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Sectarian vigilantes

March 19, 2012

AS reported in this paper on Friday, police officials believe that in Karachi, gangs of four to five men usually carry out targeted sectarian killings without any planning or formal instructions from major sectarian outfits. The rise in this trend of communal vigilantism is cause for concern, especially considering the extent of sectarianism in this country. Police officials say that Sunni sectarian groups such as the Sipah-i-Sahaba/Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat and its deadly offshoot Lashkar-i-Jhangvi have begun to target ordinary members of the Shia community, whereas in earlier decades mostly Shia professionals and scholars were killed. Conversely, Shia militants, apparently working under the banner of Sipah-i-Muhammad, have concentrated their attacks on SSP activists. Until 2008, most victims of sectarian violence in Karachi were Shia; however, as the report notes, the past two years have witnessed an increasing number of SSP workers killed, indicating that Shia militants have begun to strike back.

As the state has failed to punish sectarian killers, this is the natural outcome. Sectarian demagogues — often with blood on their hands — have been set free by the courts due to ‘lack of evidence’. This perhaps results from the fear of consequences of convicting a terrorist, as well as shoddy investigation methods. The state — particularly the law-enforcement and intelligence apparatus — is squarely responsible for letting the situation reach such alarming proportions. Justice has not been done, which has opened the door for sectarian operators who are often more radical than organised sectarian outfits. Perhaps there is still a small window of opportunity for the state to shake off its slumber and clamp down on sectarian groups by demolishing their infrastructure, cutting off their funding and prosecuting and punishing sectarian killers. The million-dollar question, of course, is whether the state has the courage and will to do this.