The silent genocide

Extremist organization targets Shiite Muslims in Pakistan

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In June 2011, Pakistan and Aghanistan militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi issued an open letter calling for the systematic extermination of the Shiite population of Pakistan. The letter, translated from Urdu, read, “Pakistan means land of the pure, and the Shiites have no right to be here . . . our mission [in Pakistan] is the abolition of this impure sect and people from every city . . . every corner of Pakistan. Like in the past, [our] successful wage against the Shiites of Pakistan, and in particular, [the southwestern province of] Baluchestan, will continue until [the nation] becomes their graveyard.” In other words, this was a declaration of genocide. 

Throughout history, the Shiite communities of Pakistan have been the victims of ongoing persecution. Between 1963 and 2012, there have been more than 21,500 reported Shiite deaths. In the first 50 days of 2013, more than 280 Shiite deaths were documented by Pakistani authorities. LeJ claim to have been responsible for the deaths of more than 1,500 Shiite civilians, 620 of those being direct-target killings. 

Unlike other ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and surrounding regions, the genocide of Pakistan’s Shiite population has received little media attention. Both Western and Islamic media have failed to condemn or even acknowledge the continuous violence and oppression that is experienced by Pakistan’s Shiites. The Shiites of Pakistan form 15­­­­­–20 per cent of the nation’s overall population. For a nation of over 190 million people, at least 30 million are Shiites. With such a large at-risk population, ignorance can no longer be an excuse for inaction. 

Formed in 1996, the LeJ is a bi-national extremist organization whose ideologies are heavily influenced by Salafi’ism, a group that follows a rigid and highly-conservative interpretation of Islam.

The LeJ are considered a terrorist organization by both the Pakistani and American governments and they receive financial support from the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The main objective of the LeJ is to establish a “pure” Sunni society by thoroughly eradicating religious minorities, particularly the Shiites. 

Despite the fact that Sunnis and Shiites have only minor differences in religious ideology, in an immensely uneducated and poor nation like Pakistan, extremist groups such as the LeJ can easily recruit followers. The Pakistani nation is torn between Islamic fundamentalism, drone warfare, corrupt politicians and endless poverty. Millions of people have little opportunity to escape the cycle of ignorance. 

This ignorance breeds intolerance, hate and fear. It is in such societies that people are vulnerable and subject to the influence of malevolent authority figures. Consequently, violent leaders and militant groups are able to recruit youth from the lowest socio-economic levels of society who are most vulnerable to the destructive forces of extremism. 

Alongside the various societal issues that impede Pakistan is the nation’s lax and overtly insensitive government. Although the Pakistani government has condemned all domestic fundamentalist groups, no serious measures have been taken to achieve justice for Shiite victims or protect those who are at risk.

In 2012, buses traveling through the northern areas of Gilgit-Baltistan were routinely ambushed. LeJ militants stopped these buses, checked passengers’ ID cards, separated those with Shiite-sounding names and shot them one by one. Women and children were often forced to watch as their husband or father was shot. They were then either raped, mutilated or killed. These atrocities were carried out in broad daylight. The perpetrators have not yet been found or convicted.

On Jan. 10, 2013, several bombings took place in Quetta and Northern Swat Valley of the Khyber province. A total of 130 Shiite civilians were killed, and more than 270 severely injured.

On Feb. 16, two bomb blasts shook Quetta, killing at least 174 Shiites with hundreds more injured. In response, as many as 4,000 women sat in the streets of Quetta for three days and nights with the enshrouded bodies of their loved ones in a mass sit-in protest to demand justice from the Pakistani government.

On March 3, 48 people were killed in a car bombing in the predominantly Shiite neighbourhood of Abbas Town, in the coastal city of Karachi. The homes and livelihoods of hundreds of families were destroyed as the bomb detonated across the densely-populated urban complex.

It is clear from these examples that Pakistan is unsafe for Shiites. The LeJ’s goal is to annihilate all Shiites, ultimately causing the complete extinction of Pakistani Shiites. Therefore, they target women and children to ensure that no more Shiites will be born into their “pure” nation. This is a problem of unimaginable severity, and it is alarming that so few in the West are aware of the constant threat under which the oppressed Shiites of Pakistan live. 

Although we live thousands of kilometres away from Pakistan, there is much we can do to spread awareness and to advocate against these acts of violence. We must establish a movement of peace and a community of humanitarians and activists. All of this is easily achievable when individuals are aware of what is happening in other parts of the world. The first action we all can take is to spread the Shiite story of oppression and victimization. Our silence and ignorance permits the actions of the oppressor. The time to act is now.

The University of Calgary club Thaqalayn Muslim Association will be hosting an all-day remembrance vigil on March 27 in the MacHall South Courtyard for the lives lost in Pakistan.