Ever since the commencement of this year’s Holy month of Muharram, Shias of Pakistan – particularly those of the cosmopolitan port city of Karachi – are finding themselves in the worst of situation. Owing to an already lax security atmosphere pervasive all around the country, attributed to a plethora of factors – the major ones of which are orthodoxy-inspired terrorism being waged against the country by orthodox militants – the Shias of Pakistan continue to bear the brunt of the country’s worst.

In the past Islamic month of Muharram, which coincided with the month of October in the Gregorian calendar, heinous targeted killing attacks were waged on Shias’ mourning congregations. Even the congregations that were exclusively for women were not spared. In the face of this pogrom being exacted upon this denominational minority in Pakistan, the State’s response continues to be that of either being a silent spectator, or unleashing its muscle power on the renowned members of the Shia community, whenever they dare to point out the shortcomings in the methods of the law enforcement agencies vis a vis dealing with the menace of terrorism. 

The boiling point, however, was reached on 29th of October, 2016 when a mourning congregation of women was targeted by two gunmen, resulting in death of as much as five participants. On the 4th of November, what some would term as retaliatory attacks, took place as six men belonging to an outlawed ultra-orthodox organization were gunned down. Fingers were raised almost immediately at the rival denomination but what unraveled was most exasperating.  Just a day later what transpired was the arrest of a former PPP senator Faisal Raza Abidi.

Law enforcement agencies, as per the constitution, have a certain limited authority within lawful means to detain anyone whom they deem as suspicious, or having certain links to a criminal act. As long as we remain law abiding citizens, this privilege which the law enforcement agencies accrue cannot be flouted.

What raised eyebrows – rather what was seen as totally unacceptable – was the further arrest of scholars and leaders belonging to the Shia community the very next day on the 6th of November, 2016 . Allama Mirza Yousaf Hussain, the leader of the Shia Action Committee was detained in the intervening hours of the night. And what charges was he subjected to on the 7th of November? Merely those of criticizing the law enforcement agencies by pointing towards their shortcomings at the funeral procession in nabbing the killers of another prominent Shia activist, Khurram Zaki, whose killing took place earlier this year. Zaki’s killers still roam free. Another high profile detention was that of the General Secretary of Majlis-e-Wahadat Muslimeen, Allama Syed Ahmed Iqbal Rizvi. The charges were almost similar to the antecedent one. Syed Rizvi also addressed a protest gathering soon after Raza Abidi’s arrest. 

In the most blatant terms, all of these charges seem most ironic and trumped up to the core. Any Pakistani citizen who has even an ounce of understanding of the denominational milieu prevalent in the Pakistani fabric would affirm, that it is Shias who have been at the receiving end of the wrath directed at them by ultra-orthodox organizations. A particular slogan which forms the catchphrase of these sordid ultra-orthodox organizations seeks to demean the Shias as heretics and heathens.

Furthermore, these very ultra-orthodox banned outfits have no qualms at all in raising these slogans in public gatherings. On the 28th of October, 2016, one such ultra-orthodox organization held its annual confluence in Islamabad despite the imposition of section 144 of the criminal procedure code. Prior to this gathering, the leader of that banned ultra-orthodox group secured a very convivial sitting with the Interior Minister of Pakistan, secured all privileges from the Minister, which were somehow denied to them in the face of the much coveted and much touted National Action Plan. Not only was the atmosphere of the gathering of the 28th of October replete with what constitutes anti-Shia rhetoric and a blatant transgression from the National Action Plan, but was also reminiscent of hate speech, which is the demeanor of that sordid ultra-orthodox organization. But no arrests were made, nothing was pointed out by law enforcement agencies as incitement or an otherwise unlawful act.

After looking at this attitude one can easily construe why Shias in Pakistan continue to be an easy prey. Yet, when the Shia community raises its voice and its head against this pathetic attitude, their leaders are nabbed with the very accusations of hate speech which were and are in the first place directed at them.  However, somehow, the unlawful activities of this ultra-orthodox organizations slips pass the watchful eyes of law enforcement agencies, National political parties and our sterile and bankrupt intelligentsia.

The aforementioned opinion is contingent upon the events which unfurled these past days but also continue to unfurl in the ensuing moments. However, something very huge is at play in here. Ever since the Sharif government took control of the reins of Pakistan in 2013, it has spared no effort in moving Pakistan closer to the Saudi monarchy. The alignment in this case refers to the harmonious latching of Pakistan’s viewpoint with that of Saudi designs in the Middle East. Soon after the Sharif government was voted into power, the government tried to assume a stance which was a departure from that of Pakistan’s neutral position on the Syrian civil war. However, after some criticism the government was backed down from it. Then, again, came the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen in 2015 to annihilate Houthi Militia’s in which, initially, the Sharif government again wanted to toe a Saudi line but was foiled in its designs by the joint resolve of the Parliament of Pakistan.

However, in totality, the Sharif government and its elements within state institutions never toed an independent foreign policy approach vis a vis Middle Eastern affairs. It always acted as a servile follower of the House of Saud on critical Middle Eastern issues. This is exactly the reason why Pakistan’s otherwise slack Foreign Office was quick to curry up a Saudi version of “alleged” Houthi attack on Mecca, without even citing the viewpoint of the other belligerent party, the Houthis. 

Times have changed and in the face of mounting opposition from a certain political party, the Sharif government and its auxiliary elements within the state institutions deem it most vital to secure the favors of all those ultra-orthodox banned elements which are bankrolled by the Saudis. The National Action Plan is therefore the covenant of the past and, hence, these rogue and orthodox elements are at liberty with impunity to rant anti-Shia harangue and influence the public opinion of the Sunni majority in an antithetical manner towards the Shia minority. Consequently, we witness the happenings of today, and will witness everything else that is yet to unfold.