Pakistan Shias — that account for 20 per cent of the country’s population — have been at the receiving end of faith-based violence since the 1980s.
In the later half of the 20th Century, the religious minority started facing the brunt of Sunni extremist groups, such as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) which are considered to be the same group with different names. All these groups claimed to target Shia over their ‘blasphemous practices’, especially the Ashura rituals.
An Al Jazeera article in 2012 termed the violence against Shias as a ‘slow genocide’ in motion. Fortunately, the violence against Shias that had pervaded the Pakistan society has considerably subsided, but sporadic targeted killings and bomb blasts still target the community, e.g. Hazara-Shia community in Balochistan whose members are easily identifiable due to their physical features.
In the past, Ashura represented Pakistan’s pluralistic culture, with everyone participating in the rituals to mourn Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) grandson.
But since the 80s, the day has brought more bloodshed for the minority community. From 2001 to 2018, at least 2600 Shias have been killed and around 5,000 have bee wounded in 471 incidents of violence, South Asian Terrorism Portal reported.
Although the number of those who were killed in this senseless violence is much higher, Naya Daur remembers some of the high profile victims of the Shia genocide, who were targeted for their Shia faith.
1.Ali Raza Abidi gunned down
On Dec 26, 2019, Ali Raza Abidi, a Shia politician and former leader of MQM, was shot dead outside his residence in Karachi’s Defence. His murder remains a mystery, but the involvement of sectarian outfits in his killing can not be ruled out, given the history of high-profile Shia killings in Pakistan.
Prior to the general elections 2018, Abidi was an active part of the civil society-led campaign against the participation of banned sectarian outfits in the polls. In a video clip that he had released at the time, Abidi was seen condemning the state’s failure to restrict the electoral involvement of SSP/ASWJ. The banned terror outfits frequently posted hateful content on their social media pages (which are still up and running despite hate speech), targeting Ali Raza Abidi for his Shia faith.
2. Khurram Zaki’s killing in Karachi
In May 2016, Khurram Zaki, a vocal Shia activist who advocated for peaceful and secular Pakistan, was gunned down in North Karachi. A spokesperson of Majlis Wahdat Muslimeen (MWM) said that Khurram Zaki, 40, was not only a prominent civil society activist but also a religious scholar who tended to attend programmes on various TV channels. The spokesperson pinned this murder on banned sectarian outfits.
3. Shia doctor slain in Lahore
A prominent eye specialist, Dr Ali Haider and his son were gunned down in Lahore near the residence of then deputy prime minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi in another incident of Shia killing.
Syed Ali Haider was driving his son Murtaza to school (Aitchison College) when his car was intercepted by two gunmen on a motorcycle on Zahoor Elahi Road. The gunmen fired indiscriminately at the vehicle and escaped.
4. Cleric gunned down in Lahore
In Dec 2013, Allama Nasir Abbas of Multan, an influential Shia cleric, was gunned down in the provincial capital. He was going to his residence after attending a Majlis at Qaumi Markaz, Shah Jamal [Zahoor Elahi Road] at around 11 pm when armed motorcycles intercepted his vehicle near FC College Underpass and opened fire. The MWM said that the state had failed to stop the sectarian killings.
5. Shia academic killed in Karachi
Professor Sibte Jafar, principal of Liaquatabad College and renowned sozkhwan, was shot dead by unidentified men on March 18, 2013 near Liaquatabad College. The deceased was a lawyer, renowned poet, educationist and a scholar. Police arrested two LeJ members who were suspected of the killing.
In addition to numerous gun attacks on Shia doctors, clerics, and other professionals, the extremists have also never missed the opportunity to bomb Ashura processions, especially in Karachi.
In Oct 2013, at least 22 persons including eight children were killed in a suicide blast targeting a 9th Muharram procession near a park in the Lashari area of Jacobabad District in Sindh in the evening.
In Sept 2010, at least 40 persons were killed and another 243 injured in two suicide attacks and one grenade attack on a Shia procession marking Hazrat Ali’s martyrdom in Lahore. LeJ Al-Alami claimed responsibility for the three attacks that occurred minutes apart in Bhaati Gate locality of Lahore. The mourning procession was in its last stages and was about to end at Karbala Gamay Shah near Data Darbar, when the terrorists struck.
In Dec 2009, at least 40 people were killed and dozens injured in a suicide bombing on a Shia procession on M.A. Jinnah Road.“My group claims responsibility for the Karachi attack and we will carry out more such attacks, within 10 days,” said Asmatullah Shaheen, one of the commanders of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) at the time.
In Jan 2007, 15 people, including six police officials, were killed and 60 others injured in a suicide attack targeting a Muharram procession near Qasim Ali Khan Mosque in the Dilgaran area of Qissa Khawani Bazaar in Peshawar.
In Feb 2006, at least 40 people are killed and 50 others wounded in a suspected suicide attack on a Muharram procession of Shia Muslims in the Hangu town of KP.
Major attacks on Hazara-Shia community:
In Feb 2013, at least sixty-four people died in a bomb attack carried out by extremists on the Shia Hazara community. A spokesman for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the bomb in Quetta, which caused casualties in the town’s main bazaar, a school, and a computer centre.
In Jan 2013, bomb blasts in two Pakistani cities killed at least 115 people on Thursday and wounded more than 270. According to a New York Times report: “A suicide bomber detonated his explosives inside the hall, and a second attacker then blew up his vehicle outside the club as police officers and journalists arrived.”
In March 2004, at least 42 people were killed and over 100 wounded in an attack on Shia procession in Quetta. An explosion was followed by intensive gunfire as a Shia procession passed through the Liaquat Bazar, said a BBC report on the incident.