I Opyne

The Shia Question

with 5 comments

The term “Jewish Question” has been used in a variety of ways, but its most common usage has been an anti Semitic one; where it refers to all the “problems” that have been created because of the mere existence of the Jews. It was the Nazis who proposed a “final solution” to this question, a solution that they carried out in the death camps of Nazi Germany.

If you are a Sunni in Pakistan, it is very often that you might hear of “problems” such as; the Shia domination of decision making in our country, as well as their “perversion” of Islam. The spectrum of reactions to our very own “Shia Question” perhaps varies as much in Pakistan as the reaction to the Jewish Question used to vary in Europe. There are those who are just uncomfortable with the importance of Shias in our society while there are others who suggest solutions that are no different from those of the Nazis.

The 9th and 10th of Moharram this year passed by relatively peacefully, apart from one grenade attack in Peshawar,  the main processions dispersed safely through out the country. But the run up to the final days was marked by violence as well as the spoiling of some major terrorist plans. On December 11th, 15 people were killed when a truck bomb hit an Imam Bargah in Hangu, while terrorist plans were spoiled in Karachi, DI Khan and Quetta, that could have resulted in similar carnages as past years.

Shias in Pakistan account for around 15 to 20% of our Muslim Population, and constitute the second largest concentration of Shias in the world, Iran being the largest. According to one source our Shia minority is estimated at 30 million and surpasses the number of Shias in Iraq.  If one is to look at the history of Pakistan; our most iconic leaders have belonged to the Shia community. The Founding Father of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a Shia and so is our most popular political dynasty, i.e. the Bhuttos. It is safe to say that the Shia beliefs of these icons of Pakistan’s political history never mattered to their overwhelmingly Sunni following.

However, things began to change during the 80s, resulting in a horrific increase in sectarian violence. According to the database at South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP); in 1989, 18 people were killed in sectarian violence, during 1999 that figure rose to 86, while this year we lost a staggering, 496 people.  A report by the International Crisis Group that came out in 2005, states that around 70% of those killed in sectarian violence since 1985, belonged to the Shia community, the report further noted that presently Shia militancy in Pakistan is mostly a reaction to Deobandi militancy.

So what happened? How did a Sunni Majority Pakistan that flocked to the cause of a Shia Quaid-I-Azam and a Shia Quaid-I-Awam fall into this hopeless spiral of senseless killings? The answer lies in the Afghan Jihad, and the form our decision makers chose to sponsor it in. The rigid Wahabi interpretation of Islam, that was the driving force behind the morale of the Mujahideen, also had a very serious anti-Shia bent to it. The fatwas declaring Shias as Kafir came out during the heydays of the Afghan Jihad, the cannon fodder that was prepared for the war in Afghanistan came back to seek new infidels and found them in the form of Shias. Saudi support for the propagation of this hate was crucial, as Pakistan became the battleground for the cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The recent increase in attacks on Shias is a reflection of the growing strength of the Taliban. Thinking purely in terms of Pakistan’s national and strategic interests; if the “good” Taliban are those who simply concentrate on Americans and Afghans, and pose no harm to Pakistanis, then according to this definition, there are no good Taliban, as they all consider these 30 million Shia Pakistanis as wajib-ul-qatal, i.e. dead men walking. Our Taliban apologists in the media as well as politics, who bend over their backs in explaining the Taliban position as that of reactionary freedom fighters, completely ignore the Taliban hatred of the Shias, which is an essential part of the Taliban belief system and is not a reaction to any invasions.  Call them good or bad, a stronger Taliban would simply translate into even more violence against the Shias of Pakistan.

In the wake of attacks on Moharram processions many have expressed disdain about the need for carrying out these processions in the first place. It is believed that these processions are attacked because they offer themselves up for attacks. Well, the same logic could be applied to Juma congregations, just like Sunnis would still go to the mosque despite 180 deaths due to attacks on mosques this year, the same way the Shia would take part in Moharram processions, faith being the motivating factor in both situations.

But, the solution to this problem does not lie in curtailing religious freedoms; it lies in having an unbiased approach to this issue. The rising popularity of the Shia hating Taliban in a Sunni majority Pakistan, is a clear indication of how our biases are making us look the other way.

Appeared in Pakistan Today on the 21st of December 2010.


Written by Imran Khan

December 21, 2010 at 4:49 am

5 Responses

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  1. A great article indeed! however, the socio-political and religious situation in Pakistan is extremely complex. There are so many contributing factors that it is almost impossible to pinpoint a single historical event for current state of affairs. Afghan war forms the basis but the dictator also wanted to divide the nation to perpetuate his rule, thus forming a sectarian party. Then funding started from abroad. The funding came in many currencies, and all the parties to the conflict were beneficiaries. Today’s terrorists are not sparing anyone. Starting from religious minorities to sectarian minorities, everybody is being targeted. Explanation becomes more difficult when the same terrorists who are targeting shias in Kurram claim responsibility of suicide attacks in Peshawar, where most of the dead are supposedly of Deobandi school of thought. I don’t think if the so called Taliban have a religious ideology, instead they have only one objective, destabilizing Pakistan.

    Fasial Azam

    December 22, 2010 at 6:36 am

    • I agree with you Faisal, that is something that Taliban apologists need to take into account. These apologists are building up misguided expectations among the sunnis, that these taliban are solely driven by revenge, which is not the case. Although I would disagree with you, when you say that the Taliban dont have a religious ideology. I think they do have an ideology and are literally willing to die for it. I dont think the average Talib does things knowing that he is doing something wrong. They stand justified according to their version of good vs bad, and expect to be rewarded for their acts. They are actually out to rescue all of us from the fires of hell.

      Imran Khan

      December 22, 2010 at 7:00 am

  2. I was thinking how to articulate my opinion and the solution came in by an ironic way. I remember a slogan by the lashkar jhangi group, ” Kafir Kafir Shia Kafir, Jo na manay wo bi Kafir” thus turning 90 per cent of pakistanis into kafirs. Yes Taliban are terrorists but don’t consider Taliban apologists in the same league as the Taliban. What are American doing in Afghanistan and FATA? Did afghans or tribals plan and execute attacks on USA, or were they planning any such attack. First the American came to Afghanistan, then they extended drone attacks to FATA and now there is a talk of “hot persuit” in FATA. There were no Taliban in Pakistan before the Americans arrived in Afghanistan. One can never justify voilence but voilence begets voilence.

    Fasial Azam

    December 22, 2010 at 9:39 am

    • No, they are definitely not in the same league, I saw Shireen Mazari in Kohisar Market a few days back, she had colored a patch of hair in the 7 colors of a rainbow. You could have mistaken her for a hippie but that is unless you have never heard her talk.

      In Peshawar there used to be many apologists of the Taliban like her, i.e. in the days when the Taliban were beheading people in Afghanistan. You cant find many these days, especially those who would have a “normal” lifestyle like Ms. Mazari. She also will not want these Taliban safehouses to be built in E 11 for instance or Gulberg Lahore. What pisses me off is that these guys are completely fine with the Taliban calling the shots in the Tribal areas.

      The drone strikes should be seen in the context of Pakistan’s interference in Afghanistan. Iran is not getting any drone attacks neither are any of the central Asian republics, because the Taliban are not welcome there. I can introduce you to a few people from Waziristan who term these attacks as divine retribution in response to the havoc that the Taliban have created in Tribal areas. Someone wrote a piece sometime back, in which he pointed out that the drones are referred to as “Ababeels” i.e. ref to Surah al Feel, by locals in Miran shah.

      I think we lost a great opportunity to rid ourselves of this menace that the US, Saudi Arabia and Pak Fauj alliance created in the 80s. Once the US withdraws, god knows, how we are ever going to handle these guys.

      You are right when you say that violence begets violence, but the Taliban themselves were no khudai-khidmatgars, al-qaeda had a safe haven in Afghanistan, and they have confessed to carrying out 9/11. Mullah Umar had the opportunity as well as the desire (as testified by Raheem Ullah Yusufzai) to evict Osama out of Afghanistan, but he didnt because his followers would have never allowed such a thing. They are to blame for calling the bulldozer onto Afghanistan.

      The only thing we Pakistanis need to do is to stop interfering in Afghanistan, and set our own house in order.

      Imran Khan

      December 22, 2010 at 11:48 am

      • Imran, your response is befitting of a separate post in itself.
        @Faisal, the violence against minorities in Pakistan by Taliban-affliated Jihadi groups is not just random but because of hate. Similarly, Pushtuns, both Sunnis and Shias are being killed because of standing up to the Taliban. Also, please don’t fall for this rubbish that there were no Taliban in Pakistan before 9/11. The Taliban were “formed” by the security establishment to ensure that Pakistan could mantain a grip on Afghanistan.

        Ali Abbas

        December 23, 2010 at 8:22 pm

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