Failure To Tackle Gilgit Violence Is Unforgivable
7 December 2005
The Daily Times
Islamabad: The latest news is that the intelligence agencies have unearthed a plot by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah Sahaba to use suicide bombers to kill Shia members of the legislative council of the Northern Areas. The suicide bombers are said to include women and children to be sent from outside Gilgit. There is a rumour that the extremist clerics in the Punjab are trying to recruit potential terrorists from the quake- hit areas of Azad Kashmir and the NWFP, distributing publications like Zarb-e-Momin among them for this purpose. It is said that Maulana Ghulam Kibriya of Rahim Yar Khan has been assigned to arrange for these children's admission to seminaries in southern Punjab. It is clear that preparations are being made for another bout of sectarian attacks. On Monday, a Sunni cleric from Multan was gunned down in Karachi to avenge the murder of a Shia cleric in Balochistan a day earlier. The entire country has become linked in a network of terrorism which now boasts Al Qaeda-style suicide-bombing. If you look at the map of the country, the territories under challenge comprise the Northern Areas, the North and South Waziristan Agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and all of Balochistan, the largest province comprising 40 percent of Pakistan's territory. One can easily say that half of Pakistan is in the grip of people whose way of life is violence. And who is responsible for this if not the government which has been unable to tackle the problems that give rise to this violence? The biggest mess is in Gilgit, the administrative centre of the Northern Areas. And the mess dates back to the army's decision to deploy an extremist anti-Shia Lashkar-e- Tayba during the Kargil Operation of 1999 in tandem with regular troops. The administration in Gilgit has shown a criminal lack of understanding of the majority population (60 percent) of the city, the Shia, while deciding matters such as the content of school textbooks. Thus it would shock the world to know that Gilgit and the surrounding areas have seen a consistent pressure from the Shia community demanding changes in the textbooks for the last half decade and that the government, with all its intellectual resources, was not able to satisfy it. Nor was it able to prevent the target-killing of prominent Shia leaders, which enlisted the sectarian emotion of the entire community in the country. One glaring example of Islamabad's lack of sensitivity came to the fore this year when the new chief commissioner of Gilgit was appointed. The ministry concerned appointed a fundamentalist Sunni as chief commissioner despite its awareness that the Shias of Gilgit panic at the appointment of officers holding extreme Sunni views. What it ignored was the message contained in the earlier murder of a retired Sunni IG. Chief Commissioner Major (retd) Nadeem Manzur, a strict practising Sunni officer and a son-in-law of General (retd) KM Arif, carries no blot but his almost fanatic observance of Sunni faith should have alerted the ministry to his unsuitability. In the event, he proved ineffective and has recently been recalled. Why was he sent to Gilgit in the first place? One fears that the ministry itself could be infected with sectarian passions. To get a perspective on how the Gilgit unrest affects the rest of the country, let us go over this year's toll of terrorist casualties. On January 8, Shia leader Agha Ziauddin Rizvi was killed in Gilgit. On January 31, a leader of Sipah Sahaba Maulana Haroon ul Qasimi was killed in Karachi. On March 23, former Northern Areas IG Sakhiullah Tareen, a Sunni hardliner, was ambushed and killed in the Northern Areas. On April 1, Allama Najafi, head of a major Shia seminary in Lahore, was murdered. On May 27, a suicide bombing killed 20 at the Barri Imam shrine near Islamabad. On May 30, the Shia seminary Jaamiat ul Ulum in Karachi was attacked by a suicide-bomber. On June 24, Mufti Rehman and Maulana Irshad, leaders of the Deoband-Sunni headquarters, Banuri Mosque in Karachi, were target-killed. The government should not wait helplessly for what the suicide-bombers of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba have in store for the nation in the coming days. Islamic states tend to be sectarian. Iran is overtly a Shia state where the Sunnis may find themselves discriminated against. The Sunni utopia created by the Taliban in Afghanistan was intensely sectarian and anti-Shia. After 20 years of jihad and Talibanisation, Pakistan too is showing clear signs of being a sectarian state. Saudi influence, spearheaded by Saudi funds to hardline Sunni seminaries, has changed Pakistan's traditionally non-sectarian character. Its conduct in Shia-majority localities has been extremely violent. Gilgit is a case in point where in 1988 the state began its cycle of violence together with Parachinar in Kurram Agency. The pattern is that Sunni extremists will focus on areas where there is a concentration of Shias. The year 1988 was crucial to these Shia populations. That year General Zia allowed the mujahideen to attack Parachinar to break the Shia resistance to their operations inside Afghanistan. The same year he allowed Sunni lashkars of Sipah Sahaba to attack Gilgit, resulting in high Shia casualties. The same year the chief of the Shia party in Pakistan, Allama Arif ul Hussaini, was murdered in Peshawar. Thousands of people have died since then in this sectarian war. The future of Pakistan has been rendered uncertain by a group of powerful clerics who are now able to deploy suicide-bombers. If their violence against the minority communities is not stopped, they will turn on new, more high-profile, targets after they are done with the minorities. No one is safe.