Recent Attacks on Minorities in Pakistan
The severity and frequency of attacks against minorities throughout Pakistan betrays the extent to which the national government has tolerated, and even promoted, extremist ideologies. The state-endorsed programs of mass radicalization and barbaric blasphemy laws have inspired mobs to enforce their interpretation of Islamic scripture with lethal force.
On Thursday, November 6th, a Gujarat police officer extrajudicially executed an alleged blasphemer with an axe. Fifty-five year old Tufail Haider was taken into custody by Gujarat police after he had been severely beaten by a gang of Gujarat residents who allegedly overheard him making derogatory remarks about Islam. While none of his assailants was arrested for assault or charged with a crime, Tufail was denied medical attention and detained in a cell at the police station. A short time later Gujarat police officer Faraz Naveed entered the cell with an axe and hacked Tufail to death.
On November 4th in Lahore, a Christian couple were stuffed into a brick kiln and burned alive for allegedly desecrating the Quran. According to reports, Shazad Nasir Zurjah Nazir, and his pregnant wife Shyman Bibi Urf Shamar, had a financial dispute with the Yousaf brick kiln owner Mohammad Yousaf Gujar. Soon after their dispute, the local mosque loudspeakers began announcing accusations of blasphemy against the pair. Residents of Kot Radha Kishan gathered to the murderous calls of the local cleric. A mob stormed the couple’s home, broke down their door and dragged them into the street, then savagely beat them before forcing them into the kiln. They were burned alive in front of their three helpless children.
Kasur District police have registered a case against 660 villagers,under various sections of the Pakistani Penal Code and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act. After the incident garnered the attention of the international press, the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, announced a 5 million rupee compensation package for the surviving family members, in addition to 10 acres of land.
Earlier this year, in March, an eerily similar scenario played out in the city of Larkana, in Sindh province. A frenzied mob driven by accusations of blasphemy ransacked a local Hindu temple and set it on fire. Police did not arrest anyone in connection with the rioting and arson. They did, however, arrest and charge Sanjeet Kumar, the local Hindu resident implicated in the blasphemy accusations.
The former provincial governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, and former Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, both openly opposed Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. In January of 2011, Taseer was shot 26 times by his own body guard on the streets of Islamabad. Two months later,,Bhatti was killed when gunmen in Islamabad sprayed his car with bullets. In June of this year, Handery Masih, a Christian legislator from Balochistan and member of the National Party, was also assassinated by his own bodyguard. The assassination was allegedly motivated by a dispute between the bodyguard and Masih’s nephew.
In September of 2013, at least 80 Christians were killed and more than 120 people injured when a pair of suicide bombers, affiliated with the radical Islamic militant gang Jundullah, attacked a Christian church in Peshawar. Although police detained two people in connection with the bombing, no charges were laid.
But Christians are by no means the only minority group in Pakistan threatened by extraordinary violence. A recent wave of bloodshed has struck the Sikh community as well, in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Sikh merchant Harjeet Singh was killed on September 6th when gunmen stormed his herbal medicine shop in Peshawar’s Nothia Bazaar. A few days prior to that in the nearby town of Mardan, Sikh cosmetics merchant Amarjeet Singh was stabbed to death across the street from his shop. In another incident in August, gunmen opened fire on a group of Sikhs in Peshawar. Jagmot Singh was killed and two others were injured in the attack.
Shia Muslims have also been the victims of several attacks, including bombings of mosques and buses filled with pilgrims. According to an eyewitnesses, in Mashky Awaran, Balochistan, extremists chanted Allah-o Akbar ( God is great ) as they opened fire on the Zikri Baloch prayer house.
Notably, all of the assailants managed to escape, even though the attack occurred in the catchment area of the Frontier Constabulary (F.C.), a camp operated by Pakistani security forces. This fact reinforces suspicions that the Pakistani state is, at best, turning a blind eye to violent extremism.
In a 2014 report, the Minority Rights Group International (MRG), identified Pakistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for religious minorities. According to statistics from Human Rights Watch, more than 850 Shia Hazaras were killed by militant extremists in 2012 & 2013. Hundreds more have been killed since then.
While nobody charged with blasphemy has been executed to date, the primitive law does carry a potential death sentence, and allegations of “blasphemy” are frequently used to incite rioting and justify violence against minorities in Pakistan.
In 2009 Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of 5 was arrested on charges of blasphemy. Asia Bibi was accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) after a personal feud with a neighbor. In 2010 the Pakistan courts sentenced her to death for the crime. Although she has appealed the death sentence, the Lahore High Court recently rejected her appeals. Asia Bibi currently remains imprisoned on death row awaiting her execution. According to Amnesty International she is being held in inhumane conditions, and in complete isolation.
While officials within the Pakistani administration claim the blasphemy law is not exclusive to Islamic scriptures and serves to protect the scriptures of all faiths, nobody in Pakistan has ever been convicted of blasphemy for insulting the faiths of minorities, or destroying Christian Churches, Hindu Temples, Zikr-Khana, or Shia Shrines. The impunity afforded those who enforce radical Islamic ideologies only serves to encourage the spread of the prejudices driving the rampant violence and religious extremism consuming Pakistan today.
The Baloch Sarmachar, or freedom fighters, have consistently taken a very firm stand against the persecution of minorities in Balochistan. Not only have they issued numerous statements to this effect; they have also taken action to defend Zikris in Awaran, vowed to protect an ancient Hindu shrine, and committed to the protection of religious and ethnic groups. However, because Pakistani state officials and religious extremists both regard the Sarmachar as their enemies, the freedom fighters are obliged to resist violence and extremism on two fronts.
A recent fact-finding mission by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan concluded that the presence of ideological extremist groups, including sympathizers of ISIS, is growing in Balochistan.
Asma Jashangir, a human rights lawyers and member of the fact-finding mission, told the Pakistan Tribune that the spread of extremism was the single biggest concern of the HRCP.
“It is ironic that no one (security agencies and security forces) is taking action against these religious groups who are consolidating their positions in Balochistan,” she added.
Reporting by: Kyle Farquharson