The focus of our counter-terrorism debate has always been the TTP and its base of operations in the tribal areas. Far less attention is paid to the other militant groups that are terrorising the country and as a consequence they are able to operate without hindrance. The February 16 bombing in Quetta, which targeted the Hazara Shia community and killed 80, should hopefully end the silence. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the attack, as they have for many dozens of previous attacks against Shias. This outfit is on a mission to eradicate the Shia community and yet the state is unwilling to take action. The LeJ operates freely throughout the country and its leaders address rallies without worry.
The Shia community, meanwhile, has to live in a constant state of fear and insecurity.
There was a time when the military financially and diplomatically supported anti-Shia militant organisations because they were willing to send people to fight in Kashmir. That policy turned out to be an unmitigated disaster and was even officially disavowed by Pervez Musharraf. These groups may no longer fight in Kashmir but are still waging war against Shias. And yet their former patrons either continue to support them or remain silent about their atrocities. False accusations are flung around, accusing the Shias of being more loyal to Iran than their own country and this is then used as a pretext to justify their killings. At the same time, no one seems to care that these anti-Shia terrorist groups are possibly receiving funding from another foreign country – Saudi Arabia.
The last time there was a heinous attack on the Hazara community, a series of inspiring sit-ins around the country sent out the message that we will not stay silent any longer. As heartening as these shows of solidarity were, they will never be sufficient on their own. Only the state has the power and ability to tackle extremist groups. The solution requires a blend of intelligence work, military action and better law enforcement. It is just the will that seems to be lacking. Until the gravity of the situation is recognised, Shias will continue to be slaughtered and the groups targeting them will become even more powerful and untouchable.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2013.