The other militancy

In Pakistan, the Shia-Sunni conflict is causing a vertical split in society.

The jailbreak that took place in Dera Ismail Khan this summer was disturbing not only because the Taliban could liberate 248 fellow militants, but also because they took the time to single out and kill Shia prisoners. Sectarianism has indeed become a pervasive phenomenon in Pakistan — and a very violent one, as evident from the record number of casualties registered so far in 2013. This toll is due to the targeted killings of political leaders of the "other" community. But not only them, since both groups have diversified their targets. The Shias — doctors, civil servants and even army officers — have been the main victims. Both groups have also resorted to less discriminating methods, tipping over into mass crimes that aim not only to decapitate rival organisations, but terrorise the Other: blasts occur outside a mosque after the Friday prayer, suicide bombers decimate a procession or a family celebration, each time killing dozens of innocent people.

This escalation reflects a political strategy. For decades, sectarianism was not an issue in Pakistan. The founding father of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was an Ismaili and several of its top leaders — Iskander Mirza and Yahya Khan, for instance — were Shias without people even knowing it. Z.A. Bhutto, who was married to an Iranian woman, like Mirza, has been suspected of being one. And inter-sect marriages were commonplace. But political entrepreneurs and outsiders have created this "ism", like communalism in India. Zia-ul-Haq implemented a form of "Sunnisation" in the name of an Islamisation policy that was intended to give him legitimacy after his 1977 coup. As a result, the Shias objected that the taxation policy the Pakistani state was implementing under the garb of officialising zakat was not in tune with their traditions, and they mobilised in large numbers against it in 1980.

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