There are two main lessons to be learned from the bomb blast at a Chehlum procession in the Khanpur area of Rahim Yar Khan that killed 18 people and injured 30 others. First, what is euphemistically called ‘sectarian violence’ is actually a low-grade war against the country’s Shia community. And second, rather than concentrate on preventing and investigating such attacks, law-enforcement officials prefer trying to concoct excuses to justify their ineptitude. On September 20 last year, a bus carrying Shias near Quetta was stopped and the passengers shot dead. A couple of weeks before that, also in Quetta on Eid, there was a similar incident. And this targeting of the Shia community is not a recent phenomenon but can be traced back to General Zia’s rule, who in his zeal to enforce an Islamic system in the country, patronised hardliners, many of whom considered any other Muslim who did not subscribe to their rigid interpretation a heretic.
Even though it will take years to undo the structural discrimination against Shias as introduced by Zia, one small way to begin is by aggressively investigating such attacks. The immediate response by the police to the Rahimyar bombing does not inspire any confidence. The police’s initial response was to ludicrously claim that the explosion was the result of a transformer blast. Later, the DPO changed his story and admitted that a bomb blast had indeed been detonated by remote control. Although the prime minister has ordered an immediate inquiry into the blast, if this is an indication of the competence of the police, then the culprits can rest easy. The PML-N controlled Punjab government for its part, announced Rs500,000 in compensation for the families of the victims. Given that the PML-N at best turns a blind eye to sectarian outfits operating in the province, such gestures seem hollow. Until all mainstream political parties recognise that an organised attempt is being made to target the Shia community and they unite to prevent them, such attacks will continue to take place.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2012.