Curtailing sectarianism?

I visited the Auschwitz concentration camp earlier this month with a group of Pakistanis. We have all read about the Nazis and the horrors of the Holocaust but none of us were prepared for the feelings that swept us when we set foot in Auschwitz. It had an eerie feeling to it and it felt as if the air was heavy with grief. When we visited the gas chambers and prison cells, one could literally feel the pain and terror on one’s skin. The visit was a sombre affair. When we left, I could not shake off the fear for a very long time. It also reminded me of the way members of the Shia community, especially the Hazara Shias in Balochistan, were being target-killed in Pakistan by the banned sectarian outfit, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

A file photo from December 2014 shows Pakistan Police escorting the leader of banned sectarian outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Malik Ishaq (in white) to the high court in Lahore. Pic/AFP
A file photo from December 2014 shows Pakistan Police escorting the leader of banned sectarian outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Malik Ishaq (in white) to the high court in Lahore. Pic/AFP

On Wednesday morning, leader of LeJ Malik Ishaq was killed by the police in a gunfight when allegedly Ishaq’s supporters attacked a police convoy in order to free him near Muzaffargarh. Ishaq’s two sons, his deputy and 11 others militants were also killed in the gunfight according to the police. While this is the official account of the police, there are rumours that it was a pre-planned police encounter (read extra-judicial killing). In his latest Newsweek Pakistan piece, ‘Killing Stroke’, Ejaz Haider says: “Ishaq’s killing, going by sources within the police, is the culmination of a year-long debate within the establishment on whether Ishaq was more useful dead or alive. There were arguments on both sides.”

Malik Ishaq, a notorious terrorist who could not be convicted because witnesses were either eliminated or terrorised into not appearing before the court, was taken into custody a few days ago by the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) for investigations in recent sectarian killings in South Punjab. Some people argue that Ishaq’s killing is quite symbolic as it would not have taken place without the nod of the establishment, which means that the establishment now wants to rein in sectarian killings. Others believe that the LeJ had a strong foothold in Balochistan, which was problematic for the new Pak-China Economic Corridor and also for the Afghan peace talks and that is why the establishment decided to get rid of Ishaq and the LeJ leadership.

Columnist and activist Marvi Sirmed says: “The death of Malik Ishaq, his sons and even the second-tier leadership of the LeJ is an intense blow to the banned outfit. It will take many years for them to recover from this.” Sirmed believes that it has basically been done because Malik Ishaq was moving closer to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) over the past few years and he was the harbinger of militant anti-Shia sentiment. Marvi Sirmed says Ishaq’s death will strengthen Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) chief Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi and with Ishaq’s death, the ASWJ will be mainstreamed as a legitimate political party (Note: ASWJ is a front for the banned outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan). “This is a bid to bring the militants of an anti-Shia sectarian organisation to the mainstream through ASWJ, which is now awarding tickets to its candidates in many constituencies for the upcoming local bodies elections in Punjab and Sindh,” says Ms Sirmed.

It remains to be seen whether the hydra of sectarian terrorism in Pakistan will be curtailed in the wake of Ishaq’s death or not.

The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at

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