Anti-Shia bias

February 20, 2013 - 3:24:02 am

The Shias in Pakistan’s Quetta have finally agreed to call off their nationwide protests and bury 89 of their members killed in a bombing on Saturday. The decision came after assurances from the Islamabad government that it would do everything to arrest criminals who are out to exterminate Shias from the country. Not that the protesters were fully convinced about the government’s assurance, but they were convinced that they wouldn’t be able to hold onto dead bodies for long.

The anti-Shia violence in Pakistan is sickening and has shaken the conscience of the nation. Saturday’s attack was the second targeting the Shia Hazara minority in five weeks in Quetta, and Shias, who make up around 20 percent of the mostly Sunni Muslim population of 180 million, are facing more attacks in future.  Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets all over Pakistan to protest the killings and demand security for the minorities. The Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf sent cabinet ministers to the southwestern city to negotiate with the protesters and announced an operation to arrest those responsible for the attack. Indicating government’s sincerity, officials said security forces had killed four men and detained more than 170 alleged suspects, including the alleged mastermind of Saturday’s bombing.

The cycle of anti-Shia violence and government assurances must come to an end. The government must implement tough, credible and comprehensive measures to prevent future attacks which is easier said than done because such is the hatred towards Shias and the virulence of Sunni militant groups that a weak-willed government will flounder. If the government had acted decisively after the attack in January, which killed 92 people, Saturday’s bombing could have been averted. Even the Supreme Court had castigated the government for its inaction.

“Just go and get this Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. I am at a loss to understand why the law enforcement agencies have been unable to arrest these people,” chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said.  Also, the intelligence agencies must get serious. Quetta is a small town where the military and intelligence agencies have a heavy presence and their failure has prompted rights groups to ask whether authorities are complicit with extremists or are just incompetent.

The anti-Shia violence in Pakistan is not only a blemish on the country, but the entire Muslim world. Emergence of Sunni-Shia animosity and clashes has become one of the defining, reprehensible characteristics of Arab Spring. Unless remedial measures are taken, sectarianism will tear apart many countries. And the responsibility to prevent a catastrophe lies not only with governments, but religious  leaders too•