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Proxy War Fuels Pakistan Sectarianism

Published: 27/02/2013 05:18:30 PM GMT
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ISLAMABAD - Recent attacks on Pakistan's Shiites are deepening the sectarian divide in the south Asian Muslim country, a phenomenon blamed for what analysts see as a “proxy war” between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.“ (more)

ISLAMABAD - Recent attacks on Pakistan's Shiites are deepening the sectarian divide in the south Asian Muslim country, a phenomenon blamed for what analysts see as a “proxy war” between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.

“This is a strong impression that Pakistan is the hub of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia,” Ghazi Salahuddin, a Karachi-based political analyst, told

Nearly 200 Shiites were killed in bomb attacks in the southwestern city of Quetta this month.

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The outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LT), a Sunni extremist group, has claimed responsibility for the attacks on Hazara Shiite community.

The killings came a month after 86 Shiites were killed in similar attacks in the city, prompting protests for the protection of the minority against militant attacks.

“This is a horrific scenario, where a particular community is being subjected to an organized genocide,” Salahuddin said.

“Hazara community has been the target of extremist groups for last various years. Not only through bomb blasts, but they are being targeted in other ways too.

“It seems as if the government and the law enforcing agencies do not understand the dire consequences of this phenomenon,” he said.

The Shiite protests were followed by similar demonstrations by Ahl-e-Sunnat wal Jammat (ASWJ), a new name of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), blocking main roads in Balochistan against killings and arrests of their members in connection with Quetta blasts.

Tracing the roots of sectarian divide in Pakistan, analysts believe that it was triggered by Iranian revolution in 1979, when Tehran started financing Pakistan's Shiite organizations for promotion of their political ideology.

This, analysts observe, propelled Saudi Arabia to finance Sunni groups to counter Iran's influence in Pakistan's political arena.

Salahuddin opines that the whole Muslim world, except a few countries, has been facing the sectarian divide as Iraq, and Syria.

He said that after Iraq, the highest number of Shiites have been killed in Pakistan during last decade.

“Currently, the worst example of Shiite-Sunni divide can be seen in Syria,” he said.

Pakistan, home of 180 million people, is a Sunni majority country with 85 percent Sunnis.

Shiites make up 10 percent of the total population.


But some analysts reject the idea that Shiite Muslims in Pakistan are facing a pogrom.

“Genocide is a totally different term, where people belonging to a sect, religion, or region are killed under state protection,” Abdul Khalique Ali, a Karachi-based political analyst, told

“For instance, Jews were killed by Hitler, and Bosnian Muslims were killed under the patronage of Serbian government.”

“This is not at all the case in Pakistan.”

Ali said that Shiite Muslims in Pakistan have equal opportunities vis-à-vis jobs, education, and other fields of life.

“If there had been a genocide of Shiites, then how come Shiites could become presidents, prime ministers, and even army chiefs of this country,” he said, referring to President Asif Zardari, who himself is a Shiite.

He sees the roots of attacks on Hazara community in Afghanistan.

“Hazara are a smaller community in Afghanistan as compared to Pashtuns, Tajiks and Uzbeks,” he said.

“However, in current Afghan setup, they have been given disproportional representation in bureaucracy, army and police.

“For instance, in army, the Pashtuns, who are 50 percent of Afghanistan, have less than 10 percent representation, while the smaller communities like Hazara have a huge representation in armed forces, especially at upper level,” he said.

“This (attacks on Hazara community in Pakistan) is a bid to settle the score by those who feel haunted and attacked by Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks-led army in Afghanistan,” he said, referring to the Taliban.

Ali also co-relates the handover of strategic Gawadar port to China, a gateway to Gulf and Central Asia, despite a categorical opposition from US and India.

“Those forces, which are unhappy with this agreement, too do not want this region to remain stable.”

No Civil War

Analysts, however, rule out that the attacks would lead to a civil war in Pakistan.

“These are organized killings by organized groups. No common Sunni or Shiite is involved in these attacks,” Salahuddin said.

“I do not see any chances of a civil-war between Shiites and Sunnis in Pakistan.

“I believe that despite mass killings of Shiites, and targeted killings of Sunnis, there is a collective wisdom among common Pakistanis, and they are not going to fall prey to this phenomenon.”

Sharing a similar opinion, analyst Ali says that the so-called Shiite-Sunni clashes in Iraq were sponsored and are no different in Pakistan too.

“Sectarian killings can be controlled by a better law and order because true religious forces are not involved in these killings. They are handful of sectarian extremists who are doing this all,” he said.“But unfortunately, in a situation where the country has been grappling with growing militancy and terrorism, it is a tough task for law-enforcing agencies to get hold of these extremists.”

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