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MASSACRES OF SHIAS IN IRAQ & PAKISTAN---THE BACKGROUND

Paper No. 941                                 03.03.2004

 

by B.Raman

 (This is to be read in continuation of my earlier articles titled " Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan,  Lashkar-e-Jhangvi,  bin Laden & RamziYousef "  (http://www.saag.org/papers5/paper484.html ), "Al Qaeda & Taliban Target Hazaras" (http://www.saag.org/papers8/paper731.html ) and " Iraq:  From Bad To Worse" (  http://www.saag.org/papers10/paper923.html  )
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In my despatch of February 16, 2004, from Israel, I had stated as follows: "The Falluja raid has come at a time when there are reports of the infiltration of about 60 Yemeni, Yemeni-Balochi and Pakistani terrorists, belonging to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (al-Almi meaning international) and the sunni extremist Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) into Iraq from Saudi Arabia.  They had gone to Saudi Arabia under the guise of Haj pilgrims.  After the Haj was over, they crossed over into Iraq instead of returning to their country.  Similar instances had taken place last year too. With their entry, the total number of foreign jihadi terrorists in Iraq is estimated at about 360 to 380.

2. To understand the anti-Shia massacres at Karbala and Baghdad in Iraq ( about 180 fatal casualties) and at Quetta in Pakistan's Balochistan (41 killed ) during the Muhurrum procession on March 2, 2004, one has to go back to the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

3. When Pakistan was formed in 1947, the Shias were amongst the major land-owners of Pakistan's Punjab, its granary, and many of the Sunnis, who migrated to Pakistan from India's Punjab, were largely poor landless farm workers, who had to earn their livelihood in their country of adoption by working in the farms of the Shias. The perceived exploitation of the Sunnis by the Shia landlords started the process of the polarisation of the two sects of Islam in Pakistan.

4. This sectarian polarisation largely due to economic reasons was given a religious twist by Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan's military dictator of the 1980s, after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. To counter the growing political assertiveness of the Shias and their political party, the Tehrik-e-Jaffria (TEJ) Pakistan, which generally supported Mrs. Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), he encouraged and assisted Sunni extremist organisations such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP).

5. With his blessings, the SSP challenged the right of a woman to come to political power and projected the Shias and Mrs. Nusrat Bhutto, the mother of Benazir, as the surrogates of Iran. The SSP also started calling for the declaration of the Shias as non-Muslims and for the proclamation of Pakistan as a Sunni State.

6. Even before Zia seized power in 1977, Pakistan used to see sectarian tension and clashes between the Sunnis and the Shias, but this violence took a virulent form in the 1980s. There were many targeted attacks on Shias in the Sindh and Punjab provinces of Pakistan and in the Northern Areas of Jammu & Kashmir (Gilgit and Baltistan, where the Shias are in a majority), which has been under Pakistani occupation since 1947-48.

7. The last years of the Zia regime saw the Shias of Gilgit come out with a demand for a separate Shia State consisting of Gilgit and the Shia majority areas of Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).  They wanted the Shia state to be called the Karakoram Province and remain part of a confederation of Pakistan.

8. The Zia regime crushed the Shia movement ruthlessly.  In August 1988, the Pakistan Army inducted a large Sunni tribal force from the NWFP and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), led by Osama bin Laden, into Gilgit and it massacred hundreds of Shias and crushed their revolt.  The hatred of the Shias for Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda dates from this period.

9. Shortly after this massacre, Zia died in a mysterious plane crash.  Though the report of the enquiry commission has not been allowed to be released by the Army, it is generally believed by many in Pakistan that the crash of the aircraft was caused by a Shia airman on board the flight.  In October,1991, Lt.Gen. (retd) Fazle Haq, a close associate of Zia, was assassinated in Peshawar, the capital of the NWFP, by Shia gunmen.

10. The virulent anti-Shia ideology of the SSP was also exploited by the intelligence agencies of the USA and Iraq in their attempts to destabilise Iran and have the Shia clergy ruling Teheran overthrown.  As a result of the support from the Saddam Hussain regime, the SSP, which was an anti-Pakistani Shia and not an anti-Iran movement, started targeting the Iranians living in and visiting Pakistan too in the 1990s. There were many attacks on Iranian civilians, diplomats and military officers coming to Pakistan for training.  The SSP was also used by the intelligence agencies of the USA and Iraq to instigate the Sunni Balochis  of Iran to revolt against Teheran.

11. Many notorious Pakistani and Arab terrorists  such as Ramzi Yousef, now in jail in the US for his involvement in the New York World Trade Centre explosion of February,1993 Maulana Masood Azhar of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), Fazlur Rahman Khalil of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, started their career as terrorists as members of the SSP and participated in many of its anti-Shia massacres in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.  When al-Zarqawi, along with some other Jordanians, many of them of Chechen ancestry, came to Pakistan in the 1980s to join the Arab mercenary force trained and armed by the CIA and the ISI and used against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan, his passport gave his name as Fadel al-Khalayleh, which is believed to be his real name.

12. On June 20, 1994 Ramzi Yousef and al-Zarqawi, at the instigation of the Iraqi intelligence, caused an explosion at Mashad in the Iranian territory adjoining Pakistan which killed a large number of Shias.  Zarqawi, along with the late Riaz Basra, the leader of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), the militant wing of the SSP, helped the Taliban in the capture of Kabul in September, 1996.

13. The LEJ subsequently helped the Taliban and Al Qaeda  in the massacre of the Hazaras (Shias ) of Afghanistan.  Osama bin Laden never liked Saddam, whom he looked upon as an apostate because of his secular and socialist policies, and the proximity of the LEJ and al-Zarqawi to Saddam's intelligence agency created differences between them and bin Laden.

14. Despite this, the LEJ joined bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People  after it was formed in 1998 and has remained loyal to bin Laden.  Till 2002, the anti-Shia activities of the LEJ were confined to Punjab and Sindh.  Balochistan remained largely free of anti-Shia incidents.  The situation changed after the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) by the Pakistani authorities at Rawalpindi in March, 2003 and his handing over to the USA's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  It was reported that KSM  had fled from Karachi to Quetta in September 2002, after the arrest of Ramzi Binalshibh and from there shifted to Rawalpindi fearing betrayal by the Hazaras (Shias) of Balochistan, who were suspected of helping the US agencies in their hunt for bin Laden because of their anger over the massacre of the Hazaras of Afghanistan before 9/11.

15. It is this suspicion, which was behind two anti-Shia incidents in Quetta last year.  In the first, Hazara policemen under training and in the second in the first week of July, 53 Shia worshippers were killed.  This suspicion against the Shias has increased in recent weeks in the wake of reports, contradicted by the Pakistani authorities, that President Pervez Musharraf has agreed to permit the US troops to comb for bin Laden in the FATA and the Pashtun majority areas of Balochistan.  The massacre of the Shias in Quetta on March 2 was in reprisal partly for their suspected collaboration with the Americans in their hunt for bin Laden  and partly for the murder of Maulana Azam Tariq, the leader of the SSP, last year, allegedly by Shia extremists.

16. In a message disseminated by Al Jazeera TV before the invasion of Iraq by the coalition troops led by the US last year, bin Laden had called for a united struggle against the Americans by the Sunnis and Shias of Iraq forgetting their sectarian differences. While continuing to describe Saddam as apostate, he appealed to the Shias and Sunnis not to let their differences come in the way of a joint resistance against the Americans.

17. Even before the invasion, terrorist elements of the IIF started moving to Iraq via Saudi Arabia and Iran for starting a jihad against the Americans.  The first group to go was from the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM). They went to Saudi Arabia as Haj pilgrims and from there crossed over to Iraq.  Subsequently, Arab-speaking volunteers of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and the LEJ also started going to Iraq in small numbers.  Many of the Arabs of Chechen ancestry, originally belonging to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who were in the South Waziristan area of the FATA, also joined them.

18. Neither the HUM nor the LET had in the past come to notice for indulging in anti-Shia massacres in Pakistan though some leaders of the HUM had originally been members of the SSP.  Of those who have gone to Iraq from Pakistan, only the members of the LEJ had indulged in anti-Shia massacres in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the past and could be expected to indulge in similar massacres in Iraq without any hesitation.  The Iraqi resistance fighters are unlikely to indulge in the kind of massacres carried out at Karbala and Baghdad on March 2.  The needle of suspicion, therefore, strongly points to the LEJ.

19. Their action in targeting the Shias of Iraq arises partly from their deeply-ingrained  anti-Shia reflexes and partly is a reprisal for the perceived collaboration of the Shia leaders of Iraq with the American troops.  If al-Zarqawi wanted to promote a civil war in Iraq by instigating Shia-Sunni clashes, as alleged by US officials,  the LEJ, with which he has had a history of association in the past and which would not hesitate to massacre Shias anywhere in the world, would be the ideal tool in his eyes.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: corde@vsnl. com )

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