PAKISTAN: Killing of 46 Ismailis utterly condemnable

Today, persons hailing from the Ismaili community (a branch of Shia Islam) have been attacked while they were travelling on a passenger bus managed and operated by the community. According to media reports, six unidentified assailants on motorbikes opened fire on the bus from all sides, leaving at least 46 dead and 24 injured. Many women including children were aboard the bus during the attack. The bus was overloaded and when it came under attack; leaflets containing militant content were also found at the scene. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemns the cowardly incident and mourns with the grieving families.

A view of a pamphlet left by the attackers at the scene of the crime (Photo courtesy, Dawn) 

The state of law and order continues to deteriorate despite the military and Pakistan Rangers’ operations and crackdown on militants in Karachi, the port city of Pakistan. This incident is again proof of this fact. On one hand, the crackdown continues to result in brutality, as the law enforcement authorities compete to subject whoever falls into their net to medieval methods of torture. On the other hand, the authorities continue to be utterly unable to protect ordinary members of society going about their daily activities peaceably. 

The city of Karachi is thus in a vice like grip today. With a population of 18 million people, the city has been plagued for years by ethnic, sectarian, and political violence. But, the targeting of marginalized groups of society – non-Muslims and non-Sunni Muslims – by ultra-orthodox militants has only increased amidst the brutal military and paramilitary operation. It is obvious that either the strategy of the law enforcement agencies is not working, or the target of the crackdown was never the Taliban offshoots and outfits. 

In this case the authorities have left members of the Ismaili community complete defenceless. The Ismailis are the most peaceful and educated of all minority communities in Pakistan.

However, this is not the first time that they have been targeted by Taliban militia. On 2 February 2014, a video was released in which the Agha Khan Foundation, a charitable organization headed by the Aga Khan, the Ismailis’ spiritual leader and a globally renowned philanthropist, was threatened. On August 13 last year, there were twin hand grenade attacks at Jamat Khana, an Ismaili place of worship; this attack killed two and wounded 28 Ismailis. 

The Pakistan State and the army appear to be impotent and helpless in the face of Taliban. The Taliban has not been made a target in the Karachi operation, as they are strategic assets and useful non-state actors for those that control the levers of the State to maintain their hold over power. And, thus the Pakistan government continues to engage in and tolerate systematic violation of the freedom of religion. 

State complicity and disinterest in the wellbeing of minorities has increased the persecution of beleaguered minority groups such as Shias and Ahmadis,and Hindu and Christians. Muslim sects, mainly Shias, and others like the Hazaras in Balochistan, have become frequent targets of violence for their religious beliefs. 

All hate crimes, committed due to ethnic and religious intolerance, have gone unprosecuted and unpunished. The State has failed to implement protection mechanisms, either judicial or executive. Rather the State has used politics of religion as a tool to oppress minority groups. Extremist views have taken hold amongst the masses with encouragement of State actors. 

The Constitution of Pakistan has made it obligatory for the state to safeguard the interest of the minority, yet there is a steady rise in religious intolerance and the State’s failure to apprehend the culprits of such hate crimes. Article 2 of ICCPR requires the State to ensure equal enjoyment of all fundamental rights by all its subjects. 

The State’s bias against the minority groups stems from the fact that Pakistan, since its inception, has been fighting an ideological battle with itself. The insertion of the objective resolution that termed Pakistan as the “Islamic Republic” has paved the way for many arbitrary and biased laws against minorities such as the blasphemy law. 

Poor governance coupled with absence of the rule of law, a collapsing criminal justice system, and all out impunity for those that man the security apparatus has resulted in Pakistan turning increasingly into a totalitarian state. 

According to an assessment conducted by Minority Rights Group International (MRG), the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan has reached “critical levels” after having intensified in recent years. The report concludes that the government has done little to stop the mistreatment of minorities, who are systematically denied social and political rights. 

The AHRC urges that the State take immediate and effective action to ensure the safety and security of all minority groups who are being targeted for professing a faith different from that of the State religion. It is obligatory upon the State to ensure equal protection and enjoyment of rights by all citizens, regardless of their religious or political beliefs. 

The Pakistan government must bring the perpetrators of such acts of terrorism to book, take effective measures to integrate the minorities into the mainstream, and encourage inter-faith and inter-sect harmony.