Targeting Shias in Pakistan

Sectarian violence in Pakistan has again taken a turn for the worse. From targeting civilians at prayer in mosques, extremist Sunni groups now seem to be targeting prominent Shia professionals. While the origins in the 1980s of this particularly violent phase of Sunni-Shia conflict are complex, it is clear that certain government policies, support for extremist groups by outside powers, particularly Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the alarming increase in everyday, seemingly innocuous, often private intolerance and prejudice are largely to blame for the nationalization of this conflict from its localized beginnings in central Punjab. While the recent move by the military government to ban the most extreme groups is to be welcomed and will help to limit the most egregious aspects of the violence by groups such as the Sunni Lashkar-e Jhangvi, there is some evidence that certain agencies of the government itself are involved in perpetuating the increasing gulf between Shias and Sunnis and are actively complicit in the violence. There is also much evidence that extremist sectarian groups have made important alliances with various organized crime syndicates, other extremist groups, and most disturbingly, with more mainstream political parties. In other words, addressing "law and order" aspects of the conflict should be taken only as a beginning. Most conspicuous is the virtual silence among the religious leadership and among the population at large when it comes to condemning the rise of sectarian extremism. The Sunni majority in particular must admit to the ways in which it promotes intolerance towards and mistrust of Shias by perpetuating all manner of stereotypes, and those in positions of leadership must speak out against all forms of sectarian intolerance.

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