News / Asia

Worry Grows Over Rising Sectarian Attacks in Pakistan

Pakistani Shiite Muslims carry the body of a person killed by gunmen at a local hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, Sept. 1, 2012.Pakistani Shiite Muslims carry the body of a person killed by gunmen at a local hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, Sept. 1, 2012.
x
Pakistani Shiite Muslims carry the body of a person killed by gunmen at a local hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, Sept. 1, 2012.
Pakistani Shiite Muslims carry the body of a person killed by gunmen at a local hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, Sept. 1, 2012.
Ayaz Gul
Sunni-dominated Pakistan has seen an unprecedented spike in religious violence this year, with at least 375 minority Shi'ite Muslims killed across the country. Government critics say the violent conflict is likely to intensify if authorities do not do more to improve local governance and punish those who carry out sectarian attacks.

Sectarian bloodshed in Pakistan had peaked in the 1990s, and the violence subsided after the country joined with the U.S.-led coalition 10 years ago to fight terrorist and extremist groups.

Under pressure from the United States and other allies, Pakistan banned several Shi'ite and Sunni militant groups for having links to al-Qaida and Taliban extremists fighting coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Hazara community targeted

But sectarian violence has returned this year with targeted attacks on Shi'ite Muslims. Official figures indicate that since the start of 2012, at least 134 people have died in sectarian attacks in Baluchistan, mostly in the provincial capital Quetta. Nearly all of those killed were Shi'ite Muslims and a majority of those were members of the Hazara community, a Persian speaking Shi'ite population that emigrated to Pakistan from neighboring Afghanistan more than a century ago.

Community leaders say the growing sense of insecurity has forced thousands of young Hazaras to turn to human smugglers and try to reach countries like Australia by undertaking an expensive and dangerous journey across the Indian Ocean.

Abdul Khaliq Hazara, a senior activist of the Hazara's in Quetta, says that the journey in small boats has already taken hundreds of lives and those who survived have ended up in jails abroad. He says that sectarian attacks have become routine in the city but authorities have so far not made a single arrest.

"The [Pakistani] government and law enforcement agencies, they do not pursue them [attackers].  And they openly do whatever they want and after that we don’t know where they vanish and where they go. That is why I think the [Hazara] people prefer [to migrate]. Many of them have migrated because their life, education, their business, their property, it is not safe," he said.

Sunni militant groups blamed

Shi'ite leaders in Pakistan blame outlawed Sunni militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi for the attacks. Some of these groups allegedly still have links to elements within the country’s spy networks, a charge strongly denied by Pakistani authorities.

Provincial Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani says that in recent weeks the administration has beefed up security for the Hazara community in and around Quetta and has deployed a “dedicated” security force to counter the sectarian attacks. He believes these steps will discourage the migration of the Shi'ite population from Baluchistan.

"After taking these measures, the confidence level of the community will be enhanced and such type of migration would be stopped," he said.

Islamization under Zia ul-Haq

While there have long been sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites, many trace the current trouble to the 1980s, when then military dictator General Zia ul-Haq began promoting religious orthodoxy to appease the country’s Islamic forces.

Christine Amjad Ali heads the Christian Study Center in Rawalpindi, an organization working for the rights of minorities and for interfaith harmony.

"The Islamization, everything that happened under Zia [ul-Haq], has become so much part of the country’s psyche that there is a pushing out of anyone who is not Muslim at the moment, and even a shrinking of the definition of Muslim I would say. So, Shias [Shi'ites] are facing attacks as well, and a generation has grown up being taught that actually Muslims are the only people who matter effectively, and that is just having its effect," she said.

A recent international survey by the Pew Research Center found that 50 percent of Sunnis in Pakistan believe Shias to be non-Muslims.

Regional proxy war

Some observers also see the sectarian violence as part of a regional proxy war. They accused Iran and donors in Saudi Arabia of funding rival Shi'ite and Sunni Pakistani militants. Tehran, however, alleges the United States is supporting Sunni militants in the country’s eastern and western border regions to destabilize Iran.

Speaking in Islamabad earlier this month, visiting chairman of Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi refused to reply to repeated questions about Iran’s interest in countering foreign-backed Sunni groups. Instead, he accused the United States and its Western allies of creating rifts between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims with an objective to destabilize Iran.

The senior Iranian lawmaker said that in his view, “it is an undeniable fact that [the American] CIA is instrumental in creating the disunity." He stated that religious scholars in Pakistan and Iran can play an important role in creating an atmosphere of unity to overcome sectarianism.

In recent years media reports have accused the CIA of supporting the Sunni militant group Jundallah. However the U.S. state department designated Jundallah as a terrorist group in 2010.

Need for criminal justice system reforms

Meanwhile, Pakistani police and courts remain under fire for not being able to effectively apprehend and prosecute militant groups. Some militant groups operate with impunity in rural parts of the country and Pakistani courts have an acquittal rate of more than 70 percent.

Former Pakistani interior minister Moinuddin Hadier says that the country urgently needs to introduce reforms in its criminal justice system.

"These conditions, which are today prevailing in Pakistan where judges get scared, where police do not investigate things properly for the fear of retaliation by these terrorists and the prosecution also does not make a strong case although they know that people are involved in terrorism," said Hadier.

Legal experts in Pakistan say curbing the problem will mean closing loopholes in existing anti-terrorism laws, and stopping the killing of witnesses, judges, prosecutors and police officers investigating sectarian-related crimes.

You May Like

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Maia Pujara
July 07, 2015 10:01 PM
A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs

A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs