Muharram security and sectarian attacks

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has demanded that “the Pakistani government should urgently act to protect Shia Muslims in Pakistan from sectarian attacks during the Muslim holy month of Muharram”. In the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’, not many people feel safe due to the rise in terrorism, but if you are an ethnic or religious minority, your life is even more at risk. Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and also the month when Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) and his family were martyred by Yazid and his forces. Muslims all over the world observe the month of Muharram to commemorate the supreme sacrifice of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA), the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Shia Muslims in particular pay special homage to Imam Hussain (RA). Majaalis, processions and other such activities are held all across Pakistan during this month; the first 10 days of Muharram are observed with great reverence. The Wahabi school of thought in Islam is intolerant towards the Shias due to theological differences. In Pakistan, the Shias and Sunnis lived in peace and harmony for decades but ever since the days of General Ziaul Haq, sectarian violence and religious intolerance has deeply penetrated our society.

This year, Muharram started on a sad note with an attack on Shias in Karachi. Two scouts on Muharram duty lost their lives while 11 people were injured. Then on Thursday, the police in Karachi foiled a terrorist attack on Shia Imambargahs. The vigilance of the security forces is a welcome development but despite security measures, Muharram processions were attacked in the last two years. In view of this, the security forces must take stringent steps to ensure that nothing untoward takes place this time around. It is a tough task but must be undertaken in order to protect the lives of innocent citizens.

Sunni extremist groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) operate freely on Pakistani soil despite being banned organisations. Due to their activities, sectarian conflict has now transmogrified into a concentrated anti-Shia campaign. According to HRW, there were at least 18 attacks on Shias this year and “at least 275 Shias, mostly of Hazara ethnicity, have been killed in sectarian attacks in the southwestern province of Balochistan alone since 2008”. This is serious. So far the authorities have not taken sufficient steps to curb Shia massacres being carried out in Balochistan and Parachinar. Both these areas are manned heavily by the military. When banned outfits like the LeJ and SSP get away scot-free after targeted killings of Shia citizens under the military’s watch in Balochistan and Parachinar, it means these terrorist organisations either have the support of our security establishment and/or the law enforcement agencies do not value the lives of Shias. The government must launch a nationwide crackdown on all sectarian outfits and bring an end to Shia massacre.

It is a shame that ours is a country where even the dead are not allowed to rest in peace. The recent incident of an attack on an Ahmedi graveyard by unknown people who demolished 29 graves is despicable to say the least. These are crimes against humanity and must be condemned in the strongest possible words. But condemnation is not enough. The authorities must take action against those responsible for such vile acts. It is the responsibility of the government to protect the lives of all Pakistanis, no matter which sect, religion, ethnicity they belong to.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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