How sectarian killers operate with ‘impunity’ in Pakistan

The innocent are falling daily, the mothers are crying, the children are weeping, the wives are suffering, the old are becoming older, the humanity is dying but no emergency is seen at top level except a few sympathetic words and condolence messages. People are losing faith in democracy, they question, why they are not being protected, why the terrorists are not being hanged, why this killing spree is not being stopped, why the killers of Benazir Bhutto have not been brought to book and why the attackers of Malala Yousafzai have not been arrested as yet? The answer may not be forth coming but now the people have become wiser and may not be mislead with hallow slogans. The youth which is more than 50 per cent had to play a decisive role in the forthcoming election. Instead of sitting idle and sleeping at homes, we need to come out in large number to elect the people who can really take the country out from these mounting crises. Until and unless the system of reward and punishment is not adopted till then we can’t sail smoothly.

Banned militant faction Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Ramzan Mengal is escorted as he walks to attend a protest rally

Hateful graffiti messages against Shiite Muslims are scrawled along main roads. The striped flags of a banned militant faction accused of hundreds of murders flutter from homes. These are the outskirts of Quetta in Pakistan, from where Shiite leaders say Sunni extremists towed a giant bomb by tractor to kill 90 Shiite Hazaras on February 16, after dispatching suicide bombers to kill 92 others at a snooker hall a month earlier.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a militant group officially banned by the government in 2002, claimed responsibility for both attacks. Local Shiites say they know who the organizers are, and where they live, and yet the authorities do nothing. An AFP reporter saw no sign of police or paramilitary in Akhtarabad, the run-down neighborhood from where Shiites claim the bombers drove the giant bomb.

Nor was there a security presence in Killi Kambrani and Killi Badeni, dens of suspected kidnappers and criminals, covered in slogans for jihad and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), described as the “political wing” of LeJ. Bombers determined to exterminate Shiites have slaughtered more than 250 Pakistanis since January 10 and questions are being asked about possible political and military collusion. Pakistan has an abysmal track record of convicting extremists, and there is growing alarm about perceived apathy towards attacks on Shiites, which are similar to those that fuelled civil war in Iraq. “Akhtarabad is their hub and main hideout.

Everybody knows they come from there to attack Hazaras but nothing has been done,” said Shiite community leader Syed Mussarrat Hussein in Quetta, the capital of the troubled southwestern province of Baluchistan. Daud Agha, local president of the Shiite Conference, said tip-offs about impending attacks are ignored and the ASWJ tolerated. Amnesty International has said the failure of the authorities to bring those responsible for sectarian violence to justice “sends the signal that they can continue to commit these outrageous abuses with impunity”. So how and why does LeJ operate with such apparent freedom? There are many theories.

The worst violence is concentrated in Baluchistan, fuelling accusations that the military turns a blind eye or even encourages LeJ operatives, to distract attention from a six-year separatist insurgency. “LeJ got stronger in Baluchistan after the start of the Baluch insurgency,” says Anwar Sajidi, a Baluch rights activist and chief editor of Quetta-based newspaper Intikhab. “The government is supporting LeJ as a counter-insurgency strategy to show the world that sectarian violence is also on the rise and the Baluch separatist movement is not the only reason for killings.” LeJ, which is linked to Al-Qaeda, was created in the 1990s out of the same pool of fighters trained and nurtured by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States in the 1980s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Last month the chief military spokesman categorically denied the armed forces were in contact with militants, including the LeJ. But despite Pakistan joining the US-led “war on terror” after the 9/11 attacks, the armed forces continue to be dogged by allegations of playing a double game.
LeJ founder and ASWJ vice president Malik Ishaq has been accused in more than 40 murder cases but was free until being taken into custody on February 23 for posing a risk to law and order. Others say LeJ is protected because of the electoral support it can harness in southern districts of central Punjab province, a key battleground in upcoming national elections where the Pakistan Muslim League-N is in power. “This politics of expediency may by CouponDropDown”>win the party a few more seats in the upcoming elections, but the move would provide further space to religious extremism already on the rise,” author Zahid Hussain wrote in Dawn newspaper.
There is little to distinguish the ASWJ from LeJ in public. “Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was created in reaction to injustices by the government,” says Ramzan Mengal, the Baluchistan president of the ASWJ. “We can ask the LeJ men to negotiate with the government but the authorities will have to stop being influenced by Shias.” A senior police official in Quetta told AFP his force was too weak to act, because the LeJ and ASWJ had too much financial and logistical support. Until the government develops a “multi-pronged” strategy to shut down their support networks, he warned, Shiites will continue to be slaughtered.
Many people in Baluchistan say there is an international element to the violence, believing that Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran are fighting a proxy war on Pakistani soil. Religious schools that have educated millions of Pakistanis in a hardline Sunni interpretation of Islam are also partly to blame. “There are hundreds of seminaries in the country who produce thousands of extremists every year,” the Quetta police official said. 

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Pakistan & “Jihadist warriors”

Lashkar e jhangvi continue to terrify Pakistani civilians and are still called “Jihadist” by the so called Mullahs  . It is very important right now to call these Jihadist gunmen by their real name – terrorists. 

Pakistani children who were slightly injured in a bomb blast are brought to a hospital in Karachi Pakistan Sunday March 3 2013. Pakistani officials say a bomb blast has killed dozens of people in a neighborhood dominated by Shiite Muslims in the southern caption

The country had not quite digested the Quetta sectarian carnage incidents in January and February when we had once again to be subjected to indiscriminate terrorism against innocent citizens in Karachi on Sunday. Although the targeted area, Abbas Town, is predominantly Shia, it also has Sunnis. The result is that even if the terrorists intended only to target Shias, they ended up killing and maiming many from both denominations. The spirit of solidarity displayed by citizens in helping each other after the blasts, while the security and rescue services were nowhere in sight, gladdens the hearts of all who see the sectarian terrorists as the worst of a bad lot. Tragically, as though the loss of life, limb and property were not enough on Sunday, the following day the funeral processions of some of the dead were fired upon and more people killed, as a result of which complete mayhem and chaos broke out, with again the law enforcement agencies conspicuous by their absence. While some diehard critics were wont to blame the deployment of the security forces at the engagement ceremony of a PPP leader on Sunday, it appears more likely that the security agencies took a deliberate decision to stay out of the line of fire until things settled down. Whether this can be described as strategy, dereliction of duty, or just plain cowardice is open to conjecture. Several areas of Karachi soon came under the grip of spreading violence, with no clear idea who was attacking who and why. If this not a state of anarchy, what is?

While all friendly countries have condemned the latest incident of sectarian terrorism, the Supreme Court has once again felt constrained to take suo motu notice of the incident and will be hearing the matter at its Karachi Registry today. Ominously, just as in the case of the former Balochistan government, there is more than a hint in the Supreme Court’s formulation that it may examine whether the Sindh government has lost its constitutional validity for being unable to protect the lives and properties of citizens. A heated debate in the Senate has blamed both the government and the intelligence agencies for a manifest failure. Irrepressible Interior Minister Rehman Malik has once again tried to twist the knife in the PML-N’s back by calling the perpetrators ‘Punjabi Taliban’, implying the Punjab government’s ‘soft’ attitude to groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which claimed the Quetta bombings, is to blame. He also wondered aloud whether these activities so close to the elections were meant to sabotage the polls. In the same breath, he also made the laughable claim that the backbone of the terrorists has been broken, citing the arrest of 30 LeJ activists as proof! With due respect Mr Minister, the terrorists are neither Punjabi nor any other nationality, as we have learnt over the last four decades. They are simply terrorists. Admittedly the Punjab government’s equivocation on the LeJ and similar groups has led to a lot of unease, but no one can be absolved of the blame for the situation having reached this pass. The ‘benign neglect’ of sectarian terrorist groups by all governments, federal and provincial, while ostensibly focusing on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan-type activist, is now coming home to roost with a vengeance.

Karachi is once again emerging as a sectarian flashpoint after Quetta. Last year, sectarian, terror, bhatta (extortion) and other criminal targeting killed 2,200 people in Karachi. Of these, 400 were Shia. In the first two months of the current year, 450 have already died. This seems to suggest an incremental escalation of terror, sectarian and other. We now have the unenviable situation of an incumbent elected government in its last days (i.e. virtually a lame duck), while the caretaker government to replace it is still not decided, making it difficult to hazard a guess what, if anything, it might intend to do about the spreading terror threat, which can not only cause the elections to be sabotaged, even if they are held to deny the terrorists that satisfaction, they could easily turn out to be very bloody. It is time for all the stakeholders to put their heads together on an emergency basis to put in place a centralized, coordinated anti-terror mechanism before the rivers of blood that have started to flow sweep everything good and positive along with them. 

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