The backlash of Zarb-e-Azb against the terrorist and militant groups in Pakistan seems to have shifted to the Shia community, assuming them as easy target and thus diverting the issue of terrorism to sectarianism.
The sectarian violence targeting Shias in Pakistan has been trending upward for years and gradually increasing. The major groups active in targeting Shias are said to be Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jundullah. There have been four major attacks on Shia Imambargahs only in 2015 till now causing more than 100 deaths and injuring scores. There have been at least 22 target killings after the December 16 National Action Plan only in Karachi. One major incident of bombing in an Imambargah in Shikarpur, interior Sindh, led to more than 70 deaths.
On the other hand, all Shia groups are backing the military operation Zarb-e-Azb and urging the security forces to clean up Pakistan of this menace.
A few days ago, according to reports, the National Crisis Management Cell had issued a “security alert” to all provinces, cautioning the law enforcement agencies that banned militant groups, LeJ and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) may jointly carry out new terrorist activities across the country. The report suggested that LeJ hardcore activists can react to the ongoing crackdown on them. The official security alert highlights possibilities of LeJ approaching al-Qaeda and TTP to extend further assistance.
The alert holds the LeJ-TTP nexus behind the current wave of terrorism in the country. The alert indicates possibilities of attacks in jails too. The government further says that the LeJ is involved in the latest wave of sectarian attacks in the country “in a bid to pressurise the government to halt executions of their members.”
“Shias are attacked as soft target by the militant groups compared to hitting security forces and their places which requires bigger planning and calculated execution strategy,” says security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana.
This also shows a growing frustration among terrorists, apparently due to an intensified military campaign and a consolidated political and social response against them, he says. “They go for soft targets out of frustration.”
The entire focus of the country’s security and political forces shifted to curb terrorism after the December 16 attack on Army Public School Peshawar. “The assembly passed the 21st Constitutional Amendment and there would be practical efforts to purge the country of terrorism without any delay. It seemed that all the forces were on one page,” says Amin Shaheedi, senior leader of national level Shia organisation Majlis-e-Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen (MWM). “However, we have to say it with great pain that the words are not translated into practice. There have been only 25 executions till now and the banned militant groups and their activists who call the other sects infidels are moving about freely.”
The ban on such militant and extremist groups is literally ineffective all across the country. “Regionally, the sectarian violence has kept shifting from permanent areas like Quetta and Karachi to other areas with an upward trend. The faith-based hatred discourse has become more sectarian over the years,” says Rana.
Some reports highlight that the year 2014 saw a downward turn in sectarian terrorist attacks. However, according to Muhammad Muzahir Shigri, an official of MWM, there have been 311 Shia target killings across Pakistan in 2014. The majority of them were student. “At least 141 Shia target killing were reported only in Karachi; 51 in Quetta and 24 in Peshawar. There have been 23 on Taftaan border; 11 in Parachanar; 14 in Kohat, nine in Dera Ismael Khan and Hangu, among other areas,” he says, urging the need to expand the area of Operation Zarb-e-Azb under National Action Plan to curb all such extremist and terrorist groups.
Shaheedi believes terrorism cannot be eliminated from the country until and unless every citizen considers it his responsibility and every section of society plays a positive role. The current pace of combating terrorism clearly shows the efforts are not serious and it would take a long time to end terrorism and such militant Takfiri groups including Taliban, Jundullah, LeJ, and Sipah-e-Sahaba are issuing decrees against other sects openly.
He worries that in the current situation, Shias would be the most vulnerable and “they need to be united in raising their voice against militancy and pressing the government and the state to act against such terrorist groups”.