Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Pakistan: Who did it in Sialkot?

[The quick and easy thing to do is to blame it on India. Because the explosive device used Indian explosive material, this is a plausible explanation. This however would not be the right thing to do. It will definitely not help in getting at the root of the trouble we are faced with in Pakistan. In the strip along the Indian border our farmers use even Indian seed for their wheat crops. So the argument about the explosive material will not really hold. In 2003, we did that in the case of the killings of the Hazaras in Quetta. The prime minister of the country went on record as saying that he suspected an Indian hand because the Karzai government had allowed India to open its consulates in areas adjacent to Pakistan.]

Who did it in Sialkot?

In the face of terrorism, it is very important for Pakistan to focus on facts and not to forget the pattern recent incidents form. Above all, not to be in denial. Unfortunately, after each tragic killing, the state behaves erroneously in encouraging the people to think that terrorism is being directed from the outside — by India or the United States. The latest finding in the case of Sialkot suicide bombing which killed 30 nimazis on Friday last is bound to add to this misdirection of opinion.

According to the investigating agencies, clues have been uncovered about the Zainabia Mosque bombers and they lead to a ‘banned militant organisation’ that had earlier ‘struck in Quetta and Karachi’. The bombs used in the mosque explosion were locally made, but the attackers had used Indian-made explosive material: 2.5 kg explosive powder and one kg steel nails. The second bomb, found outside the mosque, consisted of two devices. It weighed 7 kg but luckily was defused. This second device, too, was found to have Indian components. But Indian explosive powder, it was said, was available at chemical shops in Pakistan. The bomber had used double the usual quantity of explosive powder, which increased the force of the bomb.

After the incident, the Shia community took out countrywide processions to protest. The Shia ‘official’ opinion during the protest accused President Musharraf of ‘offering a gift of our blood’ every time he visited the United States, implying that the deaths were the outcome of his collaboration with the Americans. Sialkot opposition MNA, Khwaja Asif of the PMLN, said on a private TV channel just after the blast that ‘no Muslim could have committed the crime’. He then quickly shifted gears to blame the government, fuelling further the destructive fury of the grief-stricken crowds in the city.

The quick and easy thing to do is to blame it on India. Because the explosive device used Indian explosive material, this is a plausible explanation. This however would not be the right thing to do. It will definitely not help in getting at the root of the trouble we are faced with in Pakistan. In the strip along the Indian border our farmers use even Indian seed for their wheat crops. So the argument about the explosive material will not really hold. In 2003, we did that in the case of the killings of the Hazaras in Quetta. The prime minister of the country went on record as saying that he suspected an Indian hand because the Karzai government had allowed India to open its consulates in areas adjacent to Pakistan.

Then in 2004 the ashura massacre of Quetta was timed with a similar massacre in Iraq. The loss of life among the Shia community there was many times the number lost in Quetta. Grand Ayatollah Sistani of Iraq decided that the massacre should be pinned on the Americans. Quickly the same was done in Pakistan. An Urdu columnist wrote in March 2004 that he was greatly uplifted (taza dam kar diya) when he heard the Iraqi Shia saying that 200 of them killed in Iraq on ashura was not the work of Muslims (read Sunnis) because ‘no Muslim could do such a thing’. The Shia in Iraq instead said that the evil deed had been done by someone else (kissi aur ka hath). The columnist then said that the Shia of Pakistan should develop the same kind of thinking (issi soch ki zarurat hai) about the ashura massacre of Quetta which had killed nearly 50 Shias.

Yet another famous columnist had written that the ashura massacre in Quetta was just like the massacre in Baghdad and Karbala and the Muslims were convinced that it was not done by [other] Muslims. At a time when America had unleashed its aggression on the Muslims, no Muslim group could think of killing another Muslim. In the case of the Quetta massacre, another country (read India) could join hands with America to commit this evil deed. Those who investigate the massacre should keep the idea of foreign hand (beruni hath) in their mind.

Earlier in 2003, someone had killed scores of Hazaras in Quetta. This was followed by more Shias killed in Karachi in the Suparco ambush. While everyone was blaming India, a retaliatory attack killed the leader of Sipah Sahaba, Maulana Azam Tariq, in Islamabad. Sipah Sahaba had been directly accused by the leading cleric of the Hazaras earlier. The FIR lodged after the assassination was against the rival sectarian party, not India. Still later, the man who masterminded the ashura massacre of Quetta was arrested and turned out to be linked to the various jihadi organisations whose warriors move around freely among sister organisations and kill on the orders of the same ‘high command’ that tried to kill President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz at the behest of Al Qaeda’s Aiman al Zawahiri.

If we want to get rid of the curse of sectarian killing, we must first get rid of the no-Muslim-can-do-it rhetoric that most politicians and opinion-writers find it convenient to use as a device of collective denial. No solidarity among Muslims can be built on the basis of a prevarication. The Shia-Sunni violence has been brought about, not by India and the United States, but by the state of Pakistan itself. When and how it was brought about by an Islamising state is known to those who have kept watch on the process started by General Zia. Today as we approach the clues on the Sialkot massacre of the Shias we should have the guts — if the evidence proves it — to name the ‘banned organisation’ and say that no ‘external hand’ was involved.

Daily Times 06/10/2004