December 7, 2012
The much-feared observance of Muharram is over in Pakistan without any earth-shattering incidents of sectarian violence. Yet, the period did see Muharram-linked violence in various parts of the country, with as many as 38 Shia deaths, apart from dozens of casualties suffered by the civilians and security forces alike. Some other planned attacks were thwarted by law-enforcement agencies, including a major threat to Karachi with the apprehension of a truck full of explosives. It is another matter that these incidents of violence, or plans for violent activities, were not considered as major tragedies, thereby indicating Pakistani society’s supreme indifference towards and acceptance of religious belief-related violence. Almost all government offices were closed for two to three days, markets and schools were shut down, and countless people were driven by fear to confine themselves to their homes. Special control and monitoring cells were created by all provincial police establishments. The Punjab government alone claimed to have deployed more than 100,000 police personnel to keep the terrorists at bay. The security deployment in Karachi was no less.
In the post-Muharram period, too, there does not seem to be much change in sectarian tensions. Targeted killings continue in Karachi: most can be attributed to the Islamic radicals of Tehriq-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and most victims were the Barelvi/Shia cadres of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Elsewhere, the campaign to cow down the media also continues. A bomb was planted in the car of Hamid Mir, the head of independent Geo TV, which was luckily spotted by his driver; no harm came to any one. TTP’s spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, claimed responsibility for the attempt to bomb Mir’s car in a communication to The Dawn.
What must be noted, however, is that the current wave of violent attacks and terrorist strikes in Karachi, and elsewhere in Pakistan, is neither linked to any particular religious festival nor is it the result of “turf wars” of yore to control areas of influence in the city for dominating the transport business and smuggling, including that of narcotics. The violence now is driven by a clear sectarian agenda to subdue, if not “ethnically cleanse”, the followers of rival, non-Sunni Islamic sects. TTP’s spokesman in Karachi, Umar Farooq, a former Jamaat-e-Islami functionary, is already on record as having declared that “We are a group of Islamic warriors fighting against infidels” and that “Karachi is our base and we will target anyone our leader Hakimullah Mehsud tells us to.” The violence in Karachi, it would seem, has the potential to “Beirutize” that city and totally disrupt normal functioning.