crisis, but the champions of human rights in Western capitals have chosen to remain silent.

There have been protest demonstrations across cities in Europe, Australia and Asian countries during last two weeks. Former British Home Secretary and current Labour MP Alan Johnson joined such a protest in London on Monday, April 30. He said, “I am here to stand in solidarity with Hazaras who face ethnic cleaning in Balochistan yet the government of Pakistan is showing no concern. In the last 10 years more than 700 Hazaras have been killed which is a scandal. The government doesn’t seem concerned and has shown no interest in catching the killers.” Another demo is organized on May 4 in front of the UN Headquarters in New York. The international community should raise voice to pressurize the Pakistani Government and stop a genocide-in-making in 21st century.

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Kabul Attacks: Who is behind the suicide bombing?

Tarana, girl in the green robe, cries after the blast that killed over 80 people. She lost 7 family members, including a 7-year-old brother. Photo by Massoud Hossaini/ AFP

I wrote a piece on Guardian about the sectarian attack in Kabul last week. It was slightly edited for word limit. Below is full version.

The sectarian attack in Kabul on Tuesday was first of its kind in Afghanistan. Though the Taliban quickly disowned the attack, it doesn’t mean involvement by elements from different Taliban groups can be ruled out. Previously they have committed sectarian-oriented war crimes, such as the Mazar and Yakawlang massacres during their rule in Afghanistan.

In his notorious speech in Mazar in October 1998, Taliban leader Mullah Manan Niazi warned the Hazaras, who make up majority of Shias in Afghanistan, to either convert to Hanafi Sunnism or face the consequences. Following that infamous sermon, thousands of Hazara Shias were killed in a few days in Mazar. However, in the current war and insurgency during the last 10 years, militants have avoided sectarian attacks.

Whether such incidents can provoke sustained sectarian violence depends on who exactly is behind the attack. However, it will not cause larger Sunni-Shia violent conflict in Afghanistan for the time being. Even if such attacks increase, it will not be tit-for-tat violence since we don’t have trained militant groups from both Sunni and Shia sides – unlike Pakistan where sectarian violence has decades of history.

While militants from Pakistan with a sectarian background are in the rank and file of Taliban insurgents in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is no single militant Shia group in Afghanistan known to be involved in any previous act of violence.

Traces of Tuesday’s carnage in Kabul also apparently point to sectarian militants in Pakistan. An al-Qaida affiliated, Pakistan-based militant outfit called Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-alami (LeJ-Al-Alami) has claimed responsibility and previously it has been mentioned in media reports in connection with sectarian attacks in Pakistan.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami is a splinter of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which is the militant wing of Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) that has 17 international branches outside Pakistan including in UK and Canada.

It is possible that such groups are now focusing on Afghanistan under the patronage of some elements in Pakistan who want to open a new front. SSP and LeJ were banned in Pakistan in 2002 but the outfits soon resumed operations under new names, first as Millat Islamia Pakistan and later Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ).

Recently Pakistani Interior Ministry issued a latest list of banned outfits, and surprisingly ASWJ was not included.

These sectarian militant groups have a history of connections with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Qari Hussain, the notorious suicide bombing trainer of Tehreek Taliban Pakistan, has strong links with LeJ and SSP leadership. During the Taliban regime, LeJ militants were trained in camps such as Badr, Muawiyeh and Waleed in eastern Afghanistan.

SSP is an offshoot of Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), a religious political party in Pakistan, who provided the bulk of Jihadi recruits for Taliban in the 1990s. SSP founder Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi – to whose name the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (Forces of Jhangvi) refers – was vice-chairman of JUI-Punjab.

Prominent Pakistani journalist Amir Mir in his book True Faces of Jihadis says the entire LeJ leadership is made up of veterans who have fought in Afghanistan in 1990s. There is no detailed information about LeJ-Al-Alami and its leadership based in North Waziristan. These militant outfits have been changing names to avoid ban in Pakistan. Amir Mir says some experts believe SSP and LeJ are two faces of the same coin. And possibly LeJ-Al-Alami is not any different from LeJ.

LeJ is also involved in many attacks on westerners in Pakistan. According to intelligence reports, LeJ was behind an attack on a church in Islamabad in March 2002 killing five foreigners, including two Americans. In May 2002, 11 Frenchmen were blown up in Karachi. In January 2003, the US State Department added LeJ to its List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. State Dept. spokesman Richard Boucher said LeJ was behind the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl and 1997 killing of 4 American oil workers in Karachi.

The roots of these militant groups date back to the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan and the religious revolution in Iran. Pakistani academic Hassan Abbas in his book, Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army and America’s War on Terror, says the 1979 Iranian revolution changed the character and magnitude of sectarian politics in Pakistan.

The zealous emissaries of the Iranian revolutionary regime started financing their outfit Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqa-e-Jafria, a Shia group in Pakistan. To counter this, the military dictatorship of Zia, says Hassan Abbas, “through intelligence agencies selected Haq Nawaz Jhangvi“, and Saudi funds started pouring in. Saudi-Iran sectarian rivalry reached a peak in the 1990s when the Tehran regime increased support for its Shia outfits in Pakistan and tit-for-tat attacks started. Iranian Council General in Lahore Sadeq Ganji was killed in Dec 1990 in retribution for Haq Nawaz Jhangvi’s assassination in Feb 1990. Later Iranian diplomat Ghulam Raza was killed in 1997.

The FTO listing of LeJ by the US has been symbolic without any practical actions against the terrorist organization involved in murder of many American citizens. Recently the Pakistani Supreme Court released Malik Ishaq, one of the founders and current leader of LeJ on July 14 because of “insufficient evidence produced by the prosecution”. He is charged for 44 cases of murders. Despite being in jail, he continued terror plots against Shias in Pakistan.

Following 9/11 attacks, SSP joined the Pakistan-based pro-Taliban Council for Defense of Afghanistan and condemned ouster of Taliban by the US. In an interview later with BBC, Azam Tariq, the then SSP leader said to support Taliban in resistance. Azam Tariq was also a frequent visitor of Afghanistan under Taliban rule, where he had set up the training camps for SSP/LeJ militants.

After the ousting of the Taliban, these sectarian terrorists fled back to Pakistan from the training camps in Afghanistan. In the following years, LeJ found new patrons and supporters in north Waziristan among al-Qaida operatives, who used the group to launch attacks in Pakistan.

Tuesday’s attacks in Kabul, claimed by LeJ-Al-alami, could not be carried out without some help from elements within the Taliban in Afghanistan, or the Haqqani network. But the question is whether this will lead to sustained sectarian violence. If targeted sectarian attacks increase, it might provoke retaliatory actions and the birth of Shia militant groups in Afghanistan. With the history of Iranian involvement behind creating such groups in Pakistan in the past, it will not be hard for them to grow such outfits in Afghanistan. But it will take time.

We have already seen increasing Iranianisation of Shia religious festivities in Afghanistan during the last couple of years. According to my former journalist colleague and a university professor Ali Amiri, Ashura has been a cultural commemoration observed both by Shia and Sunnis of Afghanistan equally. But it is increasingly gaining a political colour with monopolisation of pro-Iran clerics.

Amiri notes that the leading Iranian newspaper Kayhan supervised by their supreme leader reported the attack in Kabul as an “American revenge from Islamic awakening”. Ali Akbar Walayeti, former foreign minister of Iran, heads a commission that supports regional religious outfits, and influential Afghan Shia cleric Sheikh Asif Mohsini, who runs a TV and grand Madrassah in Kabul, is reportedly member of that commission.

Afghan leaders have to make all efforts to stop the rise of sectarianism, which started in Pakistan with similar attacks causing an extreme religious polarisation and plaguing sectarian harmony for more than three decades now.

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