Sectarian divide and violence between the Sunni and Shia groups in this country has been rapidly escalating during the last years. From the brutal, cold-blooded murder of 160 Hazara Shias in less than two months in 2013 to the bomb blast in an Ashura procession which killed 43 people, the Shia community has been constantly targeted in Pakistan. In early August, the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Zohra Yusuf, told Agence France-Presse that “People have been killed because of their political affiliations, but it seems most are killed because of their ethnic background. The majority of them are poor and destitute.”
Primarily this divide has been caused due to religion being used politically, discrimination of Shias and tit-for-tat terror attacks against Sunnis. Firstly, the gradual increase in sectarian conflict, which begun during the 1970’s and furthermore was enhanced during the Iranian Revolution resulted in the fight for more power, influence and the desire to be politically strong. Both parties struggled to employ religion as a tool of strategy even in the political sphere. Furthermore, the deprived status given to the Shias, in social, political and economic sense, in Sunni majority areas has invoked a feeling of alienation among the Shia group and has led them in pursuit of legitimacy and liberation. Their failure to cultivate a sense of national identity and the constant discrimination faced by the Shia group has further inculcated hatred and conflicts between the two religious groups. Research shows that, “2011 and 2012 have seen a chain of violent attacks at the Shia/ Hazara community. Hundreds have been dragged out of buses and gunned down.” Lastly, as the minority of Shia group faced constant letdown from the side of the government as well as from relentless attacks from the opposing Sunni groups, eventually they took up weapons to protect their people and indulge in tit-for-tat terrorized assault against activist and revolutionary Sunni groups. All in all, these reasons added up to the causes for this further nurtured sectarian divide and conflict in Pakistan.
The city of Karachi, over the years, has been witness to some of the worst sectarian violence this country has ever seen. The can be owed to funding by Arab states, existence of a large number of madrassa, presence of Taliban and the poor law and order in the city. As Zia ur Rehman writes, ‘based on last year’s figures, Karachi was the Pakistani city worst hit by sectarianism, with 36 attacks that killed 58 and injured another 58’.Such is the extreme of Shia- Sunni conflict in this region. One of the key reasons why Karachi has been a hotbed for sectarian violence might be found in the political history of this city. During the 1970’s, Karachi became a proxy battleground between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudi state provided unwavering support to Sunni extremist groups in the city while Iran funded Shia organizations. This war between the two countries played widened the gap between the two communities and took violence to unprecedented levels and this continues till to-date. (HumaYousaf) Another reason for this ever growing violence is the presence of large number of Madrassas in Karachi. These madrassas started emerging due to the Islamization policies of Zia-ul-Haq. At this point in time Karachi was already home to religious extremist organizations, both Sunni and Shia. These organizations received state patronage and external support enabling them to establish their madrassas. (D. SubaChandran)The graduates of these madrassas became the soldiers in the sectarian war in the 80s and 90s. Unfortunately, Karachi still continues to bear the fruits of these madrassas. The existence of the Taliban in Karachi could be another reason for these increasing conflicts. After the military operation in Swat and Waziristan, Karachi became home to a million Pashtun refugees, these refugee towns became safe havens for the Taliban who have taken up arms against the political parties in the city. These Taliban also support extremist Sunni organizations and encourage attacks on Shia community. The Taliban have managed to gain considerable control by following the lead of violent gangs in Karachi. This control is allowing them to exert their extremist ideology on the Sunni population and hence increase the divide between the two communities (Ashraf Khan) Another major reason why this chaotic situation has failed to be controlled is because of the high corruption and the law and order situation of the city. Although the political parties claim otherwise, it is believed that they do have some, if not all, part to play in this mess. And because these political parties have placed their favored candidates at the top bureaucratic positions in the public sector, they can now proceed to even break the law without it having any repercussions. Thus religious extremism carries on at its regular pace.