Shia-Sunni relations in Pakistan
Main article: Sectarian violence in Pakistan
Pakistan, the country with the second largest Muslim population in the world, has seen serious Shia-Sunni discord. Almost 80% of Pakistan’s population is Sunni, with 20% being Shia, but this Shia minority forms the second largest Shia population of any country, larger than the Shia majority in Iraq. Until recently Shia-Sunni relations have been cordial, and majority of people of both sects participated in the creation the state of Pakistan in 1940s. Despite the fact that Pakistan is a Sunni majority country, Shias have been elected to top offices and played an important part in the country’s history. The founder of Pakistan Muhammed Ali Jinnah and the Bhutto family are Shia Muslims, as is Asif Ali Zardari and several top Pakistani Generals such as General Yahya Khan and General Musa Khan.
Unfortunately, in the last two decades, “as many as 4,000 people are estimated to have died in sectarian fighting in Pakistan”, 300 being killed in 2006. Amongst the culprits blamed for the killing are Al Qaeda working “with local sectarian groups” to kill what they perceive as Shi’a apostates, and “foreign powers … trying to sow discord.”
Some see a precursor of Pakistani Shia-Sunni strife in the April 1979 execution of deposed President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on questionable charges by Islamic fundamentalist General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. Ali Bhutto was Shia, Zia ul-Haq a Sunni.
The “Islamization” of General Zia ul-Haq that followed was resisted by Shia who saw it as “Sunnification” as the laws and regulations were based on Sunni fiqh. In July 1980, 25,000 Shia protested the Islamization laws in the capital Islamabad. Further exacerbating the situation was the dislike between Shia leader Khomeini and General ul-Haq.
Shia formed student associations and a Shia party, Sunni began to form sectarian militias recruited from Deobandi and Ahl-i Hadith madrasahs. Preaching against the Shia in Pakistan was radical cleric Israr Ahmed. Muhammad Manzour Numani, a senior Indian cleric with close ties to Saudi Arabia published a book entitled “Iranian Revolution: Imam Khmeini and Shiism. The book, which “became the gospel of Deobandi militants” in the 1980s, attacked Khomeini and argued the excesses of the Islamic revolution were proof that Shiism was not the doctrine of misguided brothers, but beyond the Islamic pale.
Anti-Shia groups in Pakistan include the Lashkar i Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, offshoots of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). The groups demand the expulsion of all Shias from Pakistan and have killed hundreds of Pakistani Shias between 1996 and 1999. As in Iraq they “targeted Shia in their holy places and mosques, especially during times of communal prayer.” From January to May 1997, Sunni terror groups assassinated 75 Shia community leaders “in a systematic attempt to remove Shias from positions of authority.” Lashkar i Jhangvi has declared Shia to be `American agents` and the `near enemy` in global jihad.
An example of an early Shia-Sunni fitna shootout occurred in Kurram, one of the tribal agencies of the Northwest Pakistan, where the Pushtun population was split between Sunnis and Shia. In September 1996 more than 200 people were killed when a gun battle between teenage Shia and Sunni escalated into a communal war that lasted five days. Woman and children were kidnapped and gunmen even executed out-of-towners who were staying at a local hotel.