Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sectarianism and Sects - VI


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

V. Reign of Terror

A region-by-region analysis of the shape and directions of sectarian terrorism can best demonstrate the seriousness of the current threat.

A. Punjab

With 68 per cent of its population living in rural areas, Punjab is still an agrarian society. Though weakened considerably by the Auqaf Department and puritanical Sunni movements, Sufi Islam and its Barelvi component have the largest following. Except for some rural pockets in southern Punjab and around industrial towns such as Gujranwala and Faisalabad, militant sectarianism has not taken root in the villages. But urban areas are hard hit by sectarianism and awash in jihadi movements. Mumtaz Ahmed identifies three groups as most active in sectarian violence: the bazaar (market) merchants, who finance sectarian organisations; the madrasa students, who provide the manpower for these movements and parties; and the semi-educated unemployed youth in urban centres, who act as hired guns for organisations such as the Sipahe Sahaba and the Sipahe Muhammad. Religious parties lack a popular base in Punjab, where mainstream moderate parties, particularly the PML (N) and the PPP, remain the main contenders for power, or will be once again when there is an even playing field. Until then, the military-created PML (Q) will remain the dominant political force. Yet, the military's sidelining of the two most popular and moderate parties has expanded the political space for sectarian actors like the Sipahe Sahaba, enhancing the potential for sectarian violence.

1. Southern Punjab

Southern Punjab, particularly the belt that stretches from Jhang to Dera Ghazi Khan, has the highest rate of growth and concentration of madrasas in the province. It is also the stronghold of the Sipahe Sahaba and its twin, the Lahskar-e-Jhangvi. Jhang, a city at the cusp of southern and central Punjab, is the birthplace of organised sectarian militancy not just in Punjab but countrywide. Jhang district has a population of 3 million, a quarter of which is Shia. Half of Jhang's urban population are migrants from East Punjab, many of whom belong to the Deobandi sect. Local Sunnis and Shias have no history of conflict. While sectarian politics in Jhang dates back to the 1960s, other than the occasional skirmish during Muharram, anti-Shia violence was unknown until Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, then vice president of the JUI, Punjab, formed the SSP in September 1985 and openly espoused sectarian militancy. Jhangvi, who started his career in Deobandi mosques and was well known for anti-Barevli and anti-Ahmadi campaigns, focused his attention on the Shias. SSP workers, for instance, would take over the city and set up pickets to single out and target Shias and prevent them from conducting their religious rituals. A Shia leader says, "It was [more] convenient to pose as a non-Muslim in such situations and pass by". The two sects now live in separate parts of the city. More than 300 Shias were killed in sectarian violence between 1985 and 1989 in Jhang district before Jhangvi was murdered in January 1990.

The Sipah Sahaba's rise (it now has a vote bank of 40,000 to 60,000 in Jhang city) reflects the district's socio-economic divisions. Bazar merchants (including traders, shopkeepers and businessmen) support the SSP to counter the traditional political dominance of Shia and Sunni pir families. The SSP also receives funds from expatriates in the Middle East. "The politically weak but economically strong migrants in urban Jhang challenged, with Zia's support, the politically strong landowners of the rural areas", says Zafarullah Khan, a resident of Jhang. Other than bazaar merchants and urban, educated youth, madrasas are the mainstay of the SSP's politics. Its sister organisation, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, is also financially supported by bazaar merchants in southern Punjabi towns. The SSP has, however, failed to gain support among Punjab's predominantly rural population, where Sufi Islam is still supreme. Forced by the demands of electoral politics, SSP's leader, Maulana Azam Tariq, tried to dilute its militant image. By participating in electoral politics and ostensibly distancing itself from the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) faction formed by Riaz Basra after Jhangvi's murder, the SSP is also able to deny any hand in anti-Shia terrorism even as it pursues the same agenda. Nevertheless, it is estimated that some 5,000 to 6,000 SSP activists have undergone jihadi training. Along with its LJ offshoot, SSP is the only sectarian group that has targeted Iranian officials and interests, although other Sunni organisations also share its anti-Iranian bias. An Iranian diplomat, Sadeq Ganji, was killed in Lahore in December 1990, apparently to avenge Haq Nawaz Jhangvi's murder. Iranian diplomat Muhammad Ali Rahimi was assassinated weeks after a bomb blast at the Sessions Court in Lahore killed then SSP chief Zia-ur-Rehman Farooqi in 1997. Azam Tariq, the SSP leader assassinated in October 2003, was himself implicated in a number of murder cases. In its prime, the SSP had a student wing, a welfare trust and a vast network of local offices. It had branches in 74 of Pakistan's 102 districts and in 225 subdivisions, with 1 million fee-paying, card-holding members. Initially, it gained manpower from madrasas belonging to the four Deobandi unions but later established its own madrasas, mostly in Punjab and Karachi. "It can be safely said that no other religious party except the JI was as modern in its organisation, fundraising and networking as SSP. It did not rely on madrasas only but also cultivated professional communities and launched welfare projects for its workers", says Mohammed Anwar, a former activist from Jhang. After Azam Tariq's assassination in 2003, the SSP has fallen prey to internal divisions, mainly over money from both domestic and external sources, including supporters in Saudi Arabia attracted to its anti-Shia militancy. These internal rifts have resulted in the emergence of a number of radical splinter groups. However, despite these and other constraints, such as the denial of sanctuaries in post-Taliban Afghanistan, the SSP has continued to expand its influence in southern Punjab, particularly where the demographics are similar to Jhang's -- a pir landowning class, a considerable concentration of Shias, and a prosperous East Punjabi merchant community -- such as Khanewal, Multan, Kabirwala, Shorkot, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rahimyar Khan. SSP reinforces and complements the Majlis-e-Tahaffuz- e-Khatme Nabbuwat (Movement to Protect Finality of Prophethood) , based in Chiniot, Jhang's neighbouring town. Chiniot is also close to Rabwa, the Ahmadi religious centre and a frequent target of Sunni, particularly SSP-led, violence. In yet another southern Punjab city, Multan, where there have been more than 50 sectarian attacks since 1991, the sectarian composition has also fuelled religious strife. Shias claim they make up 40 per cent of Multan's population. The city is known for its shrines. Its politically powerful pirs, the descendants of Sufi saints, are mainly Shia but they have considerable support also among Sunnis who follow Sufi Islam. Militancy has travelled to Multan from Jhang, a part of SSP policy to take the fight to Shia centres. "SSP would bring followers from other towns and cities to hold public meetings in Multan, especially on special Shia occasions. That's what introduced sectarian tensions in an otherwise docile and conformist Sunni population", says Abdul Aziz Khan, a lawyer. Deobandis have also gained ground because of their madrasas. The head offices of the Deobandi madrasa union, Wafaq al-Madaris, is in Multan. Khairul Madaris seminary, the national centre of Deobandi educational activity, openly supports SSP.

The chief of Wafaq al-Madaris disclaims any connection with sectarian or other jihadi terrorism:

We do not as a madrasa union patronise or approve sectarian activities. Our students are not taught jihadi literature, and the accusation of training is baseless. However, if some students decide to join a group on their own or some ulema are active members of other organisations, our madrasas cannot be blamed.

Yet, it is believed that the Jamiat-ul-Mujahidee n Al-almi, a Deobandi jihadi organisation responsible for an unsuccessful attack on President Musharraf in 2004, was formed at this madrasa. Jaish-e-Mohammed, an offshoot of the Harkatul Mujahideen, formed in 2002, also enjoys the madrasa union's full support . And although the Jaish focuses mainly on the Kashmir jihad, it includes many Sipahe Sahaba workers. In other areas of southern Punjab, Ahle-Hadith seminaries are thriving alongside Deobandi madrasas. "We have never had a noticeable presence of [the] Ahle Hadith sect. Even now, they remain a minority in the local population but the numbers are increasing", says Reza Gardezi, a member of a prominent pir family. This change can be attributed to Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE) sponsorship. Since the 1970s, Arab princes have hunted in the Cholistan desert, building palaces in the area and financing many development projects, such as hospitals, roads, schools and an airport. This presence has been a mixed blessing for the local population because the Arabs have also funded madrasas, introducing extremism into a hitherto tolerant Punjabi hinterland.

2. Central Punjab

A similar Ahle Hadith-Deobandi sectarian presence is also visible in Gujranwala and some other regions of central Punjab. In Gujranwala, where the MMA won its only National Assembly seat in the 2002 elections, its candidate Qazi Hameedullah, a Pashtun Deobandi scholar, campaigned on the basis of his relationship with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. In central Punjab, the Arab connection has also played a key role. The Saudi Arabian charity, the Harmain Islamic Foundation is believed to have funded Ahle Hadith madrasas. The Arab connection also played a role in the emergence, in 1988, of Markaz Dawa wal-Irshad, the parent organisation of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LT, renamed Jamaat Dawa, after it was banned in 2002), best known for its jihadi activities in Kashmir. The LT's sectarian tilt is ultra-orthodox. Some Pakistani jihadis even accuse it of undermining the Kashmir jihad by promoting sectarian divisions among the mujahideen. In fact, sectarian indoctrination is an essential part of the LT's jihad training. Trainees from LT camps disclose that they underwent courses on Salafi Islam. The LT mainly recruits its jihadis from Gujranwala and adjoining areas. Many have had some connection with Deobandi and Ahle Hadith madrasas but were not necessarily students there. The LT has also inducted college students and graduates into its jihadi cadre. In some central Punjab villages, the LT has considerable influence because of the Kashmir jihad. One such is Gondlanwala, now called Pind Shaheedan (the village of martyrs) because at least one person from every family has fought or died in the Kashmir jihad, mainly as an LT recruit. The LT's influence can be gauged by the fact that villagers from the area have even accepted its arbitration in disputes. Nevertheless, there are the beginnings of a backlash in central Punjab against this terrorist organisation. "There is a strong silent backlash in our communities against the LT for recruiting teenagers for training", says a local politician, who negotiated with Lashkar leaders for the recovery of his younger brother from an LT-run jihadi camp in Chilas, in the Northern Areas. An expert adds, "Most parents are angry. They question why the jihadi leaders themselves do not go for battles and why they send their own children to universities in Pakistan and abroad and not to jihad". Since the 2002 ban, the LT has reduced its public visibility somewhat, mainly because the government would find it difficult to justify an open presence. Armed vigilantes of its Muridke base are no longer seen in public, and rumours of infighting are rife. It is believed that the party has succumbed to the biradri (kinship, caste) system in rural central Punjab. Yet, its leaders, including Hafiz Saeed, maintain a high profile, with no constraints on their activities, addressing rallies and raising jihadi slogans. The government's crackdown on this and other banned terrorist organisations in Punjab has been reactive at best, with the police only taking action in the wake of a major terrorist attack. When they are themselves targeted, they are understandably far more pro-active. For instance, the police cracked down on SSP activists in Gujranwala after the 2001 murder of a senior police official who was investigating the murder of an Iranian diplomat. Yet, in the absence of a more rigorous response, these organisations will continue to flourish in the Punjabi heartland.

B. The North West Frontier Province

The NWFP is divided into settled areas, administered by the provincial government, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Around 70 per cent of the population is Pashto-speaking and 18 per cent Hindko-speaking. In the past, secular Pashtun parties such as the National Awami Party (renamed the Awami National Party, ANP) and other moderate, secular parties such as the PPP and the PML-N had a considerable political presence, counterbalancing the religious right. In the 2002 national elections, as the moderate parties were deliberately sidelined and the mullahs patronised by the state, the JUI eclipsed them, and Deobandis now run the MMA provincial government. Unlike Punjab and Sindh, where a majority follow Sufi Islam and its Barelvi component, in the Pashtun areas most Sunnis have gravitated towards a more puritanical version of Islam. Even before the current Deobandi ascendancy, the Afghan civil war and the resultant madrasa expansion had enhanced the JUI's political clout in Pashtun-majority areas. Since the province also has major areas of Shia concentration, such as Orakzai agency, Parachinar and Hangu in Kohat district, this rise of Deobandi extremism has heightened sectarian tensions and conflict, even in such Hindko-speaking areas as Mansehra and Abottabad. Sectarianism in the province is unique in the sense that it can assume tribe-versus- tribe or village-versus- village dimensions. Since the province is also awash in arms, partly the legacy of the Afghan conflict and partly the state's failure to prevent proliferation, sectarian violence has often assumed the shape of prolonged conflict in which even weapons such as rockets and missiles are used. When the MMA was formed in 2002, it was expected that sectarian animosity would diminish somewhat because the alliance contains all major Shia and Sunni polito-religious organisations. This hope was misplaced since the alliance is based at best on political expediency, with each faction hoping to reap political gains even as their religious preferences, based on exclusion, remain unchanged. The MMA's hold over the provincial government has in fact exacerbated sectarian tensions since the alliance's two larger parties, the JUI-F and the JI, have tended to ignore their smaller partners. Referring to advertisements for government jobs which explicitly encourages Wafaq students, a Barelvi leader complains: "The (central) government recognises our (Barelvi) madrasa board but the MMA government does not follow the rules in teachers and Auqaf appointments. In interviews for jobs, the applicants are asked if they belong to Wafaq al-Madaris (the Deobandi madrasa board)". The JUI-F-JI's religious preferences, evident, for example, in its proposed Hasba Bill, have also alarmed the MMA's non-Deobandi partners. Insisting that its constituents expect it to make governance and society Islamic, the
JUI-F dominated government intends, through this legislation, to establish a vice and virtue police, on the lines of the Taliban, to ensure that public conduct conforms to Deobandi interpretations of Sharia and Islam. A mohtasib (inspector), an alim with a diploma from a recognised madrasa, would be appointed to enforce the new Islamic order and empowered to use the police. Disregarding the mohtasib's summons or orders would be treated as contempt of his office and liable for punishment. The mohtasib might impose punishments such as fines, flogging, and imprisonment. His findings and decrees would not be subject to judicial review, and the Hasba law would, as presently envisaged, override all other laws. The federal government has thus far resisted the move, backed by the Council of Islamic Ideology. But if the proposed bill is enacted, it will create another parallel legal and judicial system, in addition to the three different systems that are already in force in NWFP: statute law and the courts; Sharia courts and benches; and customary law and the jirga (assembly of tribal elders). NWFP's secular political parties oppose the bill. "The move is political. It is not judicial reform or Islamisation. What the MMA wants is to open another avenue for madrasa graduates and ulema, who represent its constituency" , says an ANP leader. Shias and Barelvis are just as strongly opposed to the JUI-F and JI agenda. "The JUI (F) and JI want to turn NWFP into a mono-sect province. Their policies are promoting sectarianism, as they discriminate even against their own alliance parties", says Barelvi leader Azeem Qadri. If the bill is enacted, it will increase tensions not just between Sunnis and Shias but also within rival Sunni sects. Infighting between Sunni sects has already become violent. In July 2004, for instance, after a court order had allowed the Ahle Hadith sect to construct a mosque and madrasa in Batagram, Mansehra, JUI (F) workers and leaders blocked the Karakoram Highway, set the Batagram Bridge on fire, and destroyed the mosque and madrasa as they were being built. Ahle Hadith leaders insisted that the Batagram police, who remained bystanders, were complicit. Claiming that copies of the Quran and other religious books were destroyed in the attack, they said the local JUI member of the National Assembly had "put all Muslims to shame". In the remote valley of Tirah in Khyber agency, rival Sunni groups are conducting a violent sectarian war. In early 2004, there were armed clashes over differences in religious rituals between the Tanzim Amr Bilmaroof Wa Nahi Anil Munkir (organisation for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice) and the Tanzim Ahle Sunnah wal Jamaat (organisation of followers of the way of the Prophet and his group). Amr Bilmaroof leader Haji Namdar, schooled in Saudi Arabia, is influenced by Saudi Wahhabi Islam, which is
strongly opposed by the Ahle Sunnah group. Namdar's evangelical activity through, for instance, an FM radio transmission in Bara Qambarkhel area, has fuelled sporadic armed clashes. In some areas of the NWFP, Sunni extremism closely resembles the Taliban model. The Tehreek-e-Nafaz- e-Shariat- e-Mohammadi, a militant pro-Taliban group, has lost considerable ground to its rival Islamist organisations as a result of the U.S.-led campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Hundreds of its followers were killed or detained in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Its leaders remain behind bars in Pakistan, and its offices have been closed. But TNSM remnants remain active. "TNSM's Taliban folly has turned people against it", says an employee of an international NGO in the area. "But many of its local leaders in villages and tribes still run Tehreek-e-Taliban [the Taliban Movement] with similar aims. It is still difficult for government and non-government development projects to operate without fear of opposition from clerics". The Afghan civil war also has a spill-over effect on Sunni-Sunni conflict, particularly in Kurram valley, which has witnessed sporadic violence. The Pashtun Bangash tribe, which includes both Shias and Sunnis, dominates Hangu and the entire Kurram Valley from Kohat to Parachinar. The Turi Shia clan is the dominant tribe in Parachinar, Kurram agency's headquarters and hometown of Arif Husaini, the first major Shia leader assassinated in Pakistan in 1988. Shias have always been the majority in Parachinar, but there is also a sizeable Sunni population in surrounding villages. Shias now insist that they have an 80 per cent majority; Sunnis dispute that claim, insisting that they comprise two thirds of the population. Parachinar's sectarian divide is further complicated by the influx of Afghan refugees and fighters, swelling the numbers of both Shias and Sunnis.

Parachinar had no tradition of organised violence until Pakistan's interventionist policies in Afghanistan resulted in the influx of Afghan Islamist extremists and a flourishing trade in drugs and arms. "It [sectarian conflict] first happened in 1986 when Afghan fighters were brought into this area to attack Turi Shias because the Zia government did not want any Shia pockets on the weapon supply route from Pakistan to Afghanistan" , says Shafqatullah Khan, a resident of Parachinar. Since then, sectarian conflict has been endemic and bloody. In September 1996, for instance, an armed clash between rival sects turned into a communal war, with more than 200 dead and women and children captured as booty. "A small skirmish becomes a tribal war and people from places like Orakzai agency join in. Outsiders like the Afghans are already leading anti-Shia Tehreek-e-Taliban. Use of heavy weaponry often reduces the paramilitary forces to spectators", says Zafar Bangash, a college teacher from Kohat. "Government schools fail to accommodate the rising number of school-age children. People have no other option but to resort to madrasas and their leaders". And these madrasas and their leaders are fully exploiting the prevailing atmosphere of sectarian intolerance to further their political ends violently.

C. The Northern Areas

The Northern Areas are not constitutionally a part of Pakistan and have no representation in the national legislature. In practice, however, the Minister for Kashmir Affairs and the Northern Areas governs the region from Islamabad. The Northern Areas are divided into five districts: Gilgit, Skardu, Diamir, Ghizer and Ghanche. Although there are Shias, Ismailis and Sunnis in each district, if recognised as a province of Pakistan, the Northern Areas would become the country's only Shia-majority federal unit. In 1988, the last year of Zia's rule, the longstanding sectarian peace in the Northern Areas was shattered by bloody anti-Shia riots. When Shias in Gilgit celebrated Eidul Fitr, Sunnis, still fasting because their scholars had not sighted the moon, attacked them. Since the initial clashes ended with a truce between local community leaders, Shias were caught unprepared when they were attacked by a Sunni lashkar. "The laskhar consisted of thousands of people from Mansehra, Chilas, Kohistan and other areas in NWFP. They had travelled a long distance to reach Gilgit, but the government did not stop them. No government force intervened even as killings and rapes were going on. Instead, the government put the blame on RAW (Research and Analysis Wing, India's intelligence agency), Iran and CIA", says one witness. In the rampage that followed, more than 700 Shias were killed, scores of Shia villages were pillaged and burnt, and even livestock were slaughtered. Local Shias hold Zia's Sunni Islamisation policies and his antipathy to the PPP, the local party of choice, responsible for sectarian conflict in the Northern Areas. "We've had minor sectarian controversies in the (Zulfikar Ali) Bhutto period but Zia exploited an event like Eid to promote his sectarian and jihadi agenda in the Northern Areas", says an observer, who also believes that Zia's anti-PPP crusade was responsible for the attack. The failure of subsequent governments, including President Musharraf's, to act against Sunni extremists and the military's reliance on jihadis for its proxy war in Kashmir have continued to fuel the flames of sectarian violence in the region.

It was on Musharraf's watch as Army Chief that Pakistan's Kashmir jihad policy increased the ranks of Islamic extremists in the Northern Areas. In 1999, a Northern Light Infantry (NLI) battalion seized the Kargil heights across the Line of Control in Indian-administered Kashmir. A number of young volunteers from Skardu, where the NLI is based, joined it to fight the Kashmir jihad. The Kargil conflict also resulted in the influx of other Sunni jihadi elements into the region. Extremist organisations like the SSP, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaishe Muhammed, Al-Ikhwan and Harkatul Mujahideen have since opened offices there. Places like Chilas and Gilgit have become the hub of Sunni jihadi training and anti-Shia activism. And every Sunni attack has resulted in a tit-for-tat Shia response. On 8 January 2005, for instance, snipers killed Agha Ziauddin, leader of the Shias in the Northern Areas. Enraged Shias attacked shops and government offices and killed fifteen people. Gilgit and Skardu, the two major towns, were placed under curfew for over a month. Rumours abound that Sunni groups plan on raising another lashkar to avenge their losses. Northern Area Shias are also alienated by the state's continued sponsorship of Sunni orthodoxy. Since 2001, Shia resentment over the inclusion of Sunni religious rituals and a perceived anti-Shia bias in textbooks for public schools has resulted in school boycotts and occasional clashes and curfews. Initial attempts to create separate textbooks and syllabi for Shia and Sunni students in districts where the communities have a clear majority have been dropped in the face of opposition by the local Sunni clergy. Until recently, Ismailis have largely remained outside the sectarian fray. But the Aga Khan Foundation's (AKF) activities, most recently in education, such as the creation of an Aga Khan Education Examination Board, have given Sunni Islamist parties and militants a means of provoking anti-Ismaili sentiment, which has already resulted in attacks on AKF personnel. Two employees of the Aga Khan health service were murdered in Chitral in December 2004. Like other sectarian minorities, those in the Northern Areas believe that political empowerment would enable them to contain Islamic extremism. Elections to even the largely ceremonial Northern Areas Legislative Council have exposed the limited support base of religious radicals. Says a lawyer in Gilgit, "JUI could not win any of the 24 seats, not even in Sunni-dominated areas". However, the way the 2002 elections were manipulated to counter the PPP bodes ill for sectarian peace as extremists continue to thrive in the political vacuum. Moreover, the Northern Areas remain in constitutional limbo, and the centre resists even modest demands such as a reformed court system and more powers for the elected council. Asadullah Khan, President of the Northern Areas Bar Council,insists, "Islamabad must devolve real administrative and legislative powers to the elected Northern Areas Legislative Council and settle the status of this region once and for all". With democratic governance, the moderate parties that enjoy considerable popular support could easily check the growing power of a clergy that has stakes in sectarian strife.

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