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Anti-Shia campaign: Blowback from Pakistan Part-II

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Message James Duglous Crickton

Attacks on Shias in Afghanistan is a spill-over of the anti-Shia tirade in Pakistan. Noted American journalist Tim Craig voiced such a fear more than a year ago. In his dispatch from Islamabad to The Washington Post (Jan 15, 2014), he wrote: "A surge in sectarian killings is raising new fears about Pakistan's stability. But observers say any sectarian tension in Pakistan could easily spill over into Afghanistan, where security remains perilous and where religious and ethnic rivalries simmer, too."

Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, sees the sectarian violence as a very dangerous trend. "It is starting to take the shape of structural violence," he told the Post.

The Shia genocide is a nameless crime. "We are in the presence of a crime without a name, and faceless victims," laments noted Pakistani columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi.

According to Kugelman, "The reason why the plight of Shias in Pakistan is so alarming is that the Pakistani state has institutionalized sect-based discrimination." While these experts are right in their assessment, not many analysts have as yet focussed their attention on the possibility of Pakistan's anti-Shia crime findings its way into Saudi Arabia. Entertaining such a possibility will be no more than an act of blasphemy.

Over the years, Saudi Arabia has acquired a larger-than-life profile in Pakistani discourse. Saudi Aria, America and Allah have become the presiding trinity, though not necessarily in that order.

The royal family has acquired the role of arbitrator in matters of Pakistani polity too.

Recent developments show that all is not hunky-dory between Islamabad and Riyadh. Saudi government has not earned any brownie points by executing Pakistanis who are into drug business. Arrests and trial are not limited to peddles. A Pakistani intellectual earned the wrath of Saudi authorities and had to cool his heels till Islamabad stepped in with a good word under public pressure. Topping this ground-swell of anti-Saudi mood is the Mina tragedy on September 24 and has created a fertile ground for anti-Shia blow back effect on the Kingdom. The Mina tragedy was the deadliest stampede in the history of Haj pilgrimage, and the death toll is put at anywhere beyond 1600.

The Saudi government is yet to yet to provide an updated death toll from the crush and stampede near Makkah. What is worse there is as yet no account of hundreds of pilgrims, many of them Pakistanis.

Both the media and political parties in Pakistan have taken to task Riyadh for what they termed as poor management and asked Nawaz Sharif government to convey Pakistanis' anger to the Saudis. Some editorials even ticked off the royal family, which, though unusual, showcases the public mood.

"The Saudi Grand Mufti has cleared the royal family of all responsibility for the tragedy, saying that 'fate and destiny are inevitable'. Considering that Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and everything is overseen by the royal family, the cleric's remarks seem premature. Moreover, the Saudi health minister's comments blaming pilgrims soon after the tragedy were hasty and insensitive -- how could the official make such a sweeping statement so soon after the disaster?" asked an editorial in the sedate English daily, Dawn.

Like in the past, this time also, the government in Islamabad did not cross its Red Line since Saudi Arabia has been one of the main pillars of support for Pakistan -- politically, diplomatically and financially. It was the Saudi money that had bankrolled the American sponsored Jihad against the Soviets and gave birth to Taliban, Sunni vigilantism, and sectarianism; the religiosity of the then-dictator, Gen Zia-ul-Haq, pump primed them.

The official Pakistani agency that controls airwaves in the country has warned television channels not to criticise Saudi response to Mina tragedy. "Avoid targeted criticism of the royal family," it told the media houses.

The diktat was received with disdain, and the Sharif government itself came on the firing line.

"Oddly enough, unlike most other affected Muslim-majority states, Pakistan's response to the tragedy has been one of indifference. Such inaction coupled with a head-in-the-sand approach to mismanagement of the pilgrimage is shocking. The government must not only take a proactive approach, it must be seen to be doing so. The scale of the recent tragedy demands a strong response," Dawn wrote on Oct 10.

Now, is it justified to see the attacks on the Shia mosque in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere- Bangladesh including - as an extension of the anti-Shia sentiment that Pakistan Sunnis harbour? The answer appears as a resounding yes.

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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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