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Time for Shias to leave Pakistan

Published Feb 17, 2013 01:01pm

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It is a massacre alright. Sunni extremists, aligned with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, are killing Shias by the dozens in Pakistan.

I was yet to compile the list of the 106 (mostly Shias) killed in the twin bomb blasts in Quetta last month, that the news of another bomb blast killing yet another 84 (mostly Shias) in Quetta came over the wire. As the Shia massacres in Pakistan gain momentum, the State, including the Superior Courts, appear completely impotent.

In such troubling times some Shias may have a choice. They may sit and wait for a messiah or relocate to a Shia-exclusive enclave elsewhere, or to escape from Pakistan altogether. It may sound harsh, but it is an inescapable truth that Pakistan has been run over by the extremists and life is going to be even tougher for the minorities and moderate Sunnis in the near future.

In the two consecutive months this year, bomb blasts have killed hundreds of Shia Hazaras in Quetta, a Garrison town where each and every street is manned by intelligence operatives. Still, the militants operate with impunity. Saturday’s bomb blast, which has killed over 80 and injured hundreds, occurred almost within a month of the last bomb blast that delivered even a higher death toll.

Space is fast running out in Shia graveyards in Quetta. It may be the time for Shias to relocate to protect their next generation.

Many naively believe that peace will prevail in Pakistan and Afghanistan after the scheduled withdrawal of Nato troops from Afghanistan in 2014. While I vehemently oppose prolonging the stay of the Nato forces in the region, still I believe this would spell even a bigger disaster for the minorities in Pakistan. The battle-hardened veterans of the Afghan war will return to Pakistan to target Shias, Ahmadis, and other religious minorities. Even Barelvis may not escape the wrath of the mostly Deobandi-led militancy.

There are reasons for my pessimism. I saw the same happen in the late nineties when the Afghan war veterans were pushed into Indian-administered Kashmir. The resulting militancy left over 70,000 dead in Kashmir but failed to make any tangible progress towards the resolution of the dispute that has pitched India, Pakistan, and Kashmiris in a deadly decades old conflict.

What looked like a gory beginning of a new millennium in Indian-administered Kashmir, the security landscape however suddenly transformed in 2002 when the militants started to relocate to Pakistan and Afghanistan to join the Pashtun Taliban. The result was a decline in militancy which is evident from the graph below that shows the drop in the number of news reports about militancy in Srinagar starting after 2002.

Source: Tabulations by the author using the Factiva (2013) database.
Source: Tabulations by the author using the Factiva (2013) database.

A spike in militancy in Pakistan however is observed at the same time when militancy subsided in Indian-administered Kashmir. See the graph below that documents the number of civilians and security force personnel who became victims of terrorist violence in Pakistan. Since 2003, Pakistan has been the target of terrorism orchestrated by the very agents who once afforded the state its strategic depth.

Source: http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/database/casualties.htm (Feb. 15, 2013).
Source: http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/database/casualties.htm (Feb. 15, 2013).

Shias and other religious minorities are the most targeted in Pakistan. No city is safe anymore. The past few weeks saw the targeted killing of Shia lawyers, doctors, and other professionals in Peshawar. Shia legislators were shot dead in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi. While the State is struggling to suppress violence against Shias, the deep-rooted support for militants in society and the inadequate judicial system in Pakistan has created the situation where hardly any terrorist has been convicted of sectarian or other terrorism in Pakistan. In the past few years, several known militants have been set free by the courts because of the archaic judicial system that is incapable of convicting those involved in the modern-day guerilla warfare.

Some, not all, Shias have a choice. They can abandon the death traps in Quetta and Peshawar by relocating to the Shia majority areas in Karachi, Lahore, and other cities. A better option is to plead with the embassies in Islamabad for asylum for the Shia, especially the Hazara, youth.

Seeking asylum abroad may not win the approval of Pakistan’s superior courts, who have recently mocked those who held dual citizenship. However, it is better to be alive in exile than to be splattered on a wall in Pakistan.

 


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Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at murtaza.haider@ryerson.ca

 


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