Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sectarianism and Sects - V


The State of Sectarianism in Pakistan Asia Report Nº95 18 April 2005


A. Sectarian Extremism and the State

Pakistan is not a nation-state: it is an Islamic state.

Niamatullah Khan, City Nazim (Mayor) and former chief of JI, Karachi

"When a state claims a theocratic mission, it is bound to provoke conflicts over whose model shall prevail .…when religion is pushed explicitly into politics it becomes a currency of power". The manner in which sectarian terrorism in Pakistan has been shaped and the forms it has taken are intrinsically linked to the state's role in politicising religion. It is, therefore, important to trace the origin and development of Pakistan's faith-based exclusionary politics and to assess the ways in which sectarian issues have figured in its constitutional and political history. It is also important to examine the political and sociological developments that have raised the clergy's political profile and intensified sectarian competition.

B. Roots of Religious Extremism

Who is a Muslim? What statement of creed does a Muslim make? Such sectarian questions were not central to Muslim politics in British India. Sir Aga Khan III, the spiritual leader of Ismaili Shias, was the first president of the All India Muslim League, which later led the movement for Pakistan. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founder, was a Shia and yet became the undisputed leader of Indian Muslims. Lucknow, in Uttar Pradesh, was the only town in British India where Sunni-Shia tensions were known to turn violent. That, too, was a rare occurrence. The elite that had represented Muslims in the military, civil and political institutions of British India sought a new state to consolidate and expand their power on the grounds of religion. Lacking a popular support base in the new state they had created, the ruling Muslim League's leadership continued to use Islam to legitimise their power. This attempt to appropriate Islamic terminology and its ideological metaphors presented the ulema, mystics, mosques and madrasas, the traditional representatives of Islam, who had no representation in the new power structures, with an opportunity to make their political presence felt. Shabbir Ahmed Usmani, a Deobandi and the only religious scholar in the constituent assembly tasked to frame Pakistan's first constitution, had joined the Muslim League. He moved the Objectives Resolution, which was adopted by the assembly in March 1949 as the basis for a future constitution (and was incorporated in Pakistan's present constitution) . It proclaimed that sovereignty over the universe belongs to Allah and that the authority delegated by Allah to Pakistan should be exercised in a manner that enables Muslims "to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam". Ulema like Usmani and the JI's founder Maududi, themselves migrants to Pakistan, had very little popular support in either the West or the East wing. In West Pakistan (the territory of present day Pakistan) Pirs, mystic divines -- the hereditary custodians of shrines -- dominated the spiritual scene, especially in Punjab and Sindh, and political discourse was shaped far more by ethnicity and regionalism than by religion.

The mullahs and their religious parties were aware that an Islamic constitution would give them access to public policymaking. In their struggle for such a constitution, they drew their political methodology from the four major currents of Muslim thinking and activity in British India:

 mass agitation, such as the Khilafat movement and Hijrat movement (1920--1924) in the wake of the First World War;

 institutions of Islamic learning, such as the madrasas at Deoband, Bareily and Lucknow;

 revivalist movements, aiming to restore the past glory of Islam by going back to its fundamentals, such as the JI; and

 mullah activism in the Pashtun tribal area adjoining Afghanistan, which had assumed the shape of local rebellion against colonial rule.

Pakistani radical Islam has since encompassed all four strands, taking the shape of "street agitation, anti-Western intellectual discourse, religious scholarship of madrasas and the potential for a xenophobic tribal rebellion in NWFP". The anti-Ahmadi movement during Pakistan's formative years demonstrates how these currents coalesced and took the shape of sectarian violence.

1. The Munir Report

The present Shia-Deobandi conflict is in many ways an extension and continuation of the anti-Ahmadi agitation, launched by the ulema soon after Pakistan's independence. Pressuring the government to classify the Ahmadi, a relatively new, small but politically influential community, as non-Muslim, ulema parties in 1952 demanded but failed to achieve the removal of Pakistan's first foreign minister, Sir Zafarullah Khan, a high-ranking member. Ulema of all Sunni sects as well as prominent Shia leaders joined in the anti-Ahmadi agitation, and public sentiment was incited to such a high pitch that Punjab, and especially its capital Lahore, "became the scene of a vast hunt where thousands of citizens rioted murderously … in almost pogrom-like fashion". As the movement spread, the military intervened in the city in 1953, the first imposition of martial law in Pakistan. The government appointed a public judicial court of inquiry to investigate the cause of the riots, which resulted in the Munir Commission Report. Among other things, the report invited the protesting ulema to define who, in their opinion, could be considered a Muslim and concluded:

Keeping in view the several definitions given by the ul[e]ma, need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental. If we attempt our own definition as each learned divine has done and that definition differs from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of the fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the ul[e]ma, we remain Muslims according to the view of that alim but kafirs (apostates) according to the definition of everyone else.

The status of Shias was also debated, since leading Deobandi ulema had issued similar edicts of apostasy against them. "What is happening now", said the judges, "seems almost a writing on the wall, and God help us if we do not stop these…people from cutting each other's throat". But the inquiry's adverse findings did not deter the religious parties. The "movement to defend the finality of prophethood" continued to gain strength, with the mullahs raising the issue at religious gatherings, and anti-Ahmadi sentiment continued to gain popular support. Since then, Ahmadis have been considered social and religious pariahs by most Pakistani Muslims.

Following riots that began in Rabwa (also known as Chenab Nagar), the Ahmadi religious centre in Punjab, the anti-Ahmadi movement ultimately led to a constitutional amendment in 1974 that officially excluded the sect from Islam. That concession only further emboldened the ulema. Sustained pressure from the clergy resulted in further Ahmadi-specific laws in 1984, barring the community from using Islamic symbols and nomenclature. The Sunni ulema unions that were formed to agitate against the Ahmadis were the first of their kind, as they focused on a one-point sectarian agenda. They have since played a central role in influencing the origins and directions of anti-Shia militancy. Many leading activists of the Sunni terrorist organisation, the Sipahe Sahaba, began their political careers in anti-Ahmadi organisations.

2. Inching ahead

Pakistan's first constitution in 1956 was a partial success for the religious right since it declared the country an Islamic Republic and required the president to be a Muslim but did not define a Muslim. However, the constitution, framed by an unelected parliament, was abrogated by General Mohammad Ayub Khan, Pakistan's first military ruler, in 1958. Confronting a restive population, the government decided to nationalise Auqaf (Islamic endowments), and establish an Auqaf Department, to undercut the power of the pirs and shrines. This enabled Sunni puritanical forces to make inroads into the domain of their religious competitors. It was during this period that madrasas formed unions to forward their agenda of Islamising the Pakistani state and society. Seeking legitimacy for his rule, General Ayub Khan created his own constitution in 1962, based on a strongly centralised presidential system with few checks and balances on the executive's authority. Under direct military rule, internal factionalism, including sectarianism, inevitably grew. Despite its reformist rhetoric, the military government also sought to co-opt the mullahs. While Ayub disallowed political freedoms, he sought the views of the religious parties on his proposed constitution and the Deobandi JUI demanded restrictions on Shia mourning processions and other rituals. The Deobandi ulema also sought to use the constitution to restrict Shia activities to the precincts of Imambaras (Shia mosques). Although these proposals were rejected, the Deobandi clergy had been given an opportunity to exploit religion for political ends. It was during Ayub's reign that the first anti-Shia killings took place. In June 1963, over 100 Shias were killed in Tehri village, in Khairpur district, Sindh:

To call the 1963 killings a riot is not an apt description. It was an act of mass killings. The dead bodies were thrown into a well to cover the massacre. Had it not been for timely media exposure and strong intervention from police, the event might never have come to public knowledge.

The next time an anti-Shia attack on this scale took place was during another period of military rule, under General Zia-ul-Haq. The military developed its first institutional links with the mullahs under Ayub's successor, President and Army Chief General Yahya Khan (1969-1972). Facing opposition from the PPP in West Pakistan and the Bengali nationalist movement in East Pakistan, the Yahya regime decided to use Islamist extremists to counter its political foes. JI vigilante groups were, for instance, given free rein to conduct a campaign of terror against the Bengalis of the East wing in the bloody civil war that eventually resulted in Pakistan's dismemberment and the formation of Bangladesh. With the military's support, the religio-political parties also entered mainstream politics, obtaining eighteen of 300 National Assembly (lower house of parliament) seats, all in the West wing, during the 1970 elections. The Deobandi JUI obtained seven seats in NWFP and Balochistan and later formed coalition governments in the two provinces, even obtaining the NWFP's chief ministership. The Barelvi JUP won seven and the Jamaat-i-Islami four seats. During the Bhutto era, perceiving his populist politics as a direct challenge to its power, an ambitious, interventionist military high command once again forged an alliance of convenience with the mullahs, which was ultimately used to oust the elected government in 1977. Bhutto's attempts to appease the mullahs, his main opposition, only whetted their appetite for political power. His concessions included the constitutional amendment that officially excommunicated the Ahmadis. To reward his Shia supporters, Bhutto also accepted a longstanding Shia demand for a separate Islamic studies syllabus in schools. Yet, Bhutto's 1973 constitution made only token gestures to the religious right. Although it pledged, for instance, to Islamise all laws within ten years, its federal, parliamentary character provided far more space for democratic, secular politics. However, the Sunni mullahs came into their own under General Zia-ul-Haq.

3. Zia's Sunnism

The only kind of politicians Zia liked were religious politicians as they were amenable to the military's plans and did not raise the issues of people's rights and development….Religion was used as a means of political distraction.

Senator Sanaullah Baloch

Over the last 25 years, the more orthodox and militant versions of Sunni Islam have grown in strength and public influence. This trend can be directly attributed to Zia's martial law (1977-1988). His Islamisation policies encouraged and promoted all types of movements but the conservative Deobandis, Ahle Hadith and the JI were the main beneficiaries.

Zia's divisive Islamisation drive was comprehensive. It included:

 reconstitution of the Council of Islamic Ideology to include conservative Sunni ulema, resulting in the resignation of the Shia and Barelvi members;

 introduction of constitutional amendments to set up a federal Sharia Court, whose members generally belonged to the conservative ulema;

 promulgation of the Hudood ordinances, legalising the ulema's bias against women and non-Muslims;

 systematic segregation of minorities through the Blasphemy laws;
 steps to Islamise the banking system;

 promulgation of the Zakat and Ushr (Islamic tithes) Ordinance of 1980, with 10 per cent of zakat funds earmarked for madrasas, the first time they received official funding;

 reform of the public education curricula, with a greater emphasis on Islamic principles (the final madrasa degree was granted parity with a Master's degree in formal education, and gender segregation at educational institutions became a norm);

 establishment of an Islamic University and Sharia faculty with Saudi money;

 propagation of orthodox Islamic values in the print and broadcast media;

 obligatory prayer breaks in government offices and schools, making sectarian identification possible; and

 discriminatory rules and regulations requiring job applicants and those seeking passport and national identity cards to declare their religion.

Sectarian militancy as it is now known first appeared at educational institutions when the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT), JI's student wing, used violence against its opponents at campuses across Pakistan, taking control of major educational institutions and forcing secular and progressive student movements to retreat, with state support. Though it claims to be non-sectarian, the JI's student wing was equally intolerant of the student wings of other religious parties, such as the Barelvi Anjmun-e-Talaba Islam and JUI's Jamiat-e-Talaba Islam. Zia's promotion of Deobandi orthodoxy alienated Shias and Barelvis, while the spread of jihadi literature from Afghan training camps to Pakistani madrasas helped implant radical ideas in impressionable poverty-stricken children. Similar texts became part of the formal system of education. Islamisation of education and student politics created mass sectarian consciousness far beyond the confines of the madrasa. Since then, "instead of teaching religion, governments seek to teach 'correct' religion".

Tensions between Barelvis and Deobandis also grew over a number of issues, including control over Sunni mosques. The appointment of khateebs (mosque orators, chaplains) and imams at the Auqaf Department mosques became a bone of contention. "There is a district khateeb and at least one Auqaf mosque in every town and city. The Auqaf Department under Zia preferred graduates of Wafaq al-Madaris. Hundreds of mosques that were being run by Barelvis thus fell into Deobandi hands", says Mufti Fayyaz, who runs a Tanzeem al-Madaris seminary. Distribution of zakat funds was equally lopsided in favour of Deobandi and Ahle Hadith madrasas. But when the dominant Deobandi madrasas supported the anti-military alliance, the Movement for Restoration of Democracy, in PPP's Sindh stronghold and refused to accept zakat, the government opted to support Barelvi madrasas in the province. This cynical use of Islam for political, military, and geostrategic purposes fuelled an intense sectarian competition. During the Afghan civil war, Pakistani Islamic parties, especially JI and JUI, accumulated immense financial resources, weapons and trained cadres of fighters. They also gained access to the international market and developed transnational links. Such incentives resulted in the multiplication of parties in the name of religion. The Zia era witnessed a dramatic shift towards extremist Sunni political discourse, orthodoxy and a heightening of anti-Shia militancy, early signs of the bloody sectarian conflict to follow. According to a 1978 editorial in Al-Haq, a publication of madrasa Haqqaniya of Maulana Samiul Haq, the alma mater of many of Afghanistan' s Taliban leaders:

We must also remember that Shias consider it their religious duty to harm and eliminate the Ahle-Sunnah.…the Shias have always conspired to convert Pakistan into a Shia state….They have been conspiring with our foreign enemies and with the Jews. It was through such conspiracies that the Shias masterminded the separation of East Pakistan and thus satiated their thirst for the blood of the Sunnis.

The SSP, formed in 1985 with a one-point anti-Shia agenda, was a logical extension of the JUI's sectarian politics and also represented a state-sponsored and Saudi-backed movement against Pakistan's Iran-backed Shia minority.

4. External actors and Pakistani sectarianism

The Shia-Deobandi/ Ahle Hadith conflict is in some ways a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the regional champions of their respective brands of Islam. Antipathy to Saudi-Wahhabi politics and religion is not exclusively a Shia trait. Sunni, Sufi-based constituencies and the Barelvi ulema also oppose the expanding Wahhabi influence in Pakistan and look for ways to contain it. Until the 1979 Iranian revolution, Pakistani Shias were a politically moderate community, and their associations had limited aims, such as a separate Islamic textbook. Most Shias supported Bhutto's PPP in the 1970 elections. Zia's Islamisation and the Iranian revolution spurred them into political activism. Their first political party, Tehrik Nifaz-e-Fiqhe Jafaria (TNFJ), was founded in 1979. In a Sunni majority country the party's very title, the "movement for implementing the Jafari Fiqh (Shia jurisprudence) ", reflected a revolutionary idealism. For the Zia government and its Sunni allies, this was perceived as an Iranian conspiracy to export its revolution to Pakistan. As the only Shia Islamic state, Iran occupies a unique position in the Shia world. Many Shias look to it for a degree of political support and direction. After the Iranian revolution, the Shia centre of learning and spiritual guidance moved from Najaf in Iraq to Qom in Iran. Iran's special role in the life of Pakistani Shias can be judged also from the institution of khums (one-fifth income deduction). The money is collected in Pakistan by wakils (attorneys), on behalf of Maraje Uzzam, Iranian clerics who specialize in fiqh (jurisprudence) and whose religious edicts are binding on all Shias. The wakils also collect other donations from affluent Shias, transferring them to designated ayatollahs responsible for redistributing the funds to promote Shia education, ceremonies and welfare projects. The Iranian government has no direct role in managing or distributing them. The Iranian government does extend political support to Shia minorities in Pakistan. During the Zia period, this was inevitable given his aggressive Sunni Deobandi Islamisation policies, and alliance with the U.S. Iran and Saudi Arabia's proxy war in Pakistan was further fuelled by the U.S.-supported anti-Soviet Afghan jihad, in which Pakistan's military government was an active player. Aside from competing for control over Afghan groups, Iran and Saudi Arabia supported their respective Pakistani religious allies. It is believed that Saudi Arabia alone gave $3.5 billion to the Pakistan military for the Afghan jihad, most of which was spent in strengthening and arming Sunni groups on either side of the Afghanistan- Pakistan border. Madrasas mushroomed not only in the NWFP and Balochistan but also in Karachi and central Punjab. A parallel non-governmental sector of Islamic charities complemented the jihad, with the volume of direct donations from Saudi individuals and charities hard to determine. Kuwait and Libya also contributed. Iraq, under Saddam, actively sponsored anti-Iranian Pakistani madrasas and parties. A less known aspect of Shia mobilisation in the 1980s was their proselytising activities. Shia preachers, once discreet, became overt and aggressive, increasing sectarian tensions. When Zia gave in to Shia agitation and exempted them from the zakat deduction, Shias were required to file sworn affidavits to affirm their faith, making the sectarian distinction formal. Proactive Shia clerics, with Iran's support, saw in the situation an opportunity to proselytise aggressively, resulting in an equally aggressive Sunni response. "If you look at where the most [Sunni] madrasas were constructed [in Balochistan] , you will realise that they form a wall blocking off Iran from Pakistan", says a Baloch politician. In the process, the Sunni clergy was given an opportunity to reach out to regions hitherto untouched by sectarian extremism. The militant Sunni backlash, given vent through the SSP, set into motion a seemingly unending cycle of violence. In March 1987, a Saudi-backed Ahle Hadith leader, Allama Ehsan Illahi Zaheer, and four other clerics were killed in a bomb blast in Lahore. The Shias were the prime suspects. The following year, TNFJ leader Ariful Hussaini was murdered in Peshawar. When the Shia town of Gilgit in the Northern Areas was attacked that same year by a Sunni lashkar, the Zia government appeared complicit since the civil and military law enforcement agencies made no attempt to intervene. Zia's death in a midair explosion in 1988 brought back civilian rule after eleven years. By that time, sectarianism had become "relevant to the military's domestic political agenda", and it has continued to figure prominently in its Afghan and Kashmir policy.

5. Sectarianism and the challenges of civilian rule

The religious terrorists we face are fighting us on every level -- militarily, economically, psychologically, and spiritually. Their military weapons are powerful, but spiritual dread is the most dangerous weapon in their arsenal.

Jessica Stern

Transfer of power to civilians during the 1990s did not deprive the military of its control over foreign policy or end its interference in domestic politics. Those domestic and external policies the military pursued included promotion of both the internal and external jihads, the former inadvertently, the latter consciously. Domestically, the first PPP government, headed by Benazir Bhutto, faced an aggressive opposition alliance, the Islamic Democratic Front, "cobbled together by the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate] , which turned a blind eye to Sunni sectarian activities in Punjab, and sought to balance the PPP's Shia base with a Sunni one of its own". Externally, the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir gained momentum, giving the military an opportunity to conduct a proxy war against India, a jihad that would soon have repercussions for Pakistan itself. The pioneers of the insurgency were the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), JI's jihadi wing and the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a secular Kashmir nationalist party. With the military's patronage, Pakistani and Afghan jihadis joined them, as the military used the JI to intensify the insurgency. Every mainstream Pakistani religio-political party and sect joined the Kashmir jihad through groups such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Harkatul Mujahideen and Jamiat al-Mujahideen. Within Pakistan, a generation of sectarian zealots from the Zia era had come of age. Until 1990, the SSP and TNFJ were the two main protagonists. SSP founder Haq Nawaz Jhangvi's murder in February 1990 led to the creation of its twin organisation, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The Sipahe Mohammed Pakistan, the Shia response to the SSP, emerged in the early 1990s as a surrogate of the TNFJ. Arab-influenced veterans of the Afghan jihad formed the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LT) in 1988 and, with the military's patronage, launched their jihad against India, creating an entirely new movement of Ahle Hadith militancy. By 1992 the traditionally non-violent Barelvis, too, had a militant group. In Karachi, Saleem Qadri set up the Sunni Tehrik, designating the Deobandis as his main adversaries. The murders of Deobandi scholars in Karachi in the late 1990s, including Binori Town chief Yusuf Ludhianvi, are attributed to the Sunni Tehrik. The numbers of less prominent jihadi and sectarian groups now run into the hundreds.

In 1994 during Benazir Bhutto's second term, with the Pakistan military's patronage and her parliamentary ally, the JUI-F, playing a pivotal role, the Afghan Taliban were launched, resulting in major implications for sectarianism in Pakistan. Pakistan's regional jihad, in India and Afghanistan, produced an escalation of domestic sectarian conflict. In 1997, celebrations of the 50th year of independence were accompanied by an unprecedented wave of sectarian killings. More than 100 people, mainly Shias, were killed in ten days. Local militant movements sought to replicate the Taliban system. Emboldened by the movement's success in Afghanistan, many Tehrik-e-Taliban (the movement of the Taliban) leaders set up their own Sharia-based systems in Pakistan's tribal areas. One, Tehreek-e-Nifaz- e-Shariat- e-Mohammadi (TNSM, the movement for the enforcement of Mohammad's Sharia), forced the Nawaz Sharif government to enact Sharia laws in the Swat-Malakand area of NWFP in 1998. The Taliban also helped reinforce the old jihad ties between Pakistani sectarian groups and drug and smuggling cartels in Afghanistan. That mutually beneficial relationship resulted in the "Islamisation of criminal activity and criminalisation of segments of Islamism in Pakistan". Hundreds of Pashtun and Punjabi youth entered Afghanistan and joined Taliban-operated terrorist training camps, inspired by a Sunni revolution and anti-Shia jihad. Sipahe Sahaba militants took part in massacres of Shias and in battles against the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Just as the military denied the Bhutto and Sharif governments control of Pakistan's Kashmir or Afghanistan policies, it also made and unmade governments, dismissing four successive elected governments before they completed their terms of office. But each elected government had to bear the brunt of sectarian violence and the resultant insecurity and alienation it generated.
During Sharif's first term of office, for instance, sectarian violence spread from traditional arenas such as Jhang in Punjab, Parachinar in NWFP, and Gilgit in the Northern Areas to the urban heartland. The nature of attacks also changed. The initial pattern of targeting leaders, diplomats and other high-profile figures widened to include mosques, public places, graveyards and religious processions. Government functionaries, judges, police officials and professionals were killed solely on the basis of their sectarian identity. Both the Bhutto and Sharif governments took some steps to quell sectarianism but with scant success. Given the military's backing for the regional jihad, Bhutto had little option but to withdraw her decision to audit the finances of madrasas, reform their hate-based curricula, and end their jihadi training. Sharif's attempts to curtail sectarian extremism also failed. Although the political needs of both prime ministers resulted in some concessions to the religious right, such as Bhutto's alliance with the JUI-F and Sharif's Sharia bill, they at least attempted to crack down on sectarian groups. It is difficult to assess if they would have succeeded had their governments survived. Yet, even the sporadic efforts to deal with sectarian extremists, such as that by Bhutto in 1995 and Sharif in 1997 and 1998, were more thorough than Musharraf's current policies.

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