Pakistan’s 65-year history of missed opportunities seized by other rapidly developing nations like Korea, Turkey, etc, tainted by military coups, political infighting and a form of crony capitalism that has stifled its economy were enough of the destablisers, and when it seemed like it could not go any worse, the cat dragged in the leviathan of religious and ethnic terrorism. The barbaric acts of cruelty against Christians, Ahmedis and in particular Shiites this country has witnessed over the past few years, all in the name of religion and God, can bring the likes of Ivan the Terrible and Attila the Hun to tears.
Literati and commentators blame the former military dictator General Ziaul Haq for making it a state policy to fund and arm Wahabi groups in the 1980s. It is an established fact that the general used these organisations primarily against the Shiites at the behest of the state financier, Saudi Arabia. Shiites had natural sympathies with Iran because of religious and emotional proximity and there was no doubt that Saudi Arabia was supporting Wahabi groups through General Zia to kill Iran’s support in Pakistan, and hence Pakistan became a battleground for the war between two states striving for regional hegemony. In retrospect, this war did not actually start in the 1980s as per the famous Indian writer, M J Akbar. He states the animosity between the Sunni majority and the Shia minority in the subcontinent dates back to the Mughal era where the Mughal Emperor Humayun became a converted Shiite when he returned from Iran along with Shia preachers, which resulted in a mass conversion of Hindus to Shiite Islam. In later years, Aurangzeb persecuted Shiites, who by that time had grown in numbers. In short, this animosity has always been embedded in the very fabric of the subcontinent for hundreds of years, but always remained confined to discussions and dialogues among the religious clergy, popularly known as ‘manazara’, and were never militant.
These manazras were publicly held in towns, cities and villages among the Sunni and Shia ulema, which resulted in the conversion of people to either of the sects — depending upon who won the day through arguments and proofs according to the spectators, most of whom were completely or partially illiterate — the practice which continues to some extent to date.
According to the Pakistani historian Dr Mubarik Ali, the Wahabi influence in the Indian subcontinent was as old as Wahhabism itself. Abdul Wahab, the Arabian Salafi theologian and the founder of the hardline Wahabi ideology, who died in the late 18th century, was considered to be the pillar of the Saudi monarchy and his puritanical ideology of religion still holds a guideline for the kingdom and its sister Gulf states. Wahabi preachers started coming to British India in the 1880s and motivated many Indian Muslims to fight against the British rule. The puritan Deobandi sect was also an offshoot of the influence of Wahhabism in India.
“In Pakistan, Wahabi groups and organisations enjoyed state patronage and flourished at the expense of other groups, which were snubbed by various Pakistani regimes. It is a bit strange because Wahhabism is a minority Sunni sect in Pakistani, and Wahhabism not only affected the polity of Pakistan but also damaged the pluralistic Indo-Pakistani culture. Wahabis are against any cultural plurality so they attack shrines, music festivals and other cultural centres respected and revered by the Hanfi/Barelvi Sunnis, which are not Islamic in their view. Wahhabism has seeped into the psyche of many Pakistanis, causing an ‘Arabisation’ of many traditions. People now say ‘Allah hafiz’ (May Allah protect you) instead of ‘Khuda hafiz’ (May God protect you) and ‘Ramadan’ instead of ‘Ramazan’ in an attempt to imitate the Saudis. All kinds of hardline Islam is traceable to Saudi Arabia,” writes Dr Mubarik Ali.
Deobandis, though not Wahhabis, have become increasingly ‘Wahhabi-ised’ during the Saudi-financed, US-sponsored Afghan jihad via Pakistan. Secular critics are of the unanimous opinion that Saudi money and influence have had a corrosive influence on Pakistani society, encouraging a tide of conservatism: more veiled women, Islamist ‘televangelists’, and public shows of piety than ever before. Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest allies of the United States in the Middle East and along with serving as a mediator between Washington and Islamabad, it has a very intimate relationship with the Pakistan premier intelligence agency — ISI. Saudi Arabia, in all its controversial manifestations is still revered by the majority of Muslims in the world because of the two grand mosques, Khana K’aaba in Makkah and Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) Mosque in Medina, situated in the Saudi mainland.
The post-Zia years were plagued by power struggles and tension between successive political regimes of Bhuttos, Sharifs and the army. Either all these governments failed to realise the potential danger to the state that the militant wings of these foreign financed organisations posed or all the reports of scattered acts of violence and extremism that were pouring in through the media and various intelligence agencies were being shoved under the carpet. All was deemed to be well because there were other ends to be tied, which were the tier one priority of these regimes (plundering of wealth not being the top one, of course), resulting in these organisations being able to operate with impunity. Beneath the country’s calm surface was the world of lurking monsters, amassing finances pouring in from around the world, especially our brethren Islamic states, in the guise of charity, ultimately giving them power and human resources to muscle themselves free from the controls of their handlers. Then they came exploding out of the social fabric, like a fiend reminiscent of the scene from the 1975 Spielberg classic Jaws, where the protagonist Roy Schneider gets petrified at the first sight of the monstrous shark and for the first time realises the enormity of the danger and how ill-equipped he was to take on the behemoth. The terror-stricken face of Schneider in that very shot must be etched in the memory of cinema lovers; such must have been the face of our polity when it finally came to terms with the fact. Even then, most of the media, politicians and religious clergy criticised the state, but said nothing against Saudi Arabia, and to some extent Iran — the main financiers of the several militant Deobandi-Wahabi organisations and at least one militant Shiite organization in Pakistan, Sipah-e-Muhammad, formed to counter the Shia genocide. However, Sipah-e-Muhammad was completely obliterated by Pakistani security agencies during the 1990s and its leadership was either slaughtered, sentenced, or took refuge in Iran. Therefore the anti-Shia militant organisations had complete freedom to operate with impunity, without having any fear of being apprehended, resulting in the massacre of Shia Muslims at the hands of these organisations. According to a rough estimate, at least 19,000 Shiite Muslims, thousands of Sunni-Barelvi Muslims and hundreds of Deobandi/Wahabi Muslims have been so far assassinated by terrorist organisations. They are running amok at present, most with their headquarters in the tribal areas of the northwest of Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan, along with sleeper cells all over the country under the guise of some madrassahs and mosques.
(To be continued)
The writer is a businessman and a social activist based in Lahore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org