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Oct 11, 2004 9:38 pm


Sectarian Terror



On October 2nd, in Sialkot, a suicide bomber walked into a Shi'a mosque and killed at least 30 people. On October 7th, in Multan a car bomb killed 40 at a commemoration gathering for the slain radical Sunni cleric Maulana Azam Tariq. On October 9th, in Karachi, two senior-most clerics at Banuri Town madrasa - a Sunni enclave - were shot dead. On October 10, in Lahore, another suicide bomb blast in a Shi'a mosque in Mochi gate killed 4 people.

Is this the return of Shia-Sunni sectarian violence in Pakistan? By a rough estimate, the Shi'a community is 20% of the population. Sectarian conflict did not become the issue it is today until the Islamization processes of General Zia ul Haq (1977-1988). In 1980, with fear that the Sunni, Hanafi laws will pre-dominate, the Shi'a community began political mobilization. The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran was a great ideological boon to the community. The organization at the forefront of this mobilization was Tahrik-i Nifaaz Fiqaah Ja'fariyya or Tahrik-i Ja'fariyya (Movement for the Implementation of Ja'faria Law - TJP). Created largely to protect Shi'a community from unfair Islamization laws, the TJP quickly expanded into a full-fledged movement for the Shi'a in Pakistan. Its confrontational style sowed seeds of dismay in the Sunni majority. A founding leader, Allama 'Arif Husain al-Husaini, was assassinated in 1988. The Sunni counterpart was the Sipah-i Sahaba (Soldiers of the Companions of the Prophet) established in 1985 in Punjab. It was constructed explicitly to combat Shi'a power in Pakistan and to make Sunni Islam the official religion of the state. For example, to counter the Muharram processions, it tried to celebrate the death anniversaries of the first four caliphs. This organization was militarized as well in the Afghanistani and Kashmiri conflicts. Maulana Azim Tariq, the prominent leader, was assassinated last year.

With roots, and membership bases, in rural areas, these organization spread to the urban populations in the mid-90s and brought with them their militant sectarianism. Between 1984-2003, there were over 1800 events of sectarian violence.

It is entirely conceivable that these recent episodes are a continuation of this decades old sectarian war but I think there is some evidence to suggest otherwise. First, is the nature of the new attacks -suicide bombings. Throughout the 90s, drive-by shootings, assassinations and remote detonations was the modus operandi of sectarian violence. In 2003/2004, they have been overwhelmingly suicide bombings. And al-Qaeda, a organization with long standing ties to such sectarian groups is a prime suspect.

Even more so, when one considers that on September 26, in Nawabshah, Amjad Farooqi was killed by Pakistani security forces. He was a member/leader of Jaish Muhammad and Harkat al-Mujahideen two organizations closely related to Sipah Sahaba. There is evidence that he was involved in sectarian acts, the execution of Daniel Pearl, and in the various assassination attempts on Musharraf. I don't think it is unfeasable that the bombings were triggered after his death. The explosive material seems to be similar in the Sialkot and Multan cases. Once flamed, the violence does not need further input from al-Qaeda to flourish.

It is no secret that al-Qaeda wants to depose General Musharraf. Osama b. Laden and Ayman az-Zawahiri have both released video edicts to take him out. With the army and intelligence focused on al-Qaeda/sepratist forces in Waziristan, this would be an opportune time to start a new sectarian war in Pakistan. The army, after all, is the only police in the country. The crucial issue is that Musharraf has been playing a dangerous game where he has placated the West that he is fighting terrorists but doing so only in the cases that directly bolster his grasp on power within Pakistan. He has not, and cannot, take on the hardline mullahs. He has not, and will not, counter the jihadist organizations. The Bush administration is happy that Pakistan has banned jihadist organizations and put them on a terrorist list (BIG on lists) and doesn't even care that almost all the organizations on the list simply conduct public business under different names. And, hence, this recent wave of violence finds plenty of willing participants.

Juan Cole has used the Multan bombing to argue that the War on Terror is failing. I do agree that Iraq has strengthened the hands of al-Qaeda operating in Pakistan, at the very least.
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