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Almost Rwanda?


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“But mass violence too must be organised: it does not occur aimlessly. Even mobs and riots have a design and great sustained destruction requires great ambition.”

-Philip Gourevitch ‘Stories from Rwanda’

According to Article II of the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such:

a)    Killing members of the group. b)    Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group. c)    Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about it its physical destruction in whole or in part. d)    Imposing measures to prevent births within the group. e)    Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

In the dejected aftermath of yet another bombing, that has devastated yet another community, set fire to Karachi yet again and left another deep welt of unheard cries, untended wounds and absent answers, it makes sense to consider the definition above. Definitions are useful in such times, in that they provide some clarity, however momentary to a situation whose chaotic horror threatens to cripple the most reasonable.

According to figures compiled by TIME Magazine, over 300 Shias have been killed in the past two months, which means about five Shias killed every day of the year 2013.  Many of the killings have taken place via bombings, the devastating one that targeted Hazara in Quetta and the brazen one that blew the front of a building in Karachi’s Abbas Town.

Almost 10 years ago, in April 1994 ethnic enmity between two warring groups, the Hutus and the   Tutsis of Rwanda, broke out in some of the worst violence that the world has ever seen. The genocide began following the April 6, 1994 killing of President Habyarimana who was killed in a plane explosion. Rwandan Tutsis who made up approximately 15 per cent of the population bore the brunt of the extermination. According to the BBC, in the period from April to July 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates were killed by the Hutu Power group. Their bodies were left littered all across the towns and villages in the country, many of them unburied, because there was no one to bury them.

Things are not to that point in Pakistan yet. We can emphasise the lower death counts, the absence of pervasive community level involvement and other details to console ourselves and to distinguish the Pakistani case from that of the Rwandans. At the same time, there are comparisons whose similarity and brutality suggest an urgency with which Pakistanis must consider the question of sectarian violence beyond simply the paeans of denunciations and protests. The first of these are the mechanisms of fear that were employed by the Hutu Power militia to make every single Hutu complicit in the killing of the Tutsis. According to survivor accounts, presented in Philip Gourevitch’s book “We wish to inform you that tomorrow you will be killed with your families” the idea was that if someone wasn’t killing they would say “Hey he might denounce us later. He must kill, everyone must help kill at least one person” The impetus to be united in extermination was helped along by the presence of a large, uneducated peasant population that had never before experienced any kind of power. In the words of one survivor, “you take a poor ignorant population and give them arms and say “It’s yours kill,” they’ll obey.”

While the foot soldiers of genocide were poor, the architects unsurprisingly were rich, educated and powerful. One of the most chilling accounts in Gourevitch’s book is the following letter written by Tutsis looking for protection to the Pastor of their Church. It is quoted in part below:

“Our dear leader Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana,

“How are you! We wish you to be strong in all these problems we are facing. We wish to inform you that we have heard that tomorrow we will be killed with all our families. We therefore, request you to intervene on our behalf and talk to the Mayor.”

The intervention never came, the Pastor did nothing and the hundreds who had taken refuge in the Church were killed, those who survived were left to suffer for the night and then killed again the next morning after their killers had rested. In the Rwandan genocide, both sides were Christian and yet, the Hutus and their leaders had manipulated religious doctrine enough to convince themselves that the people they hated deserved to be killed, and that no future for the country was possible without such killing. Soldiers and police who could have protected the victims turned on them, first doing nothing at all and then encouraging the ordinary people to kill. Desperately poor, Hutus were promised incentives such as food, money or most of all, the land that belonged to their Tutsi neighbors in return for the killing.

In Rwanda, the world did not notice until it was too late. As is the nature of ethnic conflict and increasingly with sectarian conflict, the international community seemed to consider the issue one pertinent only to Rwanda. The United Nations withdrew its troops after 10 soldiers were killed by Hutu rebels.

In the turn of time that Pakistan inhabits, it seems that we are on the brink of great change; but the quality or content of that change seems indeterminate, stuck in a flux determined by one day by the numbers of dead and another by apathetic millions. Pakistan is not Rwanda, and if the scale of killing and number of casualties are the basis for comparison then indeed, the drive to purify and exterminate via the killing of all who are different is not yet an oath that all Pakistanis have taken. At the same time, a turn away from intolerance, from killing and from witnessing constant injustice and the inalterable helplessness that belongs to Pakistan is to consider the stories of others who did not realise, in the moments just before, how bloody the future could be.


Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for DAWN. She is a writer and PhD candidate in Political Philosophy whose work and views have been featured in the New York Times,  Dissent the Progressive, Guernica, and on Al Jazeera English, the BBC, and National Public Radio. She is the author of Silence in Karachi, forthcoming from Beacon Press.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Author Image

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.

She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon Press 2015). She tweets @rafiazakaria

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (34) Closed

Zalim Singh Mar 08, 2013 09:17am
"Pakistan is not Rwanda" . says who? madam.
Wajeeh Mar 08, 2013 10:18am
a very dangerous picture but as usual no one cares
mohammed Mar 08, 2013 10:35am
I believe that genocide is an incorrect term to be used to describe anti Shia violence in Pakistan and the comparison with Rwanda is unwarranted. Genocide is one of the most difficult to acts prove and prosecute in international law due to the difficulty in proving intent to destroy. State complicity, the sheer numbers of civilians killed are all important factors when taking into account previous precedents. Otherwise every actor would manipulate Article 2 for their own self interest. Although the situation in Pakistan is terrible, it must be noted the nature of the violence is different from genocide whereby violence was directly sanctioned by the state and at times assisted by rampaging mobs and militias. The LEJ and other outfits are sectarian terrorist outfits and not state militias. In four months 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda, in Pakistan at the current rate that would be 600 Shias in four months which is not genocide but simply mass murder. By extension of this logic all the thousands who have died at the hands of terrorists in Pakistan (many Sunni) have all been subject to genocide. Another key difference that there are many prominent Shia political families/individuals who are part of the current government and establishment. In most genocides, the targeted have not been part of the political class.
anonymous indian Mar 08, 2013 08:53pm
Pakistan must learn from the Shahbag protests in Bangladesh and how civil society, having been a witness to how Pakistan has steadily slipped into the religious/ethnic abyss, is changing the discourse towards a narrative that is more inclusive. While getting to the point of being secular might be many years away for Bangladesh at least they have made a beginning towards having a more inclusive identity. The fact is in Pakistan first the minority Hindus, Sikhs and Christians were the targets and now that they have almost been wiped out or suppressed the extremists are looking for replacements and Shias fit the bill perfectly. This is one of the reasons why we in India believe that religion should not be mixed with politics and a nation cannot be built on exclusive identities.
Syed Mar 08, 2013 07:20pm
Mohammed, Shias have been killed for their faith since the time of zia ul haq. Do you know over 250 shia doctors were killed in the 90s from Karachi alone. These fanatics systematically started killed the Shia elite. Now they kill anyone and everyone. Last year they started removing people from buses, identified Shias and killed them, sometimes with huge rocks. You must also know that PML N is in power in Punjab (biggest province), they protect and harbor these terrorists. Please tell me the last time any of these terrorists were hanged? Yes there maybe several shias in government and political parties but is that stopping the killings? No. I really hope the number doesn't have to be same as Rwanda to consider it a genocide. Wake up Pakistanis please!!
Pavas Ambashta Mar 08, 2013 10:48am
A nice article.. A small mistake by the way..19 years have been passed since 1994 (She has mistakenly written 10)..
Shubs Mar 08, 2013 10:58am
Beautifully written. Chilling prospects. The conditions are ripe for the worst to happen, especially with religion in the mix of the volatile mixture of a culture of intolerance and hatred of the other.
a Mar 08, 2013 04:57pm
well said. We could see glimpse of rwanda happening in pak. i do sincerely hope this changes and we are reborn
Akram Mar 08, 2013 11:03pm
Who says it is? Quote anyone but yourself.
Aamir hussaini Mar 09, 2013 12:27am
You have raised well points and i think this is first article on such topic in Pakistani media.
Arup Saha Mar 08, 2013 09:52am
Madam, run away before you are killed!! I am praying for you!
aditya Mar 08, 2013 11:49pm
yr name and yr comment says it all
sohail ansari Mar 08, 2013 11:18pm
Brillently written and great analysis -- The problem is deeply rooted in the Pakistan's philosophical basis which considers religion and only religion as the supreme authority and creates a room for the establishment of a theocratic rule which many of these groups are striving for... The only way out is for Pakistan to truely appreciate a secular society which demands transformation both at the level of governance and public.
(Dr.) B.N. Anand Mar 08, 2013 11:16am
That is indeed very scaring to compare a situation as brutal and chilling as to have happened between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda with the one often happening between Sunnis and Shias. Of course, one can not miss the stark truth that as Christians were killing Christians in Rwanda, so is Muslim killing a Muslim in Pakistan. one only wishes that this does not happen that way and what is happening in Pakistan is only a bad dream and the situation does not turn as bad as in Iraq where similar type of sectarian violence has been happening. BNA
Parvez Mar 08, 2013 10:54am
Always good to read you. In Rwanda there was one loser - humanity. In Pakistan there are two losers - humanity and religion.
Ali Asghar Mar 08, 2013 08:25pm
I dont think she meant Shia Genocice in Pakistan, Mohammad you have ignored the fact that how many Shias have been killed in Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia & Pakistan. Its open Shia Genocide. The discrimination against shias has reached a point that a progressive country like UAE is deporting Shias from Pakistan, Iran, Iraq & Lebanon. This article reflects the Genocide, Mass murder, hatred & discrimination, against Shias is general. Its not a matter of terminology, its a matter of fact that Shias have been going through the toughest time in the history of Pakistan, but the Genocide has been taken place since last 1400 years.
pathanoo Mar 08, 2013 05:26pm
Thank You, Rafia, for the courage to look in to the abyss and intellect and integrity to warn the people how deep and dark it is. Pakistan - A Rawanda in making? God, I pray - not, I hope - not.
Cyrus Howell Mar 08, 2013 05:12pm
Muslims and Serbs coexisted in Bosnia from the end of World War II until the breakdown of communism. The Serbs suffered during the war and after. Old grudges were not forgotten. Muslim women could not understand why "our neighbors turned on us", but the men did. Women raising children get along as allies. Grudges in the Balkans go all the way back to the Ottoman domination of that area before World War I. Women want to raise their children in peace, but life is a political struggle, not a religious struggle. Religion is a cattle call as much as it is a battle call.
Peter Paul Mar 08, 2013 12:02pm
well said. to get more on Rwanda - watch movie "Hotel Rwanda", its a chilling movie and shows what ethnic genocide means..
Ajay Mar 08, 2013 12:08pm
A sad reality which all of us must seriously ponder upon !!
Ali Asghar Mar 08, 2013 12:23pm
Dear Rafia !! You have stolen my thoughts about in comparing Shia Genocide with Rwandan Genocie. I am based in Rwanda currently and only few hours debating with a friend from UK & Rwanda of how media is not taken Shia genocide in Pakistan & Iraq seriously, as in my opinion its getting same as of Rwanda. But there is one difference in it, while Rwandan Genocide was among Tutsis & hutus, they co-exist with peace harmony now and it stopped in 1994, the Shia genocide has been taking place for last 1400 years, and one can look at the histroy of Shias being massacred at the hands of same ideology that existed back than. I also request to every one that please do not make it look like Shia Sunni clash, Sunnis and Shia are have been and will be co existing with harmony and love all over, they do not care about the minor differences they have. In reality its an ideology trying to create a divide between two pillars of Islam, trust me if one pillar is going to get weaken it will affect the whole foundation. Unite Unite & unite for the sake of Islam & Humanity, and stand firmly against these enemies of Humanity.
AHA Mar 08, 2013 12:32pm
There is one big difference between Rwanda and ourselves. Rwanda was a pure ethnic problem, and there was hone that reason and logic will prevail. There was a possible
Syed Mar 08, 2013 01:09pm
Thank you Rafia Zakaria. We need people in media and news agencies to constantly highlight this genocide. Pakistanis need to know that it is their fellow citizens that are being butchered. These killings are not happening in Palestine or Syria, its happening in their own country. We must unite and fight these extremists before they start killing other sects. This is a snake that can't be trusted by anyone.
Ravi Singh Mar 09, 2013 03:08am
Pakistan is reaping the fruits of hatred they sow. The nation has fallen into the pit they themselves dug. The so called strategic assets they created for killing innocents in Kashmir and elsewhere is now turning on them. Now you understood how it fills when your near and dear ones get killed in the conspiracy you are not related to ...even remotely.
PM Mar 09, 2013 03:52am
Pakistan is a new Rwanda. Shaias are Tutsi and wahabis are Hutu
P.R.Koduri Mar 09, 2013 11:33am
Would it help if all elementary education were made to have only a modern curriculum and free food, books and modern educations were made freely available for all children? As I understand, the children from poor families are forced to get education and food in Madarsaas often supported by monies from foreign quarters.
Gautam Mar 09, 2013 12:37pm
You are right, there is still some humanity left in Rwanda. Those poor Africans suffer but don't export their problems, whereas.......
Muhammad K Mar 09, 2013 12:40pm
Rafia article is giving a just layman or average people misunderstanding impression. In Pakistan their is no concept of diversification in terms of religion. These are all created by someone else and supported by state (ruling group or government). I have no research over Rwanda, Japan or Syria's religious groups conflict. How people are commenting on these sensitive issues without research and basic knowledge. In Pakistan there is no difference in status or educational knowledge b/w any ethnic group we are all living in harmony in Karachi, Lahore, Pindi and elsewhere. Those who called themselves sunni or shia are wrong, we are MUSALMAN and only MUSALMAN. Those illiterate who made these division are crooks like politician having big beard and making money. Once people ask, Imam Abu Hanifa,that "what is the difference b/w your saying/decision/interpretation and Imam Jaffar Saddiq", he responded that "It is just like I am saying "crack the egg from this end side and Imam Jaffar Siddiq will suggest to crack this egg from that side". These two GREAT IMAMS were of the same period of Islamic era. Imam Abu Hanifa born in Baghdad IRAQ in 80 Hijra and Imam Jaffar Saddiq born in Madina in 83 Hijra, Both were teaching in Baghdad at that time. They were great great people of the time. These great people never created new things in Islam. Yes we (Pakistani) created so many things in Islam. We are all same/one Muslim in Pakistan. It is a very misguided article to divert intellect thoughts of Pakistani generation. DAWN is also responsible for all this mess by publishing article like Dr Rafia
khanm Mar 09, 2013 01:31pm
Interest does not tie nations together; it sometimes separates them. But sympathy and understanding does unite them.
knicq Mar 09, 2013 05:31pm
The sensationalist rhetoric continues. Never mind the fact that over 36000 people had been killed in terrorist attacks across Pakistan by 2010 already, never mind the fact this savage campaign of mayhem and murder made no distinction between sunnis and shias, never mind that logic in its weakest avatar too would be stumped by a comparison of a concerted and co-ordinated pogrom to wipe out 800,000 humans by a majority with the killing of hundreds
Sumit Mar 09, 2013 06:32pm
Meanwhile a Christian neighborhood went up in flames today. Photographs that have appeared in this newspaper clearly show many of the perpetrators and their faces. Will Pakistan become Rwanda? It will, if those identifiable from the pictures are not punished, and if the message that they could vandalize a minority neighborhood with impunity reaches other hoodlums.
Critical_Thinker Mar 10, 2013 01:33am
", over 300 Shias have been killed in the past two months, which means about five Shias killed every day of the year 2013"... So dear media, how does this math add up? I understand that's not the point, but credibility? I left the article unread..
Critical_Thinker Mar 10, 2013 01:37am
She is weak on math... ha ha ha
Jay Mar 10, 2013 06:59am
What an irony! M A Jinnah was a shia. If he had any idea of what may happen in the future, he would have asked for a separate nation of Shias. Shias are safer in India nowadays.