Is Pakistan capable of protecting its minorities?

Published: May 24, 2015

Pakistani civil society activists carry placards as they shout slogans during a protest against the killing of the Shiite Ismaili minority. PHOTO: AFP

The recent attack on the Ismaili Muslims in Karachi brought a lot of things into perspective. Firstly, it exposed the ineffectiveness of various military, rangers and police operations, and, secondly, it unveiled the dangers our minority communities are exposed to.

But seeing this attack in isolation would not be of any help. We need to understand how religion has facilitated the state and, by extension, the militant organisations over the past decades and how it has led to the conundrum that we find ourselves in now.

The first time Islam came to serve the government was in 1953, for Mumtaz Daultana, which led to the victimisation of Ahmadis. After this, while almost every government took religion’s aid to stay in power, it was during Ziaul Haq’s era that the scope of religion was extended as an agent to fight the American war against Russia. This step essentially led to the establishment of the first international religious jihadi organisation, the Haqqani Network – according to Stanford University.

And the number of jihadi organisations has grown rapidly since then.

According to the South Asian Terrorism Portal, currently in Pakistan, there are 48 domestic, national and transnational militant jihadi organisations operating. This alone shows how fertile the country has become for religious organisations that have devoted themselves to eradicating ‘lesser Muslims’ – like the Twelver Shias, the Bohri Shias, Ismailis, Ahmadis and the Barelvi Muslims.

Countries across the globe chalk out cohesive and well-planned strategies to eradicate radicalisation of any orientation. However, in Pakistan, it is the opposite; here, the state has been reduced to issuing mere condemnations after every brutal killing. And, similarly, it has no power whatsoever to conduct operations against those extremist elements with which it shares cordial relations and considers as ‘strategic assets’. The terms ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’ are a manifestation of this unrealistic approach. The state has adopted a dualistic approach here. It sponsors extremist organisations and also condemns the killings of innocent citizens by those very organisations.

While it is not to say that India might not be involved in training actors who could disrupt peace in Pakistan, it is the state’s responsibility to ensure the security of minorities from all of its enemies. The ordinary man is least concerned about who carries the attack out; their sole worry is about their own security – a primary right which the state has failed to give them.

Ismailis have been targeted previously as well – in Chitral, Gilgit.

In Chitral, many Ismailis were killed during Zia’s regime and Ismaili jamatkhanas (worship places) were set on fire during the same period. A number of Ismailis, who have been killed individually, have never been reported on mainstream media. In Karachi, the Ismaili jamatkhanas have been attacked previously and many Ismailis have fled Karachi due to security reasons from Garden and adjoining areas.

In 2014, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) released a 50-minute long audio message threatening Ismailis to stop their work as they were supposedly “promoting western culture” in Pakistan.

After the Karachi incident, the media in Pakistan stopped mentioning the words ‘Ismaili Muslims’; instead, it carefully adopted the words ‘Ismaili community’ – the Urdu newspapers used the word ‘Ismaili bradari’ – to refer to the minority. The news analysis projected the philanthropic work of Ismailis and their imam, and asked the government to protect “a community that is economically contributing for the betterment of the country”.

One wonders if “contributing economically” is the reason for the state to protect its citizens or is it the nature of the social contract that a citizen has with the state under which the government is solely responsible for the protection of its citizens. That still needs to be answered.

States do not protect minorities because they contribute towards the betterment of the economy, health, education, or art; they do so because they are citizens of the state.

Coming from an Ismaili background, it was interesting to note that many prominent news anchors and journalists have literally no knowledge of Ismaili history. The Ismailis were mentioned as Aga Khanis in each report, which is not the religious identity of Ismailis. Aga Khan is an honour title bestowed on Hasan Ali Shah, the 46th imam of Nizari Ismailis, by Persian King Fath-Ali Shah Qajar.

It was funny to note one journalist asking naively why Ismailis were being killed as they were neither Sunnis nor Shias. Such is our understanding of various Islamic sects. Moreover, in almost all newspaper reports, the attack was not condemned as an attack against an Islamic sect – it was condemned because the “Ismailis were peaceful people”. This sums up very well how informative and free our media is.

The attack on Ismailis, and other minority groups in Pakistan, is a result of the failed Afghan-jihad policy of the state. And unfortunately, the state has no interest in learning from its past mistakes as it still debates in its parliament about the Yemen issue and seems enthusiastic to fight another war despite having lost 50,000 of its citizens. In the meantime, militant organisations are mobilising masses to protect the Harmain Sharaifin at the cost of their lives.

Pointing all fingers towards RAW and India is giving safe passage to the extremists who are subverting peace of the country and are brutally killing members of minority communities. The state has zero interest in dealing with these militant organisations. This attitude of the state must send a clear message to minorities that their killings will continue in the near and distant future.

Some people will light up vigils, some TV channels will air talk-shows, and some newspapers will highlight their ‘peaceful attitude’ and their ‘great services’ for the nation. But no one will try to discuss the real problem, and in turn, its solution.

Legendary Urdu poet Jaun Elia once said,

Hamara aik hi to mud’da tha,

Hamra aur koi mud’da nahi

(We had only one desire,

We don’t have any other desire).

The minorities in Pakistan had and have only one desire – the right to live freely as a citizen of the state. But does the state have the same desire?


Mustafa Kamal

The author has done his MS in government and public policy from National Defence University. He is a social activist, hailing from Gilgit Baltistan and currently studying at Aga Khan University, London

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Alam

    ‘lesser Muslims’ – like the Twelver Shias, the Bohri Shias, Ismailis, Ahmadis and the Barelvi Muslims etc..etc…

    I never thought the pure land had so many caste system or caste…ok….now i will try to learn more about why sunnis are so extreme or their faith is so week that it gets destroyed by just making cartoons and film…and we already have lot of problems related to population all over world….so why sunnis are hell bent on converting and making Jannat also over populated…….Recommend

  • L.

    The church and the state need to be separated ASAP. Its the only way. Otherwise after Ahmadis, christians, hindus and now Shias (who are the largest group from the minorities), who is left?Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath

    Wonderful article. The Afghan Jihad has failed and backfired on Pakistan, what about the Kashmir Jihad? What happens when than backfires!Recommend

  • Jehangir Khan Mescanzai

    A very well written article. Clearly outlining the failures of Pakistan to protect it’s
    minorities. In fact, it aids and abets these extremist and terrorists organisations
    in exterminating it’s own citizens. And very conveniently looks the other way, on
    notice. This has been proven repeatedly. When there is a culture of religious
    rigidity and children are programmed and taught at a very young age to perpetuate
    the religious differences of WE SUNNI verses THEM then there is not much hope.
    This has been ongoing for decades, with the complicity of the military, political
    and religious leaders. The most Bigoted the most Racist the most Religiously
    Intolerant badges can now be affixed next to the other shameful titles of the
    most Dangerous, the most Corrupt, of this most Misgoverned and Mismanaged,
    Sunni Khawariji/Takfiri Nation. RAW? If RAW is succeeding….then ISI is failing.
    [the line for the patriotic drum beaters, in denial, singing anthems, forms on the left]Recommend

  • Jasvinder Singh Marwaha

    It suits us fine.Recommend

  • jublee

    its true, this is our ziasim mindset that alive not bhutto. The sad part is ,when after such incidents people supporting such terrerist acts and justifying with their stupid logics,, the writer portrayed in very excellent way and worth reading peace for all those who just blame foreign countries rather reviewing and condemn mulla raj….Recommend

  • Gensys

    After few years one need not worry about minorities because by then either they would have been killed or left the country.Recommend

  • someone
  • p r sharma

    The title of the article should be if Pakistan is WILLING to protect its Minorities.Recommend

  • Hafeez Darwaish

    a brilliant and insightful right up by a well-versed writer. Agreed. Lets pray the sanity prevails.Recommend

  • Rana Eddy

    Protection of Minorities is a myth , which will never be possible completely in any society . But whether one is Secular or not , to what extent the Civil society endorses Secularism & pluralism matters. That it is the difference between the West & the developing countries . This in turn is the difference between India & Bangladesh on one hand & Pakistan or the Middle East on other.Recommend

  • Rohan

    You can solve all the problems of Pakistan be it earthquakes or floods by just saying the 3 magical words
    ‘RAW did it’Recommend

  • Javid Burushian

    The failure the Pakistan media to put their understanding of the Muslim minorities into the rihht perspective is not due to lack of information but the Sunni- centic view of the whole so called Ummah. The political leadership inevitably suffers from the same ‘syndrom’.
    On the other hand, the nation collectively seems tohave coelesced to the present nnarrative and now terror attacks are considered as a routine. Specially aided by the deafening absence of the so called moderate civil society (if that has a considerable presence) has dwindled the chances, at least in near future, tosteer out ofvthe present conundrum.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    And all issues of India can be resolved by just stating: “It happens in Pakistan aswell!!”

    Next time, come up with something authentic when attempting to peeve. Otherwise your voice will drown under the numerous Indians trying they luck on ET.Recommend

  • Rohan

    We don’t compare ourselves with the failed mullah republicRecommend

  • Farhan

    Why are you here then? :)Recommend

  • abhi

    It is not about capability, it is about intent.Recommend

  • Tarun

    That is not how we solve issues in India. We at least accept our fallacies. You are clearly incapable of even accepting them. Next time dont try to equate what happens here with what happens in your country. We clearly arent the same. Even now there is a probe into the Gujarat violence and nobody is saying “Pakistan did it”. That’s because maybe we are not in denial and can accept what we do, whether we justify it or not is our problem.Recommend

  • L.

    Yet you are still here, comparing yourself with this “failed mullah Republic”. Nothing better to do I guess. Recommend

  • L.

    Accept your fallacies? Are you new to ET or what. There are indians here who cant stand you talking about the rape epidemic in India cos “its shameful”. Whats truly shameful is them ignoring the issue.

    And I dont need your permission Mr Tarun for comparing one thing to another. You on the other hand, are recommended to get off a Pakistani website if you cant stand us mentioning your beloved homeland. Or the Internet all together if you cant keep yourself from telling people what to do.

    How about the justification of rape ah? Is that also not a problem for “you”? Or does it “happen in Pakistan aswell” and I need to “not throw stones when I live in a glass house myself”? Can already predict your answer, so kindly some up with something new.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Read my reply again ,there is no comparison made by meRecommend

  • Rohan

    I never compared, you can read my posts again that is if you canRecommend

  • Gul Zaman Ghorgasht

    You need to get back in your old groove. The previous one.
    On this ET website, I learned being barely, repeat, barely
    civil in blog etiquette from YOU. Am still far from it. Recommend

  • نائلہ

    All one has to do is check your profile, where 99% comments revolve around “Pakistan” and “how bad it is”. You can’t tell that’s raining unless you have seen sunshine. Gosh I need to start making my statements imbecile proof -.-Recommend

  • نائلہ

    I Haven’t changed one bit. I just can’t stand people who have nothing to do with me, telling me what to do- it an old habit from childhood. Recommend

  • Gul Zaman Ghorgasht

    Fine. Understood.Recommend

  • Tarun

    right. and we shouldn’t be making a comparison between one state that has problems and another that wants to create problems all over the world. She doesn’t want us to comment here while her paki people comment about everything from our politics to films to IPL. They need to find something else to do before they tell us to mind our own business.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Pakistan doesnt have the words ‘India’ or ‘how better it is’.Recommend

  • L.

    Who are you again? Recommend

  • L.

    I did not stop you from commenting mr tarun. Read the comment again if you please.

    YOU told me “next time don’t try to equate what happens here with what happens in your country.” That is YOUR comment, I barely replied that you have no right to tell me what to do and IF you get butthurt over pakistanis discussing india, then keep yourself away from any place where people freely practice the discussion of thy country.

    And then you go and type this comment stating: “she doesn’t want us to comment here”….blah blah. Show me where I said that? Let me remind you- you are representing your country on this forum and LYING is not a good quality to exhibit -.- Recommend

  • Nitin Jadhav

    India does not have any such rape epidemic
    There are more rapes reported in pakistan than in India, let alone the ones that are Officially sanctioned, and the ones that are not proven because there the victim does not have 4 Muslim witness , to give statement.
    Rate per 100,000 population
    India = 1.8
    Pakistan = 28.8
    Feel free to visit

  • Rajesh Mehta

    Author hails from Gilgit-Baltistan ,which is a shia majority region suffering from Sunni majoritarianism and militancy, its absurd that the author fancies Indian support to Sunni militants , does he venture to claim Sipaha e Sahaba, Laskar e Tayibba, Laskar e Jahangvi etc are offshoots of Indian backed project ?

    Evidne shows torture and rapes are common punishments awarded by Pakistani security forces for protests with impunity in occupied territory of Northern Areas ( Gilgit-Baltistan). It has rightly been called a colony of the 21st Century by Israr-ud-Din Israr of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
    Pakistan administers the Northern Areas under the Legal Framework Order (LFO) of 1994, an administrative instrument used to strengthen its hold over the region while denying its residents basic political and civil rights. There is no representation of Gilgit and Baltistan in the Pakistan parliament
    According to Glasgow-based author Khalid Rahim, who hails from Mirpur (PoK), local sensitivities of the Northern Areas have been brushed aside by Pakistan, as a large number of people belonging to the Sunni Muslims from Punjab and Sindh, have been settled in Gilgit, the area largely dominated by the Shias. Much of the business has gone into the hands of outsiders, who could settle effortlessly because of the non-existence of the state subject rules. Serin has pointed out that since late 1990s Pakistan has settled about 3.5 lakh Urdu speaking Sunni Muslims which makes about a fifth of population.
    Lamenting that no one is paying attention to their plight, Senge Hasna Serin, said that there was complete “lawlessness” in the Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and if a plebiscite were to be held, many people would opt for India.
    There are a number of organisations demanding political rights. Gilgit-Baltistan is represented at the Unrepresented Peoples Organisation (UNPO) by the Gilgit-Baltistan Democratic Alliance (GBDA) an umbrella organization which represents groups such as the Balawaristan National Front, Karakoram National Movement, Gilgit-Baltistan United Movement, the Bolor Research Forum and the Gilgit Baltistan Laddakh Democratic Movement etc.Recommend