Sectarian concerns – 19 Sep 2022

A RECENTLY released study by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group has raised some pertinent but disturbing questions about the state of sectarian militancy in Pakistan. In particular, A New Era of Sectarian Violence in Pakistan underscores the troubling prospect of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi cadres, largely dormant at the moment, playing an active role in the malignant activities of the Islamic State-Khorasan chapter, as the local Daesh affiliate is called. Separately, it also examines the role of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan in local communal politics and militancy. Though some conclusions of the think tank`s report are a tad alarmist, certain aspects send up instant red flags which the state would be foolish to ignore.

The foremost point that the state, particularly the security establishment, should consider is the budding alliance between LJ fighters and IS-K. Quoting officials, the ICG document says that LJ terrorists have mostly been absorbed by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and IS-K. What is especially alarming is the report`s contention that IS-K has struck roots in KP, Balochistan as well as parts of Punjab. For example, it says that LJ foot soldiers working as `hired guns` for IS-K in KP `number in the hundreds`. To put things in perspective, LJ is one of Pakistan`s deadliest sectarian terrorist groups. It is responsible for a long list of bloody anti-Shia purges.

While the LJ leadership may well be `decimated`, as the report rightly points out, its political supporters, in the shape of the Sipah-iSahaba Pakistan/ Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat are very much active. And if the IJ fighters combine their considerable local knowledge with the Islamic State group`s `expertise` in waging transnational sectarian war, the results for Pakistan`s internal security could be tragic. As for the observations regarding the TLP, it is evident that the latter has managed to weaponise blasphemy and sectarianise the political discourse, which bodes ill for communal peace in the country.

And yet, despite the presence of these malign actors, Pakistan is not in the throes of a communal conflict pitting Shia citizens against their Sunni counterparts. Moreover, claims in the ICG report that mothers tell their children to hide their Shia identity, or people refrain from giving their full names for fear of revealing their confessional status, may be true in rare instances, but are not the norm. And, notwithstanding the existence of sectarian death squads that go back at least four decades, Pakistan has thankfully been spared the ugly communal violence witnessed in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. But, if new threats are allowed to thrive, such as an active IJIS-K partnership, a return to violence is very possible. In this respect, there can be little argument with the ICG report`s concluding observation that the federal and provincial governments, political parties, the judiciary as well as the military will all `have to play a part in addressing the conditions in which sectarian militants thrive`.

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