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Shias: Heretics in a Sunni Pakistan

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PESHAWAR: Family members of the victims grieve at the site of the suicide attack on Friday; (right) Bomb Disposal Unit personnel collect evidence inside the mosque.—Shahbaz Butt / White Star

A suicide blast inside a Shia Mosque took place at Peshawar’s Koocha Risaldar area on March 4, with hospital officials saying that at least 57 people were killed while 194 were injured. Mohammad Asim, a spokesperson for Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), confirmed the casualties, adding that some of the injured were in critical condition. KP government Spokesman Barrister Mohammad Ali Saif said the explosion was a suicide bombing. He added that two terrorists were involved in the attack. Barrister Saif said security was provided to mosques as a “general rule”. He added that the administration had adopted security measures at this mosque as well, adding that such measures were always ensured during congregation prayers on Fridays.

Though, the previous year is marked ‘peaceful’ in terms of attacks on Shia, still two distinct violent incidents took place. On August 19, 2021, explosion happened in Ashura procession of Shia community in Bahawalnagar of Punjab province of Pakistan. In this attack, three people were killed and about 50 people were injured. Prior to this, on January 2, 2021, 11 Shia coalminers were kidnapped and subsequently killed by Islamic State militants in Mach town of Balochistan.

Pakistan is home to more than 200 million people, almost all of whom are Muslim. It is also home to one of the largest Shia populations in the world, as an estimated 20 percent of Muslims in Pakistan are Shia. But, unfortunately, the members of Shia community are endangered to various forms of violence and so far, many thousands have lost their lives in target killings and explosions. Many go missing, never to come back, in acts of abduction. The past two decades of Pakistan’s history have been beset by the menace of violent religious extremism. Protracted dogmatic religious intolerance has led to a sharp increase in sectarian violence in Pakistan, predominantly between Shia and Sunni sects.

Historically, the Shia community has rarely been considered a minority in Pakistan (at least in treatment, if not in number). Shias being targeted in the same way as other religious minorities is a relatively recent phenomenon in Pakistan. Though, the Pakistan government does not officially support discrimination against Shias, it is waning to proficiently counter the influence of extremists and bring an end to viciousness and hatred against the community. The Shia population is spread all over Pakistan. While they do not constitute a majority in any of Pakistan’s four provinces, Shia do form a majority in the Pakistani-controlled autonomous region of Gilgit Baltistan. Significant numbers of Shia live in Peshawar, Hangu, Kohat, Dera Ismail Khan, Orakzai and Kurram areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; in and around Quetta and the Makran coastline in Balochistan; in parts of southern and central Punjab; and throughout Sindh. Large Shi’a communities live in urban centres in Pakistan, including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Jhang, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Multan and Sargodha.

The Hazara community within the Shia sect also suffer violence due to their religious practice, not conforming with the Sunni majority, and also due to the fact of being ethnically ‘divergent’. Among the religious minorities of the country, one can easily say that the greatest burden of sectarianism is borne by the Shia Hazara community. Hazaras have consistently been targeted by terrorists and religious fanatics since 1999 through suicide bombings and targeted killings, with more than 2,000 having reportedly been killed in the last 14 years. A large concentration of Hazaras is in Balochistan, especially in the provincial capital of Quetta. With a population of whom about 600,000 in Quetta, the community, whose physical features make them easy targets, has been targeted in a sustained campaign of murders and bombings that has claimed at least 509 lives since 2013, according to Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR). In addition, Hazaras are denied access to education and health facilities or to transportation in Quetta. Hazaras often try to conceal their identity by covering their heads when traveling outside the enclave’s groups, and terror outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), continue to organise public and free-spoken anti-Shia rallies, particularly against the Hazara community. Apparently, LeJ uses madrasa (Islamic Seminary) cells to run its extremist militancy against the Hazaras. The LeJ has claimed responsibility for various mass-casualty attacks against the Shia community in Pakistan. According to US Department of State’s Country Report on Terrorism, 2020, in July, 2020, Pakistani police arrested three LeJ operatives who were allegedly planning to carry out an attack in the Gujranwala, Pakistan. Explosive materials, detonators, and a safety fuse were recovered during the arrest.

Apart from direct forms of violence, members of Shia sect also suffer from random blasphemy cases, charged against them. Blasphemy, which is demarcated as the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God, has always been distorted by religious fundamentalists and fanatics in Pakistan, who have sustained discrimination against the religious minorities of the country. Freedom House reported in its 2021 Country Report for Pakistan: “Members of the Shia sect, Christians, and other religious minorities remain at risk of blasphemy accusations that can arise from trivial disputes and escalate to criminal prosecution and mob violence”. Moreover, the International Religious Freedom Report 2020 noted, “Human rights groups reported an increase in blasphemy cases and allegations against members of the Shia Muslim community”. There were 82 persons imprisoned on blasphemy charges as at 2019, adding that NGOs reported an increase in blasphemy charges in 2020 – at least 199 persons were charged, the highest number of cases seen in a single year, according to the Center for Social Justice (CSJ). Of those, 70 per cent of cases were against Shia Muslims.

The practice of enforced disappearances is a horrible practice followed in Pakistan, regularly pointing ethnic minorities such as Baloch, Pashtun, Sindhi, and Muhajir. However, in case of missing Shias, it is not clear why and on what grounds they ‘disappear’. According to UK government report of July 2021, at least 34 recorded cases had been missing for 2 or more years. Sources indicated that disappearances continue to occur. The report further stated that, in May 2018, estimates for the number of forcibly “disappeared” Shias ranged from 140 to around 300. The abductors, seemingly the security agencies, claim that the missing persons were involved in sectarian violence within Pakistan. The security agencies ‘fear’ that Shias who returned from Syria pose a threat to Pakistan’s stability. Under this excuse, the security agencies pick up Shias who return from Syria. Police and the paramilitary forces recurrently search Shia homes and tell the families that their loved ones will be sent back once the investigation is done. But the people are moved to hidden locations, with no information given to their families, hardly ever come back.

The government under Imran Khan need to protect the rights of Shia citizens by prosecuting those who carry out violence or provoke viciousness against the Shia or any other religious community. The government needs to act to safeguard that Shias, like those of all other faiths or no faith, continue to have the ability to live their lives without threat or fear of abduction and attack.

Dr. Sanchita Bhattacharya, is Research Fellow in New Delhi based Institute for Conflict Management. Her core area of research is Madrasa Education in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. She works on terrorism and socio-political issues of Pakistan. She also has an avid interest in the Af-Pak region. Her articles and commentaries have been published in East Asia Forum, The Kabul Times, The Outlook, The Pioneer, South Asia Monitor etc. She has written research papers in national and international journals and also contributed chapters in various edited volumes. She can be reached at sanchita.bhat83[at]


How Al-Qaeda’s Recent Growth in Africa Poses a Threat to Global Security



Al Qaeda’s ideology is based on the belief that the West is at war with Islam, and  jihad is the only way to defend Muslims and their lands. The group has been weakened in recent years by military and intelligence operations, In 2022 a Leader of Al Qaeda Aiman Al zawahiri killed by American drone strike in Kabul , but it continues to pose a threat to global security.

Al-Qaeda has been a global terror organization for several years, and it is notorious for its involvement in several deadly attacks. Recently, Al-Qaeda has been making headlines in various news outlets due to its apparent expansion and development.

The primary focus of Al-Qaeda’s recent growth and development seems to be the African continent. While it is hard to determine if Al-Qaeda is expanding, it is clear that its activities in Africa are increasing. The organization is working to establish a stronger presence in the region, and it is attempting to recruit more members from various African countries. It has also been reported that Al-Qaeda is working to secure more funding from wealthy donors in the region.

Al-Qaeda’s recent activity in Africa is concerning, given the region’s political instability and weak security infrastructure. The organization’s presence could destabilize the region further, and its involvement would make the fight against terrorism in Africa even more challenging.

Al-Shabab fighters have attacked a military base housing Ugandan forces of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, according to the East African country’s contingent and a Somali captain.Al-Shabab has claimed in a statement that it carried out suicide bomb attacks and killed 137 soldiers.

The attack by Al-Shabab on the military base housing Ugandan forces of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia could lead to a destabilization of the region. The Somali government, along with its allies, will need to take immediate action to ensure the safety of civilians and prevent any further attacks by extremist groups. Additionally, the attack may undermine efforts to bring stability to the country and lead to a setback in the fight against terrorism in the region. It is crucial for all parties involved to come together and work towards a peaceful resolution.

The attack on the military base may have several other impacts, including:

  1. Loss of life and property: The attack may lead to the death of soldiers, civilians and destruction of property, causing immense suffering to the people in the area.
  2. Displacement of people: The attack may cause the displacement of people living in the area, leading to a humanitarian crisis.
  • Political instability: The attack may lead to political instability in Somalia, further complicating efforts to establish a stable government.
  • Increase in extremist activities: The attack may embolden extremist groups, leading to an increase in their activities in the region and beyond.

Overall, the attack underscores the need for increased security measures and surveillance to prevent similar attacks in the future. It also highlights the urgency of resolving the conflict in Somalia to ensure lasting peace and stability in the region.

It is also worth noting that Al-Qaeda’s recent development is not just limited to Africa. The organization is attempting to rebrand itself and distance itself from its past. Recent propaganda released by Al-Qaeda seems more focused on portraying the organization as a force that is fighting for the oppressed and against oppressive governments. It is possible that this rebranding effort is an attempt to attract new members and supporters.

Although Al-Qaeda’s recent development may be a cause for concern, it is important to note that the organization’s capabilities are not what they once were. Due to relentless efforts to dismantle the organization, Al-Qaeda is not as powerful as it once was. Nevertheless, it remains a significant threat to global security, and countries and international organizations must continue to work together to fight against terrorism.

 However, Al-Qaeda’s growth is a matter of concern for global security. While the world’s superpowers may be busy dealing with other geopolitical challenges, Al-Qaeda’s activities should not be ignored. The organization has a long history of perpetrating violent attacks on civilians, and its recent resurgence in Africa could destabilize the region further. Al-Qaeda’s growth could not only put African countries at risk but also pose a threat to global security. As such, it is crucial that international efforts work collaboratively to combat terrorism and prevent groups like Al-Qaeda from gaining a foothold in vulnerable regions.

In conclusion, Al-Qaeda’s recent development is something that must be monitored closely. The organization’s expansion into Africa must be curbed, and international efforts must continue to dismantle the group. At the same time, it is crucial to recognize that the fight against terrorism is a global one, and it must be fought strategically and systematically to ensure the safety and security of people worldwide.

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From Extremism to Insurgency: The TTP’s Ideology and Strategy

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The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is an insurgency group operating in Pakistan that has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in the country. The group emerged in 2007 as a merger of several Pakistani Taliban groups and has since carried out attacks on civilian and military targets, including schools, mosques, markets, and security forces.

The TTP’s origins can be traced back to the Pakistani Taliban movement, which emerged in the early 2000s as a response to the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. The movement aimed to establish an Islamic state in Pakistan and was initially focused on fighting against the Pakistani government and its security forces. The movement gained strength in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where it established a parallel system of governance and carried out attacks on military and civilian targets.

In 2007, the TTP was formed as a merger of several Pakistani Taliban groups. The group was led by Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2009. Since then, the group has been led by several leaders, including Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2013, and Mullah Fazlullah, who was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan in 2018.

The TTP has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including suicide bombings, targeted killings, and kidnappings. The TTP’s attacks have resulted in the deaths of thousands of people in Pakistan, and the group has been designated as a terrorist organization by the Pakistani government, the United States, and other countries.

The TTP’s tactics and strategies have evolved over time. Initially, the group focused on carrying out suicide bombings and other high-profile attacks. However, as the Pakistani military launched a series of operations against the group, the TTP shifted its focus to guerrilla warfare and targeted killings. The group has also used propaganda and social media to spread its message and recruit new members.

The Pakistani government has launched several operations against the TTP over the years, with varying degrees of success. The most recent operation, Zarb-e-Azb, was launched in 2014 and aimed to eliminate terrorist groups in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The operation was largely successful in disrupting the TTP’s networks and reducing the number of attacks in the country.

However, the TTP remains a threat to Pakistan’s security. The group continues to carry out attacks, and its networks have shifted to other parts of the country, including urban areas. The TTP’s attacks have also inspired other extremist groups, such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, to carry out attacks in Pakistan.

The TTP’s insurgency has also had broader implications for Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors, particularly Afghanistan. The TTP has used Afghanistan as a safe haven, and there have been concerns about the group’s links to the Afghan Taliban and other terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan. The TTP’s activities have also led to tensions between Pakistan and the United States, which has carried out drone strikes against the group.

The TTP’s insurgency has also had broader implications for Pakistan’s society and economy. The group’s attacks have deterred foreign investment and tourism, and they have also had a negative impact on the country’s social and economic development. The TTP’s activities have also contributed to the spread of extremist ideology in Pakistan and have made it more difficult for the government to implement social and economic reforms.

One of the major challenges facing Pakistan in its fight against the TTP is the group’s use of safe havens in Afghanistan. The TTP has been able to operate from Afghanistan, where it enjoys the support of the Afghan Taliban and other terrorist groups. This has made it difficult for Pakistan to eliminate the group’s networks and disrupt its activities.

Another challenge is the TTP’s use of social media and propaganda to spread its message and recruit new members. The group has been able to use social media to reach a wider audience and to promote its extremist ideology. The TTP’s propaganda has also been effective in recruiting new members, particularly young people who are disillusioned with the government and its policies.

To address these challenges, Pakistan needs to adopt a comprehensive approach to counterterrorism. This should include not only military operations but also efforts to address the root causes of terrorism, such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of education. The government needs to work closely with its neighbors, particularly Afghanistan, to disrupt the TTP’s networks and eliminate its safe havens.

The government also needs to address the issue of social media and propaganda. This can be done by promoting alternative narratives and providing young people with opportunities for education and employment. The government also needs to work with social media companies to monitor and remove extremist content from their platforms.

In conclusion, the TTP is a significant insurgency group operating in Pakistan, and its activities have had a significant impact on the country’s security and development. The group’s tactics and strategies have evolved over time, and the government has launched several operations against the group with varying degrees of success. To address the challenges posed by the TTP, Pakistan needs to adopt a comprehensive approach to counterterrorism that addresses the root causes of terrorism, disrupts the group’s networks, and addresses the issue of propaganda and social media. Only then can Pakistan hope to eliminate the threat posed by the TTP and other extremist groups operating in the country.

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Revisiting Pulwama: Truth Revealed



On February 14, 2019, an explosive-laden car hit a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in a suicide attack in the Pulwama District of Indian-Occupied Kashmir (IOK) killing 40 personnel and escalating the first air battle between Pakistan and India since 1971. New Delhi claimed that the attack was perpetrated from across the border from Pakistan by Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and retaliated with massive airstrikes in Balakot district of the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa KP violating the territorial integrity of its neighbor. Pakistan launched Operation Swift Retort and conducted six massive airstrikes at multiple targets in IOK. This tit-for-tat resulted in the shot down of an Indian jet MIG-21 and the capture of its pilot. However, the air blow could not assuage Indian designs. New Delhi continued prevailing a narrative of ‘Terror-sponsoring’ against Pakistan on several fronts. Notwithstanding, Satya Pal Malik, who was the governor of IOK at the time of the attack, revealed that the attack was an Indian administrative mistake, but the Modi Administration gave the onus to Pakistan. 

Malik revealed that CRPF asked for five aircrafts to carry their people since such size of convoys do not move through the land. But the Home Ministry refused to give the aircraft. Malik claims that he conveyed this lack of administrative insight to PM Modi and its National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. The BJP administration replied, as Malik asserts, “Keep silence, all such onus is going towards Pakistan”.   

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan has asserted its stance in a press release saying that India again ‘vindicated’ Pakistan’s stance on the attack and under the pretext of terrorism advances its Hindutva agenda for political gains. India’s false narratives are again exposed to the world, the report says. In addition, Islamabad has also demanded an answer from New Delhi on his duplicity.

The ironic revelations signal three dimensions of India’s mischievous conduct towards Pakistan. First, the political will to solve bilateral issues is missing on the part of India. Successive Indian administrations especially of the BJP do not consent to solve the Kashmir issue and play this card for tightening their grip on Lok Sabha. On the other hand, they refuse a third-party reconciliation peace process. As a result, the region remains the most disintegrated part of the earth.

Second, although India claims to be the largest democracy on the earth and propagates to adhere to the global values of mutual coexistence, fair conduct and mutual non-aggression, it follows them in letter but not in the true spirit. In fact, New Delhi is still motivated by Realpolitik and the policies of Chanakaya based on pure calculations of power, deception and bigotry.

Third, India is an irresponsible nuclear power that designs such defamations and conducts cross-border attacks on other nuclear power in disguise of its designs. There is no denying the fact that the Pulwama incident had the full potential to transform into a nuclear escalation. Having said that, these factors widely contribute to the regional escalations and strategic instability.

Thus, given the power diffusion in international affairs in the wake of China, India will continue portraying such behavior in the foreseeable future too using evolving geopolitical dynamics. Therefore, the region must not be left at the New Delhi’s discretion. The international community must break its silence, and assert its stance on Indian duplicity. If not, the regional politics and escalations will have implications beyond the borders.

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