THE STATE OF SECTARIANISM IN PAKISTAN EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS:
The State of Sectarianism in Pakistan Asia Report Nº95 18 April 2005
Balochistan, which comprises 43 per cent of Pakistan's territory but only 9 per cent of its population, has been used by the military as the launching pad for its interventionist policies towards Afghanistan since the 1980s, first against the Soviets, through a network of Deobandi madrasas, and then, using the same madrasas, to back the Taliban. As a result of this state-sponsored militancy, there is now sectarian strife in a province where it was unknown. In 1950, Balochistan had only seven madrasas, a number that increased to 1,045 by 2003. More than half are controlled by the Deobandi JUI-F and are mostly in Pashtun majority areas of districts such as Quetta, Pishin, Qilla Abdullah, Chagai, and Loralai. Now in government, the Deobandis are pouring resources into their madrasa network to consolidate and expand their political hold over the province. Sectarian violence in Balochistan is also the byproduct of proxy wars between Iran and the Arabs represented respectively by the Shia Hazara refugees settled in the provincial capital Quetta, and the Pashtun, pro-Taliban Afghan refugee population. The influx of Afghan refugees has also upset the delicate demographic balance between the province's Baloch and Pashtun communities. The Baloch fear that this influx and continued migration from other Pakistani provinces will reduce them to a minority in their resource-rich but sparsely populated homeland. Alienated by the military's infringement of their political rights and the centre's exploitation of their resources, the Baloch are also deeply concerned about the rise of sectarian militancy. "The tribal culture in Balochistan is not as immersed in religion as the tribes in FATA and NWFP", says Senator Sanaullah Baloch of the Balochistan National Party. Indeed, the province had not experienced Shia-Sunni or other religious conflicts before the influx of Afghan Islamic extremists and the growing Deobandi influence, both byproducts of the military's policies. Secular Pashtuns are equally concerned about the military's support of the Sunni religious right and the continuous expansion of JUI-F Deobandi madrasas in Pashtun majority areas. Accusing the army of rigging the 2002 polls to engineer a JUI victory, a Pashtun leader says, "Pashtuns are quintessentially and almost exclusively Muslims but the mullah has never been the voice of the Pashtun. The MMA owes its election success to the military's machinations aimed at countering the nationalists (regional forces) in Balochistan" . There is indeed cause for concern. With the military's backing, the JUI-F has been handed the reins of power in Balochistan. In the coalition government with the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League, JUI-F Ministers are in charge of most important portfolios including irrigation and power, planning and development, food, agriculture, education, religious affairs, local bodies, communications, health, minorities' affairs, information and information technology, and engineering. They also control the Balochistan Development Authority. These ministries receive the bulk of budgetary allocations, thus giving the JUI-F a disproportionate share of power in comparison to its political strength. The Deobandi party is translating that access to provincial resources, as well as international assistance disbursed by the federal government to JUI-F controlled ministries, to expand its political hold over the Pashtun belt, previously the political stronghold of secular and moderate parties such as the Pashtoonkhawa Milli Awami Party, the Awami National Party and the PPP. In Balochistan, as elsewhere in Pakistan, Deobandi madrasa networks are strengthening the ranks of sectarian extremists, including the SSP, with homegrown sectarian extremists finding allies among Afghan Islamic extremists, including the Taliban. Since 2002,
sectarian terrorists have attacked five major Shia processions and mosques in Quetta. The deadliest attack, in which 45 Shias were killed, was on Ashura day in March 2004. The main target was the anti-Taliban Shia Hazara community. While the links between the JUI-F and the Taliban are more than evident, the party's attitude towards al Qaeda is more difficult to determine. Although an Egyptian al Qaeda suspect was arrested from the madrasa of a JUI-F leader, leading to an MMA protest in parliament in August 2004, the party's secretary general dismisses any involvement in terrorism even as he disclaims the existence of al Qaeda itself. "Al Qaeda is a phantom created by America. There is no al Qaeda among us in Balochistan. It has become a fashion with our ministers to make such allegations" , he says. In this particular case, the Musharraf government did not follow up on Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat's claims of JUI's culpability but instead removed him from his post. Nevertheless, Pakistani law enforcement agencies have continued publicly and regularly to disclose the arrests of Chechens, Uzbeks and Arab militants from other Deobandi madrasas. The JUI-F, however, still insists there is no connection between sectarian terrorism and the madrasa. After the 2004 Ashura massacre was attributed by law enforcement agencies to the SSP, JUI leaders emphasised that none of the terrorists in the attack had a madrasa background; they were not from Quetta; and their party and the SSP were separate entities. Shias disagree. "The SSP could not have come into being and then survived in Balochistan without the JUI network of madrasas", says a Shia scholar. "At least in Balochistan, that distinction is a farce". Positing itself as the protector of the Shias and the keeper of the Shia faith, Iran has also contributed to the rising tide of sectarian sentiment. "The conflict had first appeared in the remote, impoverished areas of Mastung, Pishin and the Taftan border region as a reaction to Shia preaching activity. And [Deobandi] madrasas in this region were established not only to support the Afghan jihad but more so to check the proactive Iran-backed Shia clergy", says an analyst. Although sectarian terrorism has made its presence felt in Quetta, this is still a relatively new phenomenon in the province. A change in the state's policies, including an end to its patronage of the Deobandis, combined with decisive action against sectarian extremists, could contain this threat before it spreads to other areas of Balochistan.
Sectarian violence is endemic in Karachi, Sindh's capital and Pakistan's largest city, where 75 Shias and Deobandis were killed in sniper shootings and terrorist attacks on mosques in 2004. Sunni victims included high-ranking clerics of the jihadi, pro-Taliban Binori Town madrasa and prominent Sipahe Sahaba leaders. It is believed that these attacks were in retaliation for the killing of Shias in Karachi and elsewhere. Strikes and more violence have followed each attack as rampaging mobs sought revenge. The city is the hub of sectarian organisations of every hue. Sectarian extremists find ready cadres from hundreds of madrasas, Sunni and Shia, in Sindh. Karachi had only four madrasas in 1950; and 20 in 1971, of which only four were Deobandi and one Shia. According to official estimates, there are now 979 madrasas in the city, out of 2,012 in Sindh. Deobandis claim they have 3,000 seminaries in the province, half in Karachi. Madrasa administrators also claim there are 791 Barelvi madrasas in Sindh (550 in Karachi and Hyderabad, Sindh's second largest city, which, like Karachi, is a Mohajir stronghold); 121 Shia madrasas (36 in Karachi) and 56 Ahle Hadith madrasas (30 in Karachi). "Shias are a quarter of Karachi's population but there was no sectarian violence before the jihadis came home from Afghanistan and Kashmir", says Anwar Raza Abidi, a Shia student leader. Shia militancy, he insists, is a response to Sunni extremism. But domestic factors have been as much at play. Karachi became the hub of religious politics soon after Pakistan's inception and the influx of Mohajirs, who were represented by their politico-religious parties, including the JI and the Barelvi JUP. The JI, with the military's support, remained the dominant political force until the mid-1980s, forcibly controlling college and university campuses through its student wing, the Islami Jamiat Talaba. In the mid-1980s, again with the military's support, a new Mohajir political force, the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM, now renamed the Muttahida Quami Movement), which included many JI activists, succeeded the religious party and consolidated its hold, much like its predecessor, through violence. Political violence was thus already a fact of Karachi life when, by the mid-1990s, Shia-Sunni violence engulfed it as the ranks of sectarian extremists grew, aided by the city's madrasa networks. Since then, more than 500 people have been killed in sectarian attacks, with Shias bearing the brunt of the violence. Sunni extremists have systematically targeted Shia professionals, forcing thousands to migrate. The JI District Nazim of Karachi insists, "there is no sectarianism in Karachi. It is the work of the 'agencies' (Pakistan's intelligence agencies) that had first used (MQM) terror groups to undermine the Jamaat-i-Islami. What goes on in the name of sectarianism now is also the work of the same mafias". But Karachi's Deobandi madrasas gave birth to many of the most virulent jihadi and sectarian organisations. For example, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, a faction of the JUI-backed Harkatul Mujahideen, came into being at the Binori Town madrasa in February 2000. Much like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, it draws support and even its cadre from the Sipahe Sahaba. Since 11 September 2001, Karachi has been a refuge for al Qaeda personnel on the run and has harboured that organisation' s natural allies, including sectarian groups like the Jaish and the SSP. According to Taj Haider, the PPP's central information secretary and a former Senator from Karachi, "Terrorists and their mafias need the cover of sectarian, linguistic and political organisations. Terrorists of a certain organisation slide into another when their original organisation comes under pressure". Most attacks on Western targets, including the murder of the U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl, have taken place in Karachi. For Taj Haider, state patronage is the critical link between international jihad and domestic sectarianism. "Unfortunately, it was the ISI which promoted such extremist elements for achieving its objectives in Afghanistan and Kashmir", he says. Indeed, jihadis, the clerical elite that thrives on sectarian politics, and arms traders who live off them have benefited from the state's external policies. But the state's domestic preferences, too, including the deliberate sidelining of the moderate political forces, have contributed to extremism. Until the Musharraf government changes its policy preferences and takes decisive action against homegrown terrorists, Karachi will likely remain a violent city. A former police official fears more bloodshed in the coming months and years:
The fact remains that the government has not made any inroads in curbing militant extremism. Any determined government with a functioning intelligence network can penetrate these groups and stop the damage before it takes place. That requires a change in government policies and priorities, which, on the present evidence, is hard to imagine.