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Anti-Shia campaign: Blow-back from Pakistan ( Part-1)

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Message James Duglous Crickton

A question doing rounds of political, intelligence and diplomatic circles of the Middle East and Af-Pak region is intriguing, to say the least. This question first cropped up on June 26 when a Shia Mosque was bombed in the al-Sawabir neighbourhood of Kuwait city. As many as 27 people were killed and at least 227 persons wounded as an IS-affiliated group mounted a suicide attack on the Imam Sadiq mosque. The same group claimed credit for two other suicide bombings targeting Shia mosques in Saudi Arabia -- one on May 23 in the village of Qudayh that killed 21, and another on May 29 that killed four in Dammam.

Sunni Islamist fundamentalists targeting Shias is not a new phenomenon. For instance, Shias, who constitute a majority in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan on the border with China have been facing the Sunni heat since 1947. Shias travelling to Iran from Baluchistan are regularly coming under Sunni gun fire. It is this reality check that has given currency to the question: Are there any linkages between the Shia tormentors in Middle East and Af-Pak?

This question has assumed importance for two reasons.

One, Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, (LeJ), has closed ranks with the Taliban in carrying out what borders on genocide and ethnic cleansing of Shias both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As American expert on South Asia, Michael Kugelman says, LeJ has emerged as a powerful practitioner of sectarian violence over the past decade. It does things at the bidding of the Army and the Army controlled-managed Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and thus enjoys 'immunity' to survive in one avatar or the other to hoodwink the sanctions regime. Both LeJ and Taliban besides the likes of LeT are known to do 'dirty work' at the bidding of the ISI in Baluchistan, where rebel groups have carved out their own turf.

Two, LeJ has established linkages with IS which is spreading its net in Pakistan for the past ten months. At IS's behest, LeJ has carried out massive attack on a Shia bus in Karachi this May, investigations into the bus carnage show. The kingpin of the group, Abdul Aziz, had escaped to Syria afterwards. He was involved in almost all recent sectarian attacks in the Sindh province along with his lieutenant Azhar Minhas, Sindh Police Chief, Ghulam Hyder Jamali told Pakistani Senate in a special briefing.

Frankly, these two developments on their own should not, indeed, would not allow the conclusion of a Pakistani hand in the attacks on Shias in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Middle East. More so since an IS affiliate had claimed responsibility for Kuwait blast as pointed out at the outset. But then, it is difficult to ignore a ground reality. It is that Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) had helped to train the IS recruits in its early days. Also the fact that Abdul Aziz and Azhar Minhas were associated with al Qaeda for four years they aligned with the IS a year ago.

A recent report in The Express Tribune, which is published from Karachi in collaboration with The New York Times, is disturbing, to say the least. "The mastermind of the deadliest attack on the Shia Ismaili community in the metropolis (Karachi) revealed that the group was receiving funding from the Islamic State, (IS), also known as Da'esh", the daily said in a front page dispatch quoting a report of the Joint Interrogation Team (JIT). It said Minhas revealed that the group was receiving funds from different countries, including Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

There is much in public domain that clearly speaks of links between sectarian fighters and the Pakistan's ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the Punjab province. Four years ago, in 2011 to be precise, Punjab's law minister Rana Sanaullah admitted that his government had provided a monthly stipend to the family of LeJ's supremo, Malik Ishaq. It was paid ever since Sharif's party came to power in 2008.

The LeJ was banned then as now; neither the ban nor the fact that Ishaq was in jail facing prosecution in as many as 44 cases in which 70 people were killed, came in the way of official funding. Ishaq has since been eliminated in an 'encounter'; that killing only highlights that there are Red Lines even for officially pampered and patronised militants, and a costly penalty awaits the trespasser. The point is the ministerial confession on LeJ funding was a manifestation of official sanction for sectarian attacks on the Shias in Pakistan.

In the murky world of militancy, loyalties are not permanent, and whoever pays the bucks calls the tune. So much so, the Minhas-speak is a call for a thinking cap. Many of the Pakistan based jihadis have become unemployed in the wake of army operation in militant homeland, of Waziristan and have become willing mercenaries. A large number of them have crossed over to Afghanistan where they have joined the IS ranks even as the Taliban and its affiliates are trying to catch up with the IS --style beheadings and kidnappings to keep their flock together from being poached by the new Caliphate champion.

"The Taliban are trying to send out a new message that they are similar in their brutality to IS," Shahgul Rezaye, an Afghan lawmaker, who is himself a Shia, told the New York Times this April. "They're trying to show they are as bad as ISIS," he added while referring to the on-going face-off between Taliban and the IS.

(To Be Continued)

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A blogger since July 2008 James Duglous Crickton is a London based consultant working with a consultancy firm focusing on Asia, particularly South Asia and East Asia. Political Research is his functional focus area. While his interests are (more...)
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