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Minorities of Pakistan

January 11, 2011

Recently some 59 families of Hindus reached India from Pakistan through the Thar Express. They came fleeing from Balochistan in Pakistan. What untold miseries they must have gone through before starting for India with all but the clothes on their backs no one knows. The media has no time for such stories. Atrocities on Hindus remain unreported and the death of a criminal like Sohrabuddin Sheikh is taken up by activists like Teesta Setlvad with such gusto as if some saint had been done to death.

Atrocities on minorities are nothing new. To understand as to who are the minorities in Islamic Republic of Pakistan, one must first understand who the majority is. While Islam is the state religion and more than 95% of Pakistanis are adherents of Islam, there are sections of followers of Islam that cannot be termed as being from the majority community. To keep it simple, the Sunni Muslims constitute more than 80% of population. The Shias are between 12 and 15% of the population. These numbers are debated and there is no real or conclusive figure of the number of Shias and Sunnis in Pakistan. The fact of the matter is that it is the Sunnis who are the majority and Shias have been targeted from time to time. Shias are mainly in Karachi and in the NWFP. The Hazaras and some Pashtuns of NWFP are Shias and most of them are Twelver Shias.

Ahmediyyas were declared non-Muslims in 1974. They constitute some 4-5% of the population. For Islamic fundamentalists the Ahmadis are a heretical sect that cannot claim to be Muslim because they do not recognise Muhammad as the final prophet. Because of this they have suffered persecution in Pakistan. The atrocities on this sect of Muslims have been unabated. They are relatively well off and are into business and hold some top bureaucratic positions as well as in the army. Musharraf’s wife is supposed to belong to this community. It is believed that one reason why Musharraf is so hated in Pakistan is because of his preference for Ahmediyyas.

The other minorities apart from the Shias are the Chrisitians who are some 1.2% and the Hindus of equal numbers. Sikhs and Parsis are some 20,000 in number. Most Sikhs are again in the North West Frontier Province. These minorities have faced the brunt of the ire of the majority Sunni Muslims and have lived in constant fear. Sikhs have also migrated in large numbers from Pakistan and Afghanistan ever since the Taliban took over. There are colonies of migrant Sikhs in New Delhi who came to India in the early 1990’s.

The killing of Salman Taseer, the Punjab governor was rooted in the fact that he called for repealing the blasphemy law. The case of Asia Bibi the Christian woman who was on death row for blasphemy has been a rallying point for the liberals of Pakistan. However, any assertion about minority rights are quashed brutally and swiftly by a radical strand of the community that looks at everyone different from themselves as a threat. It may be understood that Qadiri, the gunman who killed Taseer is a Barelvi who are supposed to be liberals among Sunnis.  Barelvis (The Bareilly, India school of Sunnites) have declared that any public sympathy for Salman Taseer will not be condoned. The Deobandis or the hanafi school of Sunnite Islam was supposed to be more radical, however, now there seems to be a race as to which school is more orthodox.

Instances of sectarian violence abound. There have been sporadic attacks on Shias, the Ahmediyyas and Christians from time to time. Attacks on Hindus and Sikhs go unreported as there is hardly anyone who would listen to their woes. Parsis are also migrating out of Pakistan. There is a fear among the minorities and they do not feel safe. Some instances of reported violence against minorities are listed below:

Attacks on Shias: An example of an early Shia-Sunni fitna shootout occurred in Khurram Agency of northwestern Pakistan, where the Bangash Pashtun Tribe was split between Sunnis and Shias. In September 1996 more than 200 people were killed when a gun battle between teenage Shia and Sunni escalated into a communal war that lasted five days. Woman and children were kidnapped and gunmen even executed out-of-towners who were staying at a local hotel

Two Shia Hazara police cadets were gun downed in Quetta. In 2003, the main Shia Friday Mosque was attacked in Quetta, killing 53 worshippers. March 2, 2004, at least 42 persons were killed and more than 100 wounded when a procession of the Shia Muslims was attacked by rival Sunni extremists at Liaquat Bazaar in Quetta. Separately, on October 7, 2004, a car bomb killed 40 members of an extremist Sunni organization in Multan. 300 people died during 2006.  On December 28, 2009, as many as 40 Shias were killed in an apparent suicide bombing in Karachi. The bomber attacked a Shia procession which was held to mark Ashoura.] Since June 2010 in Karachi, Sipah e-Sahaba is involved in the target killing of seven innocent bystanders and intellectuals; in particularly all were from the Twelver Shia Muslim community. Sectarian riots as well as target killing of doctors in the provincial capital have been sending alarm bells to the present democratic system. In early September 2010, three separate attacks were reported in different parts of Pakistan. The first one took place on Sept. 1 in Lahore where at least 35 Shias were killed and 160 unknown people injured during a procession. On December 16, a mortar attack killed nine (9) people, including women and children in Hangu, a town that has been a flash point for sectarian clashes between Shia and Sunni communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province, near tribal area. On the same day in another attack one child was killed and 28 people were wounded in Peshawar, the capital of KP province, as Shia Muslims marked Ashura.

Attacks on Ahmediyas: On  Friday, May 28, 2010, gunmen launched simultaneous raids on two mosques of the minority Ahmadi Islamic sect in Lahore, killing more than 80 people. The attackers shot anyone who moved, according to survivors like Syed Rashid Rahim, a lawyer.

On February 2, 2009 five Ahmadiyyas in Punjab’s Layyah district were arrested on charges of blasphemy. No evidence was presented, nor has any witness come forth. They were just detained on a “presumption of guilt”, according to Asma Jahangir, chairperson of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and United Nations Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion. She called on the government to take prompt measures to prevent abuses of the law.

Another incident began when five Ahmadi students, who had been duly authorised to pray in the local mosque, were told not to come back to the holy place. With such a threat hanging over their heads, the five men were accused ten days later of scribbling offensive graffiti on the walls of the mosque’s bathroom. According to the official complaint filed against them, since they were the only non-Muslims in the mosque, thereby, “only they could be responsible for the offence.”

Attacks on Hindus and Siks:

Two Sikhs who were kidnapped a few weeks earlier by the Pakistani Taliban were beheaded on February 21, 2010 in the country’s restive tribal belt in a brutal act by the militants. The body of Jaspal Singh was found in the Khyber tribal region, located a short distance from the provincial capital of Peshawar, while the body of Mahal Singh was found in the Aurakzai Agency. 

The Taliban had earlier issued an ultimatum in March, 2009 to the elders of more than 25 Sikh families in the Orakzai tribal agency near the Afghan border: Convert to Islam, join the jihad or pay 5 billion rupees – roughly $62 million – for protection.

The Taliban in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) have issued an ultimatum against local Hindus and Sikhs: either you pay “jizya”, an Islamic poll tax for religious minorities that is akin to protection money, or you leave. Many Hindu and Sikh families have already left for Peshawar and neighbouring provinces. Some 400 Sikh and 100 Hindu families have already left the towns of Bara and Tirah.

 

Attacks on Christians: The first week of August 2009, witnessed two gruesome assaults on Christian villages in which a large number of Christians including men, women and children were killed, and their houses and shops set on fire and destroyed. A village near Gojra was attacked by a violent mob killing seven Christians and injuring several others. Over one hundred houses and shops were torched.

In a similar mob attack on a Christian village near Kasur in 2 July 2009, several people were hacked to death and dozens were beaten mercilessly. Christian leaders in UK, have called on the authorities to investigate, and repeal the draconian blasphemy laws, which are the pretext for most of the mob carnage against the Christian community.

There is another minority in Pakistan that finds itself at the wrong end of the Islamic clergy, though they may be Sunnites – these are the Mohajirs. These are those Muslims that chose to migrate to Pakistan at the time of partition of India in 1947. They are basically from northern India and have been unable to amalgamate in the mainstream even after 64 years of independence. Violence against the Mohajirs is widespread and their political outfit Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM) is their voice in the parliament. They are mainly concentrated in Karachi and have political burrows. They have frequent skirmishes with Pashtuns and Punjabis over turf.  The condition of the Mohajirs is none too good in this country where Islam is the state religion. Altaf Hussian, leader of the Mohajirs is living in Britain for long and has waged a battle against the Punjabi dominated army and bureaucracy. The killing of Dr.Imran Farooq in London saw a spate of retaliatory killings in Karachi. Pashtuns were targeted by MQM gunmen.

The fact of the matter is that the case of Asia Bibi is just a reference point. The schisms in the Pakistan society are deep. There is a fearful insecurity among those who are not from the majority Sunnite sect. These schisms are growing by the day. This increasing obscurantism manifests itself in various forms and the urge of the radicals to assert themselves gets mirrored in their subjugation of the few with a different viewpoint. Bahai’s of Pakistan are also facing prosecution and are not allowed to travel to Israel. The most disturbing trend is that orthodoxy is gaining grounds in Pakistan and the liberals are seen to be at the receiving end.

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