The plight of Pakistani Shias

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. It is also the month when Muslims, especially Shia Muslims, mourn the death of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) grandson Hazrat Imam Hussein and members of his family during the battle of Karbala.

The followers of Saudi Wahabiism are historically anti-Shia. With Saudi brand of Wahabiism spreading in Pakistan through Saudi-funded seminaries and the resultant Arabisation of Pakistani society, Shia lives are in grave danger. This year alone, hundreds of Shias have been target-killed. Pakistani Shias are facing the wrath of local Yazids, turning the country into another Karbala for Imam Hussein’s followers. The holy month of Muharram has already seen targeted attacks against the Shia community.

In the line of fire: Pakistani security officials comb the site of a bomb explosion near a Shiite Muslim mosque in Karachi on Wednesday. Pic/AFP

On November 21, the Shia community was targeted in Karachi and Rawalpindi. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attacks and threatened that in the days to come, more such attacks will follow. Shias are bearing the brunt of the pro-Saudi and pro-jihad policies followed by the military establishment and the government of Pakistan. Anti-Shia organisations like the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have had the overt and covert support of the military as well as rightwing political parties. It does not seem likely that the grievances of the Shia community in Pakistan will be addressed given how the security forces and the government have turned a blind eye towards their plight.

The military establishment uses these sectarian jihadi outfits to fight proxy wars on its behalf in the region. They are considered Pakistan’s ‘assets’ despite the fact that these same groups have also been involved in killing both military and civilian targets in the country. Unfortunately, many Pakistanis believe in conspiracy theories and think that these attacks are being carried out by external forces to destabilise our country. This is the height of delusion when slogans like ‘Kafir, kafir, Shia kafir’ (Shias are infidels) are openly chanted by Pakistani people at public gatherings of banned military outfits.

The government was quick to ban YouTube more than two months ago when a blasphemous film on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) surfaced on the internet yet no one has been able to ban hate literature and hate speech in the country. Shias, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, etc, do not feel safe in this country because the state of Pakistan refuses to protect them despite continuous attacks.

The more the state abdicates its responsibility, the more the terrorists are empowered. The more the state ignores its ethnic and religious minorities, the more it opens the doors for religio-fascist forces. Pakistan’s policy of Islamisation has turned this country into a fortress of intolerance.

What now needs to be done is to undo all flawed policies and move towards a secular Pakistan but this needs political will. The military establishment and our judiciary are inherently rightwing but even a progressive party like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has been appeasing the religious forces for political gains. This is our tragedy.

It is important that the people of Pakistan, regardless of their sect and religion, should stand behind our Shia brethren by standing up to all obscurantist forces. If we do not, we’d lose our country to religio-fascism.

The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at

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