Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sectarian scourge

 Sectarian scourge
Saturday, February 07, 2009

Just as we were celebrating what seemed to have been a peaceful month of Muharrum, the sectarian killers have struck again. A suicide bombing near a mosque in Dera Ghazi Khan killed at least 30 people, most of whom had been participating in a 'chehlum' procession to mark the death of Hazrat Imam Husain (RA). The terrible incident was followed by protests through the town that disrupted normal life for several hours.

We have lived with sectarianism for over two decades now. The killings and counter-killings reached their peak during the mid-1990s, when fanatical organisations struck virtually at will. Despite the massive crackdown against them staged at the time, the sectarian scourge has stayed with us since then. Indeed it has eaten into the very heart and soul of our society, filling it with a new hatred and a new intolerance. Splinter groups have been formed and groups that were banned have simply gone underground, while continuing their activities. Members of minority sects narrate incidents in which they were asked about their affiliations and in some cases ostracised on the basis of their replies. Others have been threatened; many now employ security guards outside homes or offices fearful of an attack carried out simply because of the sect they belong to. In school text books, a bias that promotes sectarianism can sometimes be found. Attempts to eliminate it are reported to have been only partially successful. In seminaries, the majority of which remain unregistered, the process of building hatred for minority sects is of course still more forceful. The few surveys conducted show that these efforts are succeeding. The determination to fill the minds of the next generation with prejudice is great. People have already felt their effects. Towns in the Kurram Agency and elsewhere have suffered a brutal ethnic cleansing. In other places, ordinary citizens sometimes insist those belonging to a minority sect are 'non-Muslim'. Some fear the time may come when they are officially labelled as such.

There is another aspect to that must be addressed. While we hear at regular intervals of sectarian killings and mayhem in our cities and of inquiries being initiated, news of arrests or trails or jail sentences is far less common. The impression at least is that the killers are getting away with their crime. The message then to others is that it is quite possible they will not be punished when imambargahs or other places of worship are bombed. This perception must change. The government must make it clear it is not willing to tolerate sectarianism in any form. Action under the law must be taken against those responsible, not only for murder but also the distribution of inflammatory literature and recordings. Only then will it become possible to prevent sectarianism from spreading and ensuring the coming decades are less violent than those that have already passed.


Iran to probe into Parachinar 'genocide'

 Iran to probe into Parachinar 'genocide'

Sat, 07 Feb 2009 11:31:18 GMT

Pakistani Shias lie on the road in protest at the killing of their brethren in sectarian violence in the Kurram tribal region.

A report to the Iranian parliament has cited grave human rights abuses against Shias in the northwestern Pakistani city of Parachinar.

Lack of government control over the highly sensitive border areas of Kurram Agency, the capital of which is Parachinar, has lead to an increased Taliban presence in the area.

Local Pakistani media reported last week that Taliban-linked militants in Parachinar, Hangu district and much of the Kurram tribal agency have during the last six months been engaged in sectarian violence and have killed 25 to 30 people on a daily basis.

Military forces based in the areas usually avoid the violence which has caused uproar in the territory bordering the Tora Bora region in Afghanistan, the media report said.

The National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of the Iranian Majlis (parliament) has received a report on the situation in Parachinar.

"The report provides evidence of a humanitarian disaster in that region, which unfortunately due to the crisis in Iraq and Gaza has not garnered media coverage," Iranian lawmaker Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh told Tabnak on Saturday.

Falahat-Pisheh affirmed that the parliament would investigate the "genocide" through relevant international agencies.

"We are pressuring international human rights organizations to dispatch fact-finding missions to the area," he added.

Taliban militants have launched deadly attacks against the enclave of Shiites settled in Parachinar and have blocked road routes to the city since April 2007 when sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis broke out after provocative remarks by a Wahhabi against historical Shiite figures.

The Taliban sided with the Sunni majority in the country, imposing an ongoing 20-month blockade which has caused serious food shortages.

The Pakistani government has on various occasions dispatched relief convoys loaded with food and medicines to the area, but most supplies are confiscated by the militants and the drivers are killed or kidnapped.

In a recent incident, the militants beheaded a police officer on Thursday and kidnapped four Shia Muslims on their way to Parachinar.

"Taliban militants beheaded a policeman and kidnapped four Shias in Tal, a town 45 km northeast of Miranshah," a security official told the European strategic intelligence and security center last week.

The grave situation has also prompted the leading Shiite figure of Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to issue a ruling -- known as a fatwa -- encouraging all Shiites in Pakistan to do what they can to help their "brethren" in Parachinar.

"Pakistan says it cannot control the situation in the area, but this is a lie, they have got troops inside Parachinar but the population are better off without them," Hussein Ali Shahriyari, another Iranian lawmaker, said.