THOUGH Pakistan has its own complex internal sectarian dynamics, the influence of communal conflicts in the Middle East has always been strong.
On Sunday, both these streams of sectarian violence — the internal and the external — came together in Parachinar with devastating consequences. At least 25 people were killed when a bomb exploded in a Parachinar market.
While Kurram Agency has witnessed a tribal-cum-sectarian conflict for many years with varying degrees of intensity, a new, disturbing factor has emerged from Sunday’s outrage.
Take a look: Sectarian terror revisits Parachinar
The Lashkar-i-Jhangvi Al Alami and Ansarul Mujahideen militant groups claimed responsibility for the atrocity, apparently to ‘punish’ Shias for “supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian government”.
The claim was accompanied by a dire warning that unless Shias failed to stop “their children” from allegedly participating in Syria’s civil war, more such attacks would follow.
The number of sectarian attacks in Pakistan has come down considerably — apart from two major attacks in Muharram in Balochistan and Sindh — thanks largely to the anti-militancy and counterterrorism efforts of the military and civilian law-enforcement apparatus.
However, the Parachinar bombing is the latest confirmation of the fact that the militant menace is far from neutralised.
Despite the violence of the past, Parachinar has also witnessed relative peace in recent times, while security forces have kept a strict vigil on the town, with those entering it being searched.
The fact that despite the security blanket militants managed to attack a public place indicates the need for greater intelligence efforts to trace the hideouts of those carrying out terrorist acts as well as their planning and logistics infrastructure in the tribal belt and beyond and destroy them.
As for the Syria factor, events in the Middle East have always had an impact on sectarian dynamics in Pakistan.
It had long been felt that the Syrian civil war would have a particular influence on this country, especially as it acquired an ugly sectarian colour.
With the Parachinar bombing, the Syrian civil war seems to have come home. A recent media report says that “hundreds of Pakistani” Shia fighters have left for Syria; many of these individuals are reportedly from Parachinar. Shia fighters from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan are also believed to be involved in the Syrian theatre.
On the other hand, the banned TTP has also reportedly been sending fighters to the Arab country, while the Syrian ambassador to Pakistan has said publicly that around 500 Pakistanis are fighting his government.
Whether it is Shia or Sunni militants, the Pakistani government needs to look into the issue of local individuals heading for Syria to fight for either side in the civil war, and curtail their movement.
Along with complicating the situation in a foreign country, this activity can also lead to communal violence and polarisation in Pakistan. Hence, the state needs to take immediate steps to stem the flow of local fighters to Syria.
Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2015