PROLOGUE: We have a responsibility, as individuals, as professionals, and as organized groups, to not be passive bystanders, but to speak out publicly on genocidal threats. I take strong exception to the notion that speaking out on the threat of Shia Genocide in Pakistan -if based on a careful review of the evidence and a balanced view of the situation- is somehow a slide down the slippery slope of sectarianism. In fact, not to speak out is a slide down that slippery slope. The most important lesson of Holocaust and all other genocides is this: silence makes one a complicit bystander to genocide.
WHY THE KILLING OF SHIAS IN PAKISTAN CONSTITUTES GENOCIDE?
In addition to what has already been discussed in the previous essays, let’s briefly examine the killing of Shias in Pakistan based on the universally accepted definition of genocide. Genocide is “the intentional destruction, in whole or in part, of a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such.”
The most common misconception is the “all or none” concept of genocide. The all-or-none school considers killings to be genocide only if their intent is to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group “in whole.” Their model is the Holocaust. They ignore the “in part” in the definition in the Genocide Convention, which they often haven’t read. Since the 1990’s, a new obstacle to calling genocide by its proper name has been the distinction between genocide and “ethnic cleansing,” a term originally invented as a euphemism for genocide in the Balkans. However, genocide and “ethnic cleansing” are by no means mutually exclusive crimes and should not be portrayed as such.
Now let’s briefly scrutinize the killing of Shias in Pakistan in the light of Genocide Convention.
- Is the killing of Shias in Pakistan intentional? YES.
- Is it systematically organized by the by the militant groups with significant and wide backing from Al Qaeda and other Jihadists? YES
- Are the victims chosen because of their sectarian religious identity without regard to anything else? YES
- In Gilgit, Kurram Agency, Hangu etc only the Shia villages were attacked whereas all other villages nearby were left untouched. Is this the intentional destruction, in part, of ethnic and racial (in this case religious and sectarian) groups? YES
- Were the victims in numerous bus and other attacks properly identified and killed for their ethnic and racial identity (in this case religious and sectarian)? YES
- Is the primary cleavage in all the Shia killings the sectarian divide? YES
- Do the killers have powerful backing in the form of Shias being apostatized and declared liable to be killed by certain religious authorities with significant following? YES
- With Shias viewed by their killers as outside of Muslims as a group, does it aim at destroying a group and not just the individuals making up the group with the ultimate purpose to destroy the group’s identity? YES
- With the clear intent to destroy the whole group can the surviving members of the group in areas like Parachinar, Hangu, Tirah, Quetta etc of the group be viewed as co-victims? YES
The killing of Shias in Pakistan, thus in short fulfils all requirements of genocide as indiscriminate and systematic destruction of members of a group because they belong to that group. Genocides can be small (for example, where a small number of victims are systematically massacred over a relatively short period of time) or large and mature (where a large number of victims are killed over an extended period of time). Mature genocides include the Armenian death march, the Jewish Holocaust, the Cambodian Killing Fields, and the massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda. However, the number of victims does not make one genocide more or less barbaric than another.
It is true that Pakistan has witnessed much bigger bloodsheds in its brief history and also that the toll from the current mayhem resulting from the ‘war on terror’ surpasses the number of Shias killed in the country. However, the only other instance which meets all above criteria is the persecution and killing of Ahmedis in the country as Ahmedis, like Shias, are also killed solely for belonging to a group and in utter disregard to any other consideration whatsoever. All other mass killings are related to either indiscriminate terrorism without targeting any one in particular (general population) or the individuals targeted for either speaking up for their rights (Bengalis, Baluchs etc) or for their political affiliation (Bengalis, Baluchs, workers of political organizations) or in reprisals against the law enforcement agencies (Army, Rangers, FC, and Police).
The combination of LeJ and other organizations out to kill Shias is a serial killer and a master of sectarian cleansing, having been at it for a long while now. Isolated incidents of mass murder of a group over a large national territory is an established method of genocide perfected by Hitler against Jews. It is a shrewd strategy because denial is easy. The deaths can then be blamed on ‘poor law and order’, ‘traditional sectarian conflicts’, ‘unknown perpetrators’, ‘general terrorism’ etcetera.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT?
Effective restraining and preventive measures can stem this genocide before it exacerbates further. The first step is to stop denying the issue, as explained in the previous article. Other measures include both short-term and long-term remedies.
Based on the above, it needs to be realized that the persecution of Shias in Pakistan now manifests the symptoms of genocide and the world must take notice to prevent it from worsening any further. LeJ and SSP are now starting to do what Janjaweed Militia did in Darfur. Hence the need to adopt a coherent strategy of proof backed by careful investigation and solid legal analysis, which can be substantiated by authoritative facts on the ground. International Human Rights Organizations led by HRW need to commission and fund a thorough investigation by expert investigators. Then the international law governing genocide must be applied to the facts without compromising the legal conclusion for political considerations. The investigation can inter alia include interviewing thousands of people from all over Pakistan who have witnessed or experienced the killing of a family member. People from areas like Kurram Agency, Hangu, Gilgit, Tirah etc can also be questioned about witnessing the attack on settlements involving loss of lives, destruction of property, and human displacement in the process. They can also be questioned on what sectarian or war epithets they heard being uttered by the assailants when they were under assault.
With State’s total failure so far to prosecute those who commit Shia killings, an assurance of impunity has been created among the ranks of the perpetrators. Unless this is changed there will be no hope.
The art of life consists in not letting what we cannot control interfere with what we can control. Tilting at the windmills does not help. Even if the theory of a foreign hand can be considered for a moment, all decent nations are able to deal with any local cohorts of unwanted foreign masters.
We must start by acknowledging, stopping, apprehending, and punishing the perpetrators among us. Not wholeheartedly confronting the visible perpetrators of the crime and blaming the foreign hand reeks of hypocrisy, at the least, and complicity, at the worst. It is crucial that Islamabad works with the provinces to first beat back the militants from urban centres as there has been a rise in Shia killings in Karachi and Quetta, as well as the northern areas. Intelligence must be improved and the police must be better equipped and armed to deal with the threat that has begun to ooze from our heavily populated areas. We are witnessing genocide and if we do not stop it, it will not be long before it proves the catalyst for further undermining of the state and society.
Hate groups fan extremism and drive sects apart. Extremists first silence the moderates within their own community. Outlawing organizations in a lose law and order environment like Pakistan never works. More effective measures must be adopted to defang and disarm the main sectarian organizations and their decentralized or informal side-shoots. This may necessitate rapid but overwhelming intervention by the Army.
The curriculum in normal schools and religious madrassas both should be rigorously controlled to weed out any hate material. All textbooks must promote tolerance and understanding among all human beings. The materials distinguishing people into ‘us and them’, on any count, must be removed. This mentality has no end. The emphasis should be a transcendent Pakistani identity and religious education, if at all, in any institution must be devoid of any denigration of or comparison with others – Muslim and Non-Muslim both.
All hate speech must be banned. This includes vilifying any sect or group as well as denigrating venerated figures of any religion or sect. Apostatization in any form, which denies Islamic credentials of another group, must be banned. It is an established fact that apostatization nudges the Muslim sentiments to suppress usual human revulsion to murder. Pakistan is full of written and spoken hate propaganda to vilify other groups. It has been observed that societies vulnerable to genocide generally lack in laws and their enforcement required to prevent hate speech. Political and opinion leaders need to work in unison to make hate speech culturally unacceptable.
Hate crimes and atrocities must be promptly punished, as a matter of priority, to set examples. An empowered commission must be set up to monitor and investigate all reported violations. The commission must have the objectivity and the wherewithal to gather evidence and investigate the crime where it was committed.
The government must also make a strong statement by providing security to all moderates and complete assistance to human rights groups.
The government must accept the reality and sincerely harness the political will and support of the UN and great world powers.
DEFY AND NOT DENY THE GENOCIDE
As already established any hope of averting the genocide begins with a willingness to stop denying its occurrence and risk. Pakistan’s media has so far embodied the classic strategy of denial witnessed accompanying many of the genocides that have been perpetrated round the world. Such denial consists in obscuring the clear perception of the crime with the clouds of ambiguity or outright denial. Such denial from the media further paralyzes the political will of the government and of those who are needed to take action to stop the genocide and punish the perpetrators.
POSTSCRIPT (How the Media Obfuscates Shia Genocide)
It may not be out of place to briefly discuss, for the education of the reader, some of the tactics adopted by the country’s media to deny or obfuscate the issue of Shia Killings. These include:
SHOWING THE MASSACRES AS UNCONNECTED INCIDENTS even though the killing of Shias in large numbers from tribal areas to KP to Gilgit to all the other provinces of Pakistan is a part of the same systematic and organized slaughter of the community and is undertaken for their sole crime of being a Shia.
CITING THE IMPERATIVE OF THE UNITY OF UMMAH is often used as an excuse to obfuscate under the pretext that reporting the truth will pronounce the sectarian differences. Nothing can be further from the truth. There is no will to kill one another at the common man’s level. Hence killing of Shias should be named as such and should not be reduced to a nameless crime against faceless victims by unknown people.
AVOIDING STATISTICS. No cumulative estimates of deaths are produced even though anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 Shias have been recorded as killed solely in sectarian-cleansing since 1986.
BLAMING THE FOREIGN HAND. Divert attention from the visible local and self-avowed killers by blaming unknown foreign hand for killing Shias and other Muslims in Pakistan.
BLAMING THE MOTIVATIONS OF THOSE TELLING THE TRUTH by accusing them of fanning the sectarianism or being the agents of foreign enemies.
CLAIMING THAT THE KILLINGS DON’T TARGET SHIAS SPECIFICALLY. This involves hypocritically ignoring the systematic annihilation of Shias by mixing the killing of Shias targeted for the specific reason of being Shias with general toll of terrorism in the country, in order to fudge the reality of Shia Killings.
OBSCURING THE IDENTITY OF THE VICTIMS. Very often the Urdu print and electronic media does not identify the victims as Shias even in the case of mass killings or bombings of Shias.
BLAMING IT ON SECTARIAN CONFLICT. Showing that it is the result of the age-old Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict in the country and that they do these sorts of things to each other. This is not the truth as there is no Shia-Sunni conflict in the country. Some limited and isolated attacks on the leaders of the perpetrating groups are also used to portray this as a sectarian war rather than showing some rare and specific instances of Shias’ retaliation as correlates of genocide.
BLAMING UNCONTAINABLE FORCES FOR THE VIOLENCE, thus absolving media’s responsibility to tell the truth and to force the government to protect all its subjects.
AVOIDING ANTAGONIZING THE POWERFUL SECTARIAN GROUPS. Such groups are violent serial killers and media’s appeasement of them based on fear leads only to further violence.
DENYING FOR THE SAKE OF NATIONAL INTEREST by citing that Pakistan is in serious trouble and acknowledging the truth of Shias being killed will further erode the national fabric.
HIDING BEHIND ANALYSIS PARALYSIS. This includes getting mired into semantics, such as whether or not this constitutes genocide, instead of acknowledging the facts consisted in the identity and number of the victims and naming the perpetrators of the violence. This type of denial is most common among the analysts comprising the panel-discussions and interviews on the TV channels.