Pakistan was recently rocked by a massive suicide bomb blast in a Shia Imambargah in Peshawar city, that took lives of over 60 Shia Muslim men who had gathered there for Friday prayers. Among the dead included cleric of the said Imambargah as well as an 8-year-old child.
This is, however, not the first such terrorist attack on Shia Imambargahs of Pakistan. The country which was created in the name of Islam has been witnessing some of the deadliest sectarian attacks on Shia Muslims since last 40 years that has taken lives of anywhere between 40,000 to 70,000 Shia Muslim men, women and children in various incidents of massacres as well as targeted sectarian killings all over Pakistan by Sunni extremist forces.
It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Pakistan has virtually turned into living hell for its over 5 crore Shia Muslim minority.
It is indeed a poetic irony that Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who is credited as being the founding father of Pakistan was himself a Shia Muslim and yet today, vast Shia Muslim population of Pakistan remains as perpetual target of Punjabi Muslim Sunni terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi & Sippah-e-Sahiba and deadly attacks on Shia Imambargahs have become a “normal” periodic events in Pakistan.
These regular terror attacks on Imambargahs of Pakistan, however, don’t take into account daily verbal sectarian abuse, humiliation, degradation, dehumanisation and discrimination that an average Shia Muslim man, woman and children have to face in a highly religiously radicalised Sunni Muslim supremacist Pakistani society, where space and freedom for religious and sectarian minority communities including Shias, Ahmadiyas, Hindus and Christians is decreasing every day.
The fact that Shias in Pakistan have served as Prime Minister and top army officials cannot hide the ugly truth of how an average Shia Muslim has been systematically reduced as unwanted second-class citizen.
“Kafir, Kafir, Shia Kafir” like sectarian slogans keep resounding all small and large religious gatherings all over Pakistan every single day.
Seeds of Pakistan’s transformation from relatively moderate Muslim majority nation (for first 4 decades) to an intolerant Sunni radical extremist nation that it has now turned into lie in infamous “Islamisation” project of former Pakistani dictator President Zia-ul-Haq, wherein he made orthodox Deoband Sunni ideology a de-facto political governance guiding model for the state of Pakistan, something that, no civilian government even after General Zia’s death has been completely able to change.
The gradual predominance of Deoband Sunni orthodoxy in last 40 years had especially disastrous impact on Pakistan’s minority communities including Shias, who faced the worst violence perpetuated on Shia Muslims anywhere in the world in modern times.
As a result of General Zia’s “Islamisation” project, many anti-Shia extremist religious organizations came into existence in Pakistan’s Southern Punjab province along with anti-Indian and anti-Afghanistan terrorist organization.
Over years, these anti-Shia, anti-India and anti-Afghanistan organisations have been working together and supporting each other in creating chaos in Kashmir valley, Afghanistan and for Shias of Pakistan.
Jammu & Kashmir as well as Ladakh are home to large and diverse Shia Muslim population. It is estimated that Kashmir Valley itself is home to anywhere between 15 lakh to 20 lakh Shia Muslims, who are mostly concentrated in central Kashmir valley, especially Budgam region and Srinagar city.
Entire Kargil district of Ladakh is also overwhelmingly Shia Muslim majority and there is a small but vibrant Shia Muslim community in Jammu region as well, especially in Ramban district.
Shia community of all three parts of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are well aware of the pathetic condition of Shia Muslim community in Pakistan. Whether it is Shia Hazara community of Quetta, Baluchistan, Pashtun Shia community of Khurram Agency in Para Chinar in Khyber Pakhtoonkhawa province or Shia community of Pakistani Punjab, Sindh and Karachi city, Shias community of Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh is well aware of each single massacre of Shias as well as unending daily targeted gun killings of Shias that have been going on in Pakistan for last four decades.
Shia community of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh also know about the great Shia massacre of Gilgit, which is part of Gilgit Baltistan region of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, where in 1988 over 1,000 Shia Muslim men, women and children were butchered as part of Pakistani state sponsored anti-Shia genocide on orders of President Zia-ul-Haq, who ordered Sunni Pashtun tribesmen from NWFP (now called Khyber Pakhtoonkhawa) to raid Gilgit region to carry out what was planned to be near mass extermination of Shias from Northern Areas (now called Gilgit Baltistan), Pakistan’s only Shia majority administrative region and an important part of former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.
President Zia-ul-Haq used an insignificant dispute over sighting of moon in Gilgit city between local Shia and Sunni communities to inflame sectarian riots and then sent Pashtun tribesmen, who with the help of Pakistani army unleashed terrible genocide of Shias in Gilgit & Baltistan regions, which was eventually fought bravely by Shias of Baltistan but not before it took massive human toll in Gilgit region, which bore the entire brunt of Pakistani state sponsored mass killings and rapes.
Gilgit Baltistan has also subsequently seen further incidences of sectarian targeted killings of Shias over years in various incidences of anti-Shia violence including dragging Shia passengers going from mainland Pakistani cities to Gilgit Baltistan, out of buses and killing them en masse.
The Shia community of Kashmir Valley, Jammu region and Ladakh has been living in perfect harmony not only with fellow Sunni Muslim community but also local Hindu, Sikh & Christian communities for decades without any problem.
The violent kind of anti-Shia violent incidences are completely unheard of in Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh as well as entire India. Nearly 20 Lakh Shia Muslim community of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh feels safe and secure being part of the union of India just like India’s rest of 4 crore Shia Muslims.
Pakistan must introspect as to what happened to the country, which was supposedly created as “home” for all Muslims of British India, but which soon fell apart in 1971, when Bengali Muslims resisted and rebelled against racist oppression of Punjabi Muslims of West Pakistan and broke Jinnah’s Pakistan into two pieces, giving birth of independent nation of Bangladesh. The same Pakistan, created in the name of Islam is today graveyard for its vast Shia Muslim population.
(Javed Beigh is a Political Activist from Kashmir. He is also a Research Scholar doing Research in Sufism & Kashmir culture. He promotes modern, secular, progressive, liberal & inclusive Kashmir. His Twitter handle is @JavedBeigh. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)