The blasts of hatred

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

May was a bad month for Karachi. Two bomb blasts in two Shia mosques took a toll of 50 or so lives. Many more were wounded. In between these two devastating events came the assassination of Mufti Shamzai, the head of the Binori mosque, who is said to have had at one time close links with Osama bin Laden and Mulla Umar.

Apart from these three major events which shook this city of lights and caused it to be shut down on several occasions leading to enormous economic losses, there were two bomb blasts (in front of the PACC).

There was further loss of life when violence broke out as angry protesters took to the streets. All this occurred against the backdrop of a rising graph of thefts, hold-ups, murder and car snatching.

Although the mosque killings were not a manifestation of sectarian violence in a conventional sense – the two major communities, the Sunnis and the Shias, continue to live peacefully with no signs of animosity between them – but those targeted happened to be the Shias.

Hence this use of the label “sectarian”, though “hate crime” would be a better term, as suggested by one of our correspondents in our letters column. This rise in violence aimed at the Shias was confirmed by the Amnesty International’s Report, 2004, which, coincidentally, was also released in May.

The staggering loss of life, the sense of insecurity and despair generated by this carnage was disturbing enough, to say nothing of the very grave implications of the public perception of these events.

The findings of the investigators looking into the blasts and earlier attacks were also horrifying. Our leaders of opinion were simply not prepared to confront the forces of militancy and sectarian hatred. The considered opinion of one group for the Shamzai killing was that it was organized by the Americans.

The ubiquitous foreign hand was cited in abundance by several leaders – RAW (India’s intelligence agency), Israel’s Mossad and the entire non-Muslim world (implied by sweeping statements that no Muslim could shed the blood of another Muslim worshipper) were held as the culprit.

But no accusing finger was pointed by any one in office at the so-called jihadi parties, which preach death to the “infidel” as defined by them and promise paradise as a reward for the killer.

This is extremely disturbing because, while these speculative views were being expressed, the police and the intelligence agencies were probing into previous attacks.

What were their findings? The attackers responsible for the two incidents of terrorism in Quetta last year that led to the death of 50 Shia worshippers in a mosque and 13 Hazara police trainees belonged to the supposedly banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi which makes no bones about its hatred of the Shias.

There are other similar groups – notably the Sipah-i-Sahaba and the Jaish-i-Muhammad – which had been declared banned in January 2002 but which continue to operate with impunity under other names. Their members have been found to be involved in many attacks of a sectarian nature.

These groups have demonstrated their skill and resourcefulness in pursuit of their deadly mission. First, they have managed to indoctrinate and mobilize their workers so thoroughly as to produce suicide bombers.

Only a person who is blindly committed to his particular creed and inspired by the message he has received from his mentor would kill himself in the course of his mission.

His is not the case of a Palestinian driven to the depths of despair, despondency and frustration by an oppressive and usurping power which is devastating the Palestinian community and its homeland.

Secondly, the extremists have infiltrated the police and the armed forces and have managed to recruit prayer leaders (pesh imams) of the mosques of the poverty-stricken areas where they find it easier to enlist followers to their cause.

With their members in many key areas of the agencies responsible for providing security to the people, these groups find it easier to carry out their unholy mission without any let or hindrance.

Thus, the suicide bomber of the Hyderi mosque was a serving policeman who was a member of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi. Likewise, those who were involved in the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President Musharraf were from the army and air force.

Today the militants see the Shias, the United States, Iran and President Musharraf as their common enemies. It is a paradox that such disparate elements have been thrown into the same boat by the accident of circumstances.

Hence clarifications from the American government that the Al Qaeda was not involved in the Karachi killings should not lead to any complacency on its part. The militants do not always operate as part of clearly identifiable organizations under a registered flag. They are loosely-knit groups with broad goals and strategies.

In this crisis, the need of the hour is to identify the nature of the violence, the parties which are perpetrating these nefarious crimes, the factors which are contributing to the growth of these groups and the steps that need to be taken to root out terrorism.

In the wake of the Ali Raza mosque tragedy the president is reported to have taken an important decision to restore peace to Karachi. We do not know what this decision is. But in his article on “Enlightened moderation”, he explains that the root cause of extremism and militancy lies in political injustice, denial and deprivation.

According to him, when this combines with poverty and illiteracy, it leads to an explosive mix of an acute sense of deprivation, hopelessness and powerlessness. People suffering from these lethal ills are cannon fodder for the propagation of militancy and extremism.

Very sound reasoning indeed. It does not explain, however, why the parties propagating militancy are allowed to operate so freely and recruit the “hopeless” and “powerless” people for their purpose.

Besides many of the key actors in this process who exploit the common man are neither poor nor illiterate. They are politically astute people and for them this is basically a game for power.

Although the government appealed to the MMA and other political parties not to politicize the violence, the fact is that there is already too much politics in the role of the militant religious groups in Pakistan.

They were created/sustained by the United States and the ISI for fighting against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. They infiltrated into Kashmir to fight against the Indians in the Valley. But now that they turned their guns on the US, the Shias and the president himself on account of his moderate views and pro-American policy – as could have been expected – there is a hue and cry. Terrorism is a double-edged sword. It is like the fire which will burn those who are targeted as well as those who use it for their narrow aim.

One can’t be selective in one’s approach vis-‘-vis terrorism. One cannot expect the jihadis to fight in Kashmir and not indulge in sectarian violence within Pakistan.

This is something which must be recognized by many of the religious parties too who have spawned the militants and never renounced them, though they pretend to distance themselves from their act of terror.

Terrorism leaves no room for politics and should be shunned in toto. Today there is need for the administration to be unambiguous on this count. It should adopt a clear-cut strategy to crack down on the militants.

As for the “cannon fodder”, it is not just illiteracy and poverty that must be addressed. There is also need to stop feeding our schoolchildren on a diet of religious hatred, obscurantism and intolerance which some of our textbooks preach.

Regrettably, the government has given in to the lobbies, which want to prepare a critical mass of youth willing to kill themselves to gain paradise in the next world.

Tags: Terrorism, Politics