Killing in the name of God in Pakistan

State-backed sectarian violence is on the rise in Pakistan as authorities cosset and back hellbent Islamic Sunni radicals

Supporters of hardline Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan carry shout slogans during a protest against the reprinting cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad by French magazine Charlie Hebdo, in Karachi on September 4, 2020. - Photo: AFP/Asif Hassan

[Supporters of hardline Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan carry shout slogans during a protest against the reprinting cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad by French magazine Charlie Hebdo, in Karachi on September 4, 2020. - Photo: AFP/Asif Hassan]

PESHAWAR- Pakistan is reeling under a new surge of sectarian violence targeting Shiite and other religious minorities across the country, threatening new rounds of instability in the Muslim majority nation.

The rising trend is being fueled in part by state organs and authorities who cosset and align with radicals bent on violence instead of upholding their duty to protect marginalized communities.

Over 96% of Pakistanis practice Islam, of which anywhere between 75-95% of adherents are Sunni. Shiites comprise somewhere between 5-15% of all Muslims while Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis combined make up around 3% of the population.

Over the last month, four people including two Shiite Muslims, one Ahmadi sect member and a US citizen who renounced the Ahmadi sect have been brutally gunned down for apparent religious reasons.

Over the same period, around 50 people mostly belonging to the Shiite sect were booked under draconian sections – namely 295-A and 298 – of the blasphemy law as defined under the Pakistan penal code for allegedly “insulting the companions of Prophet Muhammad.” Penalties for insulting Islam under the law range from fines to death.

Encouraged by the mass filing of blasphemy cases against Shiite orators by the local administration, thousands of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) Islamic group activists took to the streets last week in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi against the minority.

Both extremist outfits had clear backing and support of security agencies and authorities. The rally pelted an imambargah (Shiite religious place) with stones as unruly radical Sunni mobs went berserk in the Imamia Lines Area.

A Pakistani Shia Muslim girl holds a placard during a protest against sectarian violence in Karachi, Pakistan in a file photo. Photo: AFP