The Shia Question
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.