Why has Jhang become a hotbed of Shiaâ€“Sunni conflict?
The rivalry between the two leading kinships in Jhang â€“ the Syeds and Sials â€“ is also a factor. These competing kinships have deliberately exploited and aggravated the sectarian fault lines in Jhang for local political advantage.
Equally important is the role of the migrants, who settled in Jhang after partition. These local traders and bazaar merchants from East Punjab had wealth but no political clout, which they aimed to gain through unequivocal support and funding for outfits such as Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. This rising urban commercial class, locked out of political power by landowners who traditionally dominated district politics, have therefore somewhat unwittingly contributed to bloodshed.
Like all militant struggles, the anti-Shia campaign of the SSP has thrived on such bloodshed. Sectarian killings began with the murders of Ehsan Ellahi Zaheer in 1987 and Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqh-e-Jafariya Pakistan leader Shaheed Allama Arif-ul-Husseini in 1988.
On February 22, 1990, terrorists Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, the SSPâ€™s founder, was killed in a retaliatory bomb attack. Following Haq Nawazâ€™s death, his successors used the cult of the martyr â€” around which, ironically, the Shia theological discourse is structured â€” to enhance the SSPâ€™s electoral standing. Â From the outset, the SSP leadership sought influence in the National Assembly in order to amend the Constitution and cause a â€˜Sunnificationâ€™ of the Pakistani state.
In 1996, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi emerged as an armed offshoot of the outlawed SSP, as violence escalated. Members of the Jhang District administration, the SSP leadership, and other notables were included in negotiations that led to a peace treaty. Only a few days after the accord was reached, a bomb exploded in Jhang, killing three Sunnis and injuring 28. This effectively sabotaged the peace efforts.
The SSP expanded beyond its roots in sectarian rivalries and Biraderi politics in Jhang. It organized itself remarkably well at the district and tehsil level. Acccording to one estimate, by the time that the SSP was outlawed in January 2002, it controlled 74 district and 225 tehsil level units. In addition, the SSP ran 17 foreign branches, in countries that included Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Canada, and the UK.
The SSPâ€™s growing influence was accompanied by an association with violence. While Jhang was the scene of many sectarian killings, they spread to other areas of Punjab and beyond. Although the SSP attempted to distance itself from the activities of its armed offshoot, Lashkar-e Jhangvi, this was never done convincingly.
The SSP extremists had two major modes of operation: targeted killings and indiscriminate shootings in places of worship. A number of leading Shias were assassinated.
By 1992, SSP activists had gained access to sophisticated weapons systems. Saudi Arabia was the major source of funding.
Sectarian polarization enabled the SSP to increase its vote bank. In the central Jhang constituency, in the 1990 election, terrorist Esar-ul-Qasimi, Haq Nawazâ€™s successor and vice patron, secured victory with a considerable majority.
The military takeover on October 12, 1999 may be one of the reasons that militant groups assumed a low profile for a few years. However, the 2002 elections, which were held under military rule, reversed the process.
Blasphemer Azam Tariq won the election despite being in jail. Although both the LJ and the SSP, along with their Shia rivals, the SMP and the TNFJ, had been banned, Tariq was allowed to contest the elections as an independent candidate. This decision evoked a sharp reaction from
many quarters. In October 2003, Azam Tariq was killed in Islamabad. There had been 20 previous attempts on his life.
The causes of sectarianism are hydra-headed â€“ and though Jhang is a specific case, the problem applies throughout the country. Dr Tahir Kamran, who heads the study of sectarianism at Government College University Lahore, attributes the increased conflict to Zia ulHaqâ€™s Islamisation programmes, the Afghan war, the proliferation of Deobandi madrasahs to block the Islamic revolution of Iran.
Defying the relative calm across the country during the month of Muharram was a place known for its intransigence on such matters.
Eight Shia Muslims were injured in attack of Wahabi-Nasabi terrorists of Sipah-e-Sahaba in Jhang on three days violence erupted on Monday 9th Muharram. The leadership of Wahabi-Nasabi terrorists of Sipah-e-Sahaba warned police that it was not allowed Shias to hold their main Ashura procession until those involved in a â€œsacrilegious incidentâ€ were taken into custody.
The incident in question is what instigated the sectarian violence, which started in Jhang city on Sunday night.
Ubaidullah Usmani, media coordinator for the banned terrorists Wahabi-Nasabi outfit of Sipah-e-Sahaba told The Express Tribune that the leadership of his hardline party had tried to tone down the situation â€“ but put full responsibility on the police for not arresting the accused. The leadership has called for activists to gather over Muharram if the culprits are not arrested â€“ this after 500 people initially gathered following the news of the supposed â€˜blasphemyâ€™.
Later, the police registered a case against the unknown accused â€“ only for them to escape from the area, according to Ubaidullah Usmani.
This caused tension to rise on Monday. Wahabi-Nasabi outfit of Sipah-e-Sahaba members gathered and staged protest against the policeâ€™s what they called ineffectiveness, only for a number of Shias to gather in the same place. To avoid clashes, the police intervened. However, they could not stop provocative slogans being chanted by each group, which ultimately led to aerial firing. The resultant baton charges from the police left eight people injured.
The district police officer, Rao Abdul Karim, told The Express Tribune that the authorities are doing all they can to find the people responsible for placing the name on the dog. They are also, he said, in contact with the leadership of both sects to calm the situation and ensure a peaceful Ashura in the city.
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