Pakistan: Hardline Sunni groups on collision course with Shiites

Rights groups in Pakistan say they are alarmed over rising blasphemy cases in the past months. Many of these cases have been registered against Shiites, who have come under pressure from fundamentalist Sunni outfits.

Pakistani police registered at least 40 blasphemy cases in August, according to the country's human rights groups.

The South Asian country's independent Human Rights Commission said most of these cases were filed against Shiite Muslims in relation to speeches made at religious processions.

On Friday, hardline Sunni groups organized a large-scale rally against Shiites in the country's financial hub, Karachi. Thousands of people participated in the demonstration and chanted anti-Shiite slogans, including "Shia kafir" (Shiites are infidel).

Read more: Why are Pakistani Shiites 'disappearing'?

Although, the Sunni-Shiite conflict in Islam is centuries old, it intensified in Pakistan in the 1980s, after the 1979 Iranian revolution and the subsequent Saudi-Iranian rivalry.

Sunni groups accuse Shiites of "disrespecting" some of the Prophet Muhammad's companions, who they hold in high esteem.

In the past decade, pro-Saudi Sunni militant extremists have intensified their attacks on Shiites, who have a religious affiliation to Iran.