It was all too predictable. After being released from jail on bail, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader Malik Ishaq’s presence has already managed to cause violence and death on Sunday morning when members of his entourage clashed with a Shia community in Muzaffargarh district, resulting in at least two deaths and ten injuries.
Ishaq, a leader of the banned anti-Shia militant organisation, has been charged with the murder of 70 people, most of them Shia. He was released on bail on July 16 and has been travelling the country, preaching his message of bigotry against the Shia community ever since.
Ishaq had planned on travelling to Alipur in Muzaffargarh district on Sunday. Supporters of his organisation, as well as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (formerly the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan), had begun preparations on Saturday night, putting up banners and chanting slogans.
The Shia community of Alipur, had raised concerns with the police over the intention of the LeJ leading a procession through a Shia neighbourhood. Police officials dispersed the LeJ supporters on Saturday night and assured the Shia community that the event would be addressed by ASWJ leader Khadim Hussain Dhiloon and would take place indoors.
“We believed the police’s assurances,” said Kazim Ali Haideri, a local leader of the Punjab Shia Ulema Council.
At 4 am on Sunday morning, however, a welcoming party comprising approximately 800 young men on motorcycles chanting anti-Shia slogans started to ride into Alipur on the road from Panjnad.
For three kilometres on either side of the road is a Shia-dominated neighbourhood called Ghalwaan. While passing through that neighbourhood, at a point called Petrol Pump Wala Chowk, the young LeJ supporters encountered members of the Shia community.
It is unclear exactly what happened next, but given the toxic mix of armed young men confronted with people they have been taught to hate, it is perhaps sadly predictable that somebody started shooting (both sides claim it was the other).
The shootout lasted for several hours, during which at least two LeJ supporters were killed. Another 10 people were injured, including six from the Shia community. At least one police officer, Subinspector Shaukat, however, was confirmed injured by the police.
Following the armed clash, around 9.30 am, both sides retreated into their respective sanctuaries. The Shia community regrouped at the Sallonwala Imambargah while Ishaq’s supporters gathered at the Madrassah Jamia Hussainia.
During the clash itself, most of the police in the area, barring a few officers who had been posted nearby, did not go close to the warring parties.
Until the filing of this story, both sides remained holed up in their respective hideouts. The police are trying to negotiate a way for both sides to eventually leave, but had not been successful as of the time The Express Tribune went to print.
“They provoked the clash,” said Haideri.
It is unclear how Ishaq was allowed to leave his hometown in the first place, since he is on an anti-terrorism watch list whereby he is required to ask permission before leaving the jurisdiction of his local police station.
(Additional reporting by Owais Jafri in Multan)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2011.
More in PakistanTaliban hit list: Battleground shifts from headquarters to home