This is an old article – When the state kills – authored by Pakistan’s eminent intellectual Khaled Ahmed. It remains relevant for what is happening today – the carnage in Karachi and targetted killing of the Shia minority is a cause for concern for Pakistanis who want the country to become a plural, tolerant and progressive society for all its citizens irrespective of their faith, caste or creed. Many of us – who identify themselves as neither Sunni nor Shia (only Muslims) – strongly condemn the Karachi incidents and will continue to raise voice against extremism and sectarianism.
Leader of the anti-Shia religious party Sipah Sahaba, Maulana Azam Tariq, has been released after being honourably acquitted of all charges of terrorism. He was picked up after he went and met Maulana Akram Awan in Chakwal earlier in the year after the latter had threatened to overthrow General Musharraf and impose Shariat on Islamabad. Maulana Tariq had thereafter announced that his party will also forcibly impose principles of Sharia in selected cities of the country. While he was in jail facing trial, his party had warned the government of dire consequences. In the interim, there was a spate of shia killings in Karachi, mainly targeting doctors and other prominent personalities. Workers of Sipah Sahaba had started offering arrests to pressure the government into releasing their leader.
Lashkar and Sipah linkage:After being acquitted of charges of terrorism, Maulana Azam Tariq has once again publicly dissociated himself from the terrorist activities of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and called on it to give up violence. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, run by terrorist Riaz Basra, is dedicated to Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, the founder of Sipah Sahaba. (Jhangvi’s anti-shia tapes are famous.) When the Lashkar activist who killed the Iranian diplomat Sadiq Ganji in Lahore in 1990 was about to be hanged Maulana Azam Tariq, instead of dissociating himself from the terrorist, actually led a campaign for the remission of his sentence and even offered diyat (blood money) to Iran. Another splinter of Sipah, Jaish-e-Muhammed, also reveres late Maulana Haq Nawaz jhangvi. In fact its leader Masood Azhar first wanted to name his militia Lashkar-e-Muhammad but was advised by his ‘handlers’ to avoid the association with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The sectarian Jaish was given territory near Balakot for guerrilla training for incursions into Kashmir, which makes the state party to the sectarian mess in Pakistan. It is expected that after the release of Maulana Azam Tariq the killings of doctors and prominent citizens of Karachi will taper off. This is not the first time the state has made a deal with him.
That the state is involved in Shia killings in Karachi has been reported in the press in Pakistan. That there is a strong Deobandi-Sipah presence in Karachi with links with MQM Haqiqi, courtesy intelligence agencies, has also been noted. This makes Maulana Azam Tariq the most powerful man from Karachi to Gilgit. Indeed there are cities where his writ runs stronger than that of the state. A French scholar who is writing his biography and lived in his house in Jhang for a time observed that Maulana Azam Tariq’s day normally began by giving orders to the city’s administration. His orders have been equally effective when he was in jail. He is in fact the most powerful man of the Deobandi jehad organised by the state and is definitely more powerful than the chief executive of Pakistan on a given day on the basis of his ability to make things happen.
State officers who kill Shias:The press is careful in reporting the sectarian truth in Karachi but some signs of a desperate kind of courage have come to light after the heart-rending murders of the Shia doctors in the city. Amjad Bashir Siddiqi wrote in The News (5 August 2001): ‘These sectarian organisations, with enormous money in their pockets, spend it without any limits to free terrorists or to bail them out, and more importantly, to ingress into the administration. Recently, money was spent to free a terrorist from the custody of CIA, who, three days later assassinated the chief of Sunni Tehreek, Saleem Qadiri. Lately, they are also trying to wriggle free another activist of their party now on death row and are ready to spend as much money as needed to ensure that Mansur, convicted for the killing of seven members of three families in PECHS back in 1993, gets bail’.
The article goes on to describe how the Jaish-e-Muhammad leader Maulana Masood Azhar, whose entry was banned in Sindh because of the wave of sectarian terrorism, was stopped at Karachi airport and was asked to go back. Azhar phoned someone and the ban was immediately lifted to allow him to enter Karachi, after which he had a meeting with home secretary, Sindh. Azhar also later went to Ghotki in violation of the ban and was ignored by the local SDM there who was probably himself anti-Shia. The officer was pulled up, but later still, when Maulana Azhar tried to enter Sukkur and was stopped by the district administration it was pulled up this time for not giving him unhampered passage to anywhere in the city. The article adds: ‘Another serious problem has been the criminalisation of the jehadi elements, some of whom have been involved in sectarian killings. Recently, commissioner Karachi Shafiqur Rehman Khwaja gave Rs 200,000 to the prime suspect of Saleem Qadri’s murder, Arshad Polka, as compensation money for being a victim of terrorism. Polka had died during the attack on the Sunni Tehreek leader.’ The article goes on to link the state machinery with sectarian killers. Officers aligned to sectarian killers do two things: they get the criminals released in case they are caught after the act, and they see to it that caught terrorists are not allowed to be linked to the jehadi militias. The state is in fact the killer of the Shia in Pakistan.
ISI and Shia killings:Monthly Newsline (June 2001) actually wrote that the intelligence agencies were ‘in’ with the sectarian terrorists: ‘The official quoted above has no hesitation in accusing the ISI of orchestrating such (Shia) murders through the militants of sectarian parties, adding that Sipah Sahaba terrorists are trained by the agency. The Sipah Sahaba are supported by the MQM Haqiqi Group. Sources reveal that Sipah Sahaba’s (sic!) Riaz Basra has been spotted in the company of a colonel who has also given him shelter in his house. Similarly, when three members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were picked up by the police, another colonel, who identified himself as their PRO, requested that they be released forthwith’. It should be noted that Riaz Basra has been described by the magazine as a Sipah activist! Karachi has killed 450 people in cases of sectarian violence since General Musharraf took over the government in October 1999. Lately the killing is one-sided because the Sunni-Deobandi combine is simply too strong to be countered by the Shia organisations.
The shia-sunni conflict is as old as Islam itself in the Indian subcontinent, but it was effectively marginalised by a secular British raj which treated it as a law-and-order issue. After 1947, the policy was continued and the worst sectarian riots were defined by the state as no more than public disorder which the executive handled as violation of the CRPC, the legal code of criminal procedure. The clergy involved in the conflict gradually became tired as the citizens mixed and intermarried across the sect boundaries. The breakdown of the secular state under General Zia’s martial law brought the shia-sunni differences to centre-stage.
General Zia versus the Shias:General Zia took over the populist slogan of Nizam-e-Mustafa and imposed ‘shariah’ on Pakistan. It really meant the imposition of the Sunni Hanafi ‘fiqh’ or jurisprudence followed by the majority population from which the shias were excluded. The two early laws under ‘shariah’ that he enforced failed miserably: the first, abolition of ‘riba’, failed because of the inability of the Islamic scholars to reinterpret Islam for modern conditions; the second, ‘zakat’, failed because the shia jurisprudence, called ‘Fiqha-e-Jaafaria’, had a conflicting interpretation of zakat. In 1980, an unprecedented procession of shias, led by Mufti Jaafar Hussain, laid siege to Islamabad and forced General Zia to exempt the shia community from the deduction of zakat. The concept of sunni ‘ushr’ (poor-due on land) is also rejected by shia jurisprudence.
It appears that, when the anti-shia movement started in Jhang in the 1980s, General Zia not only ignored it but saw it as his balancing act against the rebellious shia community. This was worsened by Imam Khomeini’s criticism of General Zia. The rise of Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi in the stronghold of big shia landlords in Punjab changed the sectarian scene in Pakistan. There is evidence that General Zia was warned of Jhangvi’s anti-shia and anti-Iran movement, but he ignored the warning and allowed it to blossom into a full-fledged religious party called Anjuman-e-Sipah-e-Sahaba of Pakistan (ASSP). In small towns, the old shia-sunni debate restarted with the fury that had become dampened in the past. The tracts which carried this debate were scurrilous in the extreme and helped the clerics to whip up passions. Meanwhile, in 1986, General Zia allowed a ‘purge’ of Turi shias in the divided city of Parachinar (capital of Kurram Agency on the border with Afghanistan) at the hands of the sunni Afghan mujahideen in conjunction with the local sunni population.
Pakistan versus the Turis of Parachinar:Parachinar was the launching-pad of the Mujahideen attacks into Afghanistan and the Turis were not cooperative. Tehrike-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqha-e-Jaafaria had come into being during the dispute over zakat in 1980. When the Parachinar massacre occurred, it was led by a Turi leader, Allama Arif-ul-Hussaini. Allama Hussaini was murdered in Peshawar in August 1988, for which the Turis held General Zia responsible. That was also the year of General Zia’s death (within a fortnight of Hussaini’s murder) in an air-crash in Bahawalpur, and for a time there was rumour of shia involvement in his assassination although no solid evidence supporting this speculation was ever uncovered. The NWFP governor General Fazle Haq, whom the Turis accused of complicity in the murder of Allama Hussaini, was ambushed and killed in 1991. (Mehram Ali, the shia terrorist who blew up the Sipah leader Maulana Zia-ur-Rehman Farooqi at the sessions court in Lahore, was trained in Parachinar).
In 1989, the Afghan mujahideen government-in-exile came into being in Peshawar after the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan. At the behest of Saudi Arabia, the exiled shia mujahideen of Iran were not included in this government. The Saudis, according to author Barnett R.Rubin in The Search for Peace in Afghanistan (page 103) paid over 23 million dollars a week during the 519-member session of the Mujahideen ‘shura’ as bribe for it. In 1990, Maulana Jhangvi was murdered at the climax of his anti-Iran and anti-shia campaign of extreme insult and denigration. The same year, as if in retaliation, an activist of Sipah-e-Sahaba shot the Iranian consul Sadiq Ganji dead in Lahore. The tit-for-tat killings were thus started. Maulana Isar-ul-Qasimi, chief of the Sipah, was gunned down in 1991.
Since then, the state of Pakistan has had to answer for the killing of more Iranians in Pakistan. Another consular officer was gunned down in Multan and a number of Iranian air force trainees were ambushed in Rawalpindi on inside information received by the killers, thus making the army not uninvolved in the sectarian mayhem. Most commentators in Pakistan are scared of telling the truth. Most inter-sectarian dialogue is fake since its great facade of speech-making is nothing but divine-sounding hogwash. Almost all Muslim clerics lie when it comes to sectarian deaths.
Published in The Friday Times, 2007