August 2012


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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Once Again, Men in Military Uniforms Kill Shia Muslims in Pakistan

Asian Human Rights Commission

Men in military uniforms went on a rampage of sectarian violence in Pakistan attacking and killing Shia Muslims, who make up the second largest Muslim sect after Sunnis. According to reports from Gilgit-Baltistan, the northern district of Kohistan, where sizeable numbers of Shia Muslims reside, on three different occasions this year, members of the Shia sect were dragged out of passenger buses, asked to show identity cards and, after confirming they were from the Shia sect, were put in a line and killed.

On Aug. 16 when Shias were massacred in Mansehra District in a pre-dawn attack, around a dozen people in uniform entered the well-guarded air base of the Pakistan air force at Kamra, 50 kilometers from the country’s capital of Islamabad. They remained there for some time and damaged one of the surveillance aircraft, used rocket-propelled grenades and killed two officers. This attack is the fourth one since 2007, and it is believed that terrorists are attempting to steal the nuclear assets which are stored there.

It is interesting to note that in the attacks on the general headquarters of the Pakistan army in Rawalpindi, the naval base in Karachi, the headquarters of the intelligence agencies and several attacks on air force bases not one person has been held responsible. In fact, it has been revealed that people employed on the bases have worked in collusion with the attackers. The armed forces are attempting to hide the fact that their own men are involved in these attacks, and it is evident that militancy has seeped into their ranks. This phenomenon is one reason why killings and violence against religious minorities are never fully investigated as they are being carried out by serving soldiers.

There is very obviously a nexus between the perpetrators of these incidents, the armed forced and the criminals released earlier on the instructions of the judiciary. It is too much of a coincidence that the killers are in possession of military uniforms and weapons. High-ranking military officers are trying to place the blame on the judiciary for releasing these men. However, it cannot be denied that they are receiving assistance from the military, even if it is only in turning a blind eye to the killings that take place in close proximity to army checkpoints.

The Pakistani judiciary, particularly the chief justice of Pakistan, who is very famous for taking suo moto action [meaning action on “its own motion”] on petty issues, is being held responsible by the Shia religious groups, which comprise 30 percent of the population, for releasing all the terrorists who have been involved in the killings of Shia members. Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, former chief of the notorious intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has also blamed the judiciary during a briefing in Parliament in which he remarked that 992 terrorists have been released by the courts who had been arrested by the law enforcement agencies after a great deal of hard effort. Another accusation by the Shia leaders is that in 2010 the chief justice visited the Karachi jail during the evening and had 28 terrorists released and that it is those people who were involved in the killings.

In the recent incident in the early morning of Aug. 16, the four buses carrying passengers from Gilgit to Rawalpindi, a city of Punjab Province, were halted by around 50 men in military uniforms who placed heavy stones and wooden logs on the main road at Babusar Top in the Kaghan Valley in Mansehra District. All the passengers were asked to alight from the buses and show their national identity cards. After identifying 25 people as Shia Muslims, they were instructed to stay at the side of the road. Their hands were tied, and more than a dozen assailants opened fire at them. After the shooting, they marched away in military style, shouting Allah ho Akbar.

Earlier on Feb. 28, 2012, gunmen in military fatigues hauled passengers from a bus and in the same fashion killed them on the roadside after checking their national identity cards. The passengers were travelling from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, the northern district of Kohistan.

Again, an April 3, a mob dragged nine Shia Muslims from buses and shot them dead in close proximity to a military checkpoint that was fully manned. There was no response from the soldiers.

Meanwhile, people from the Hazara community of Balochistan Province belong to the Shia community and on many occasions have been massacred near military checkpoints.

One of the amazing things to come out of these killing is that the blame is always placed on the Taliban Pakistan or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, which are banned Islamic militant organizations. It is believed that the intelligence agencies issue such statements in an attempt to cover up the crimes of their men who are very close to the Taliban and other banned militant organizations. These agencies are, in turn, very much involved, along with the armed forces, in the politics of the country and in maligning civilian representatives for putting the country on the road to democratic norms.

There is a very real need for Parliament to ensure that there is complete transparency in the affairs of the military. Their budgeting allocations, disciplinary proceedings and investigations into the criminal activities of their own personnel must be made public. The hierarchy of the armed forces must be made responsible for the actions of the officers and rank and file under them. Command responsibility must be a high priority, and it is only the government that can ensure this accountability. If the military hierarchy considers themselves above the government, then the time is ripe for another military takeover.

The chief justice of Pakistan, as noted earlier, is keen on taking suo moto action in cases that are relatively minor. He should now use this judicial action against the involvement of people from the armed forces in militancy, killing and sectarian violence. Pakistan cannot afford another period of military rule, and it is only Parliament and the Supreme Court that can ensure that this national tragedy does not happen again by bringing the military into line.

* The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is a regional non-governmental organization monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984. More information is available on AHRC’s web site at <>.

Please see the following links for further information about human rights violations against Shias and other minorities in Pakistan: