Friday, 4 October 2013

Religious and sectarian conflict

Religious and sectarian conflict

While Punjabis represent the majority of the population, Pakistan is home to a constellation of communities based on regional, religious, or historical identities: Bengalis, Baluchs, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Sunni, Shia and Ahmadi Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Hindus, Christians and Jews, Muhajirs and refugees from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Gujarat. Sectarian and religious violence have been a recurrent feature of Pakistan’s history since 1947, both in the form of violent conflict between religious communities, and in the form of one-sided violence against religious minorities. Inter-religious conflicts surfaced as early as in the early 1950s, when religious parties, and in particular the Jamaat-e-Islami, called for excluding Ahmadiyya community from Islam. Ahmadis have consistently experienced severe discrimination both from the government and from other Muslim sects. In 1974, the Pakistani parliament declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims, while their religious freedom was further curtailed in 1984 by a highly repressive military ordinance issued by General Zia. In Pakistan, Hindus are generally second-class citizens facing daily structural violence punctuated by occasional episodes of mass anti-Hindu violence and massacres, such as in 1950 and in 1964 and 1971 in East Pakistan. Formerly peaceful Shia-Sunni relations were shattered by military ruler Zia ul-Haq’s sectarian Sunni-Islamisation agenda, which fit into the regional context of opposition of Iran’s Islamic revolution, and the Iran-Iraq war, where Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was then supported by the US, Pakistan’s ally.

The radicalisation of Sunni religious movements and their increasing sectarianism through Saudi funding and patronage was ignored because of Saudi-Arabia’s ties with the Pakistani government and its US ally, while Pakistani Shias became increasingly sectarian under Iranian influence. Sectarian conflict further escalated after the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, as a pattern of assassinations of sect leaders and activists emerged. After 1997, mass killings of civilians on a sectarian basis became more frequent. Sectarian violence has involved groups on both sides, including the Shia group Sipah-e Muhammad Pakistan (SMP; the Army of Muhammad) created in 1991. However, anti-Shia violence has been on the rise, and since the 1990s there has been marked anti-Shia violence perpetrated armed militant groups with ties to Saudi Arabia operating in Pakistan [Abou Zahab 2002]. These Sunni armed groups include and Sipah-i Sahaba Pakistan (SSP; the Sunni Pakistan’s Army of the Prophet’s Companions) established in 1985, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LF – The Army of Jhangvi – 1990), Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-I Muhammadi (TNSM; Movement for Protection of Muhammad’s Religious Law – 1994) and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (The Army of the Pure – 1998). Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LF) is responsible for many anti-Shia attacks, including targeted assassinations, shootings and bomb attacks against Shia communities in Punjab, Karachi and Quetta.

These armed groups have also been involved in violence against non-Muslims. In August 2009, a mob guided by Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi attacked Christians on alleged desecration of Qur’an in the city of Gojra (Toba Tek Singh district). In this episode , seven Christians were killed and 20 were injured, and 50 homes were burnt. Meanwhile, Christians and Hindus have suffered in retaliation to anti-Muslim incidents outside Pakistan, such the demolition of the Babri mosque in India, and the blasphemic cartoons published in Denmark.

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