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Poisoned minds on killing spree in rural Pakistan

Zafar Bangash

What kind of people would open fire with automatic weapons on a group of worshippers in a mosque who had just completed Fajr prayers and were sitting to recite the Qur’an? The only answer is: coldblooded murderers and professional killers. To call them anything else would be outrageous.

Yet the gunmen who shot and killed 17 innocent Muslims, including three children, in an Imambargah/Mosque in Karamdad Qureshi, Central Punjab on January 4, were presumably Muslims who were fasting. They had had tea for suhur at a roadside restaurant before proceeding on their murderous mission.

But calling it ‘Sunnis killing Shias’ would be incorrect and play straight into the hands of those who wish to sow sectarian discord among Muslims. This episode, like numerous previous ones - Mominpura Cemetery massacre on January 11, 1998, the killing of two Iranian engineers in Karachi in February, 1998, the February 1997 attack on the Iranian Cultural Centre in Multan or the killings in Dera Ghazi Khan, Khanewal, Jhang etc - must to be viewed in a broader context.

True, the victims in the latest crime were all Shias, as were those in most previous attacks. It is also more than likely that the killers were Sunnis, and perhaps belong to Lashkar-e Jhangvi, an offshoot of Sepah-e Sahaba, two terrorist outfits that have operated with impunity in Pakistan, especially Punjab, for nearly a decade. They have made no secret of their hatred for the Shias and have vowed to kill them. The latest killings simply add to a long list of other heinous crimes they have perpetrated.

The reason why the killings should not be given a Sunni-Shia interpretation is because the village of Karamdad Qureshi (some 60 kms from Multan), has not known Shia-Sunni conflict before. The two communities have lived quite peacefully side by side. Indeed, hundreds of Sunnis joined their Shia brothers to donate blood for those injured in the latest mayhem.

In February 1996 (the pattern of attacks in Ramadan is clear) a bomb exploded inside a Shia mosque in Karachi killing more than 34 worshippers after Juma’ prayers. The imam of a nearby Sunni mosque appealed to his congregation to go and help their Shia brothers. This act of a ‘Sunni’ imam averted what may have turned into a major catastrophe. It later transpired that a Shia gangster had planted the bomb in the mosque.

Among the Pakistani masses, the Shia-Sunni issue does not exist. This poison is deliberately spread by those who do not wish to see unity among Muslims.

The timing of the attack in Karamdad Qureshi is also significant. Pakistani foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed was in Tehran the day it occurred. He was there on a fence-mending mission. What a sorry figure Mr Ahmed must have cut in front of president Mohammed Khatami when they met, is not hard to imagine.

There are forces in Pakistan and abroad which do not wish to see good relations between Islamabad and Tehran. It would be well to identify these forces and powers. Pakistan’s homegrown terrorists are in fact pawns in the hands of their foreign sponsors. The US, India and Saudi Arabia are all involved in financing, directly or indirectly, hate groups in Pakistan.

These groups emerged in the wake of the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and Imam Khomeini’s call for Muslim unity. Who is threatened by Muslim unity? The enemies of Islam and their surrogates, of course. America stands as the number one enemy of the Muslims today; but others, India, Israel, Britain etc, are not far behind. Similarly, the US client regimes in the Muslim world, are loathed to see Muslims uniting or developing a consciousness that would surely consign them to the dustbin of history.

Saudi Arabia in particular has been spewing hatred for decades. In fact, the Saudis revel in creating fitna among Muslims. They do it regularly during Ramadan and the Eidain. If they do not hesitate to divide Sunnis among themselves, why would they care about Shia-Sunni conflict? It fits into their scheme of keeping Muslims bogged down in these issues to divert attention from their subservience to the kuffar and the larger problems confronting the Ummah.

This is not to suggest that the latest crime was directly ordered by outsiders. A poisoned mind does not need too many instructions. People begin to operate on their own, assuming it to be their ‘religious’ duty to kill. It is more than likely that some so-called maulana in one of the madrassahs in Muridke or Kabirwal (bases of the Sepah-e Sahaba and Lashkar-e Jhangvi) had told his followers that it was alright to kill Shias. The terrorists have become so emboldened that they did not even cover their faces when they perpetrated their latest crime.

In Pakistan, the incompetence and/or indifference of government officials also plays into the hands of the terrorists. The deputy commissioner, the senior most bureaucrat, and the superintendent of police (SP) of Muzaffargarh, the nearest major city, had both been notified of a terrorist threat but took no notice. They have since been replaced but that does not solve the problem.

In May 1997, Ashraf Marth, the SSP in Gujranwala was gunned down by terrorists because he was making progress in his investigation into the murder of Agha-e Rahimi, Iran’s Cultural Attache in Multan. Similarly, the divisional commissioner of Sargodha was murdered because he had vowed to go after the murderers. Far from apprehending the murderers of even its own senior officials - Marth was related by marriage to interior minister Shujaat Husain - the government appears paralysed.

Such paralysis has discouraged officials--police, judges, bureaucrats etc--to stick their necks out. Some 28 judges have declined, in writing, to hear cases against terrorists for fear of being targeted. In fact, the Karamdad Qureshi massacre occurred within 24 hours of a bomb explosion beneath a bridge in Lahore where prime minister Nawaz Sharif was to travel two hours later. The security situation in Pakistan is on the verge of collapse.

While it is impossible to prevent every terrorist attack, action can be taken to minimise such crimes. Why have none of the culprits apprehended in previous cases been punished so far? On December 27, 1997, five terrorists managed to escape from a jail in Dera Ghazi Khan. How and why? If the government is serious, it must go after the madrassahs - in Murdike, Kabirwal and other places - where such poison is being spread.

In the absence of stern action against the perpetrators of such heinous crimes, one must conclude that the government is an accomplice in these terrorist acts.

Muslimedia: January 16-31, 1999

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 22

Ramadan 28, 14191999-01-16

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