Page 1 of 2 Blood flows freely in Pakistan
By Amir Mir
ISLAMABAD - The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ - Army of Jhangvi), a Pakistan-based,
al-Qaeda-linked, anti-United States, Sunni Deobandi sectarian-turned-jihadi
group, has let loose a reign of terror against the Shi'ite minority.
In its latest attack, the LeJ on Tuesday killed 13 Shi'ites traveling on a bus
to work in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan province. The
attackers forced the Shi'ites off the bus, made them stand in a line and then
This followed the July 14 release of Malik Mohammad Ishaq, one of the founding
members of the LeJ, which has already claimed responsibility for the September
20 cold-blooded execution-style killing of 29 Shi'ite pilgrims of the Hazara
community in the
Mastung area of Balochistan.
All those killed were on their way to Iran from Quetta. Armed with Kalashnikovs
and rocket launchers, the attackers stopped the bus and forced the pilgrims to
get off. While women and children were spared, they were made to witness the
execution of their dear ones who were lined up and sprayed with bullets.
It was the deadliest attack on the Shi'ite community in Pakistan since
September 4, 2010, when a suicide bomber killed 57 people at a procession in
Quetta. The Mastung attack is not an isolated incident, but part of a
systematic campaign of violence directed towards the Shi'ite community. Over
400 Shi'ite Hazaras have been killed in Balochistan by the LeJ since 1999.
The Hazaras are Persian-speakers who mainly live in central Afghanistan. They
are overwhelmingly Shi'ites and comprise the third-largest ethnic group of
Afghanistan. Over half a million Hazaras live in Pakistan, especially in the
They are the frequent target of attacks in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan
by anti-Shi'ite Sunni Deobandi sectarian-cum-militant groups like the
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban - TTP) and the LeJ, which suspect
them of assisting and aiding US intelligence agencies in their hunt for the
fugitive leaders of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, believed to be hiding in
One would recall the massacre of the Hazaras in Afghanistan after the Afghan
Taliban led by Mullah Omar took power in Kabul in September 1996 and allowed
the LeJ to operate in Pakistan from sanctuaries in Afghan territory.
While claiming responsibility for killing the 29 pilgrims in Mastung, a
spokesman of the LeJ, said: "Our activists will continue to target the Shi'ite
community." The massacre was carried out amid the usual hate speech and
wall-chalking, branding Shi'ites as apostate and worthy to be killed.
A few weeks before the massacre, the LeJ had circulated an open letter
addressed to Hazaras in Quetta. Written in the Urdu language, the letter
All Shi'ites are worthy of killing. We will rid Pakistan of
unclean people. Pakistan means land of the pure and the Shi'ites have no right
to live in this country. We have the edict and signatures of revered scholars,
declaring Shi'ites infidels. Just as our fighters have waged a successful jihad
against the Shi'ite Hazaras in Afghanistan, our mission in Pakistan is the
abolition of this impure sect and its followers from every city, every village
and every nook and corner of Pakistan.
Like in the past, our successful jihad against the Hazaras in Pakistan and, in
particular, in Quetta, is ongoing and will continue in the future. We will make
Pakistan the graveyard of the Shi'ite Hazaras and their houses will be
destroyed by bombs and suicide bombers. We will only rest when we will be able
to fly the flag of true Islam on this land of the pure. Jihad against the
Shi'ite Hazaras has now become our duty.
the recent surge in anti-Shi'ite attacks believe it has something to do with
the release on bail of Malik Ishaq, the feared LeJ leader who had been charged
with involvement in 100-plus sectarian murders.
His release instantly caused sectarian tensions that were prompted by the
anti-Shi'ite sermons he began delivering after his release. Therefore, on
September 21, hardly 24 hours after the bloodbath in Mastung, Ishaq was placed
under temporary house arrest in the Rahim Yar Khan district of Punjab province,
with district police officer Sohail Chattha saying: "Malik Mohammad Ishaq's
conduct has endangered sectarian harmony and caused a sudden rise in the
sectarian temperature in the country."
According to an official document of Punjab Home Department, soon after his
release, Ishaq had vowed while addressing a public meeting in Multan to
continue to kill the enemies of "Sahaba" (the Prophet Mohammad's companions).
"All those against Sahaba are not our personal enemies, but the enemies of
Islam. And we will fight them ... we cannot tolerate these elements at any
cost," Ishaq said during his address, the document reported. The document,
titled "Highly objectionable activities of Malik Ishaq", further read: "On
September 6, 2011, Malik Ishaq visited the house of a high-profile terrorist,
Abdul Wahab alias Aenak Wala Jin, whose name is included in the Red Book,
comprising particulars of most-wanted terrorists."
Two weeks later, on September 19, Ishaq's gunmen who were escorting his rally
in Muzaffargarh district clashed with the Shi'ite community, resulting in two
deaths. Ishaq had undertaken the procession in defiance of government orders
since he is on an anti-terrorism watch list and is required to request
permission before leaving the jurisdiction of his local police station. It was
after these killings that the Punjab government decided to place him under
house arrest, but for a brief period of one month, after which he will again be
free to spit venom and preach hatred in the name of Islam.
According to Punjab police records, after being arrested by Punjab police in
1997 on charges of involvement in 102 murders, Ishaq confessed to committing 11
and abetting 57 other killings. But according to Ishaq's lawyer, Misbahul Haq,
who pleaded his bail case in the Supreme Court, his client was acquitted in 35
cases because of "lack of evidence", and granted bail in eight cases and
discharged in one case.
The last charge leveled against him was masterminding from his jail cell the
March 2009 terrorist attack targeting a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket
team in Lahore. During subsequent investigations, it transpired that the LeJ
attackers wanted to take hostage the cricket team to get Ishaq released. He was
bailed out anyway by the Supreme Court in July "due to lack of evidence and the
weak case of the prosecution", as observed by two apex court judges while
bailing him out against a surety bond of a million rupees (US$11,436.)
While giving their verdict, a division bench of the apex court comprising
Justice Shahid Siddiqui and Justice Asif Khosa expressed dissatisfaction over
the performance of the prosecution in establishing its case against the
accused. The court observed that the prosecution produced only two witnesses
who stated that they had heard conversations between some people planning to
take the Sri Lankan cricket team hostage to get Ishaq released. The bench
censured the prosecutor general of Punjab, saying: "The judiciary has to face
the wrath of the public when it releases such accused due to lack of evidence
and weak case of the prosecution."
On the other hand, Ishaq said in a brief media talk after being set free: "We
were never terrorists and killers and the apex court has also proven that." He
was cheered by hundreds of LeJ activists and showered with rose petals as he
walked from a high-security prison in Lahore to a waiting land cruiser that was
surrounded by his arms-wielding supporters.
Rise to infamy
Born in 1959, Ishaq is the son of Ali Ahmad Awan, who owned a cloth shop in the
village Taranda Sawaey Khan in Rahim Yar Khan district of southern Punjab. He
left school in the sixth grade in the early 1980s to assist his father.
He eventually started a business distributing cigarettes before joining a Sunni
Deobandi sectarian organization, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), in 1989
after he met Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, its founder who was based in the Jhang district
of Punjab. Ishaq started his hardline sectarian activism from the SSP platform
soon afterwards and launched the LeJ in 1996 with the support of his close
aides, Riaz Basra and Akram Lahori. Ishaq was arrested the same year but he
managed to escape from police custody a few months later, only to be arrested
again in 1997.
But Ishaq's release was a foregone conclusion that had even been predicted by
the foreign media almost two years before the Supreme Court set him free. On
August 7, 2009, the New York Times reported that one Fida Hussein Ghalvi, who
had testified 12 years ago against Ishaq for killing his 12 family members,
"feared the imminent release of the terrorist leader, thus adding horror to
Ghalvi's life of grief, already reduced to the limits of his house in Multan".
The newspaper said that Ghalvi still received threats from followers of Ishaq,
who has has never had a conviction that stuck, though Punjab police records
show a dizzying tally of murders against his name.
"When Malik Ishaq was arrested in 1997, he unleashed his broad network against
his opponents, killing witnesses, threatening judges and intimidating police,
leading nearly all of the prosecutions against him to collapse eventually,"
said the New York Times. "Now, with the cases against him mostly exhausted,
Ishaq - a 'jihadi hero' - could be out on bail very soon. That prospect
terrifies Ghalvi." The Times quoting him as having said: "My life is totally
constrained. I can't even go to funerals. What have I gotten from 13 years of
struggle except grief?"
In fact, when Ghalvi and three other men had identified Ishaq, he told them in
front of the trial court judge that "dead men can't talk". Subsequently, five
witnesses and three of their relatives were killed during the trial. Ishaq was
also the prime accused in the 1997 bombing of the Iranian culture center in
Multan, which killed eight people. When investigating officer Ejaz Shafi
persuaded two witnesses to appear in court and testify against Ishaq, his car
was sprayed with bullets by unidentified assailants in broad daylight.
Anti-Terrorism Court judge Bashir Ahmed Bhatti eventually convicted Ishaq in
the same case, but the Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 2006 because
of "lack of evidence". In March 2007, the same judge, scheduled to hear another
case against Ishaq, was on his way to the court when a remote-controlled
bicycle bomb exploded near his car, killing his driver and two policemen. Ishaq
was charged with planning the attack but was eventually acquitted in April
2009, once again due to "lack of evidence".
Following Ishaq's release, the police provided security to Ghalvi, thus
highlighting the concerns of the law-enforcement agencies. Ghalvi, meanwhile,
has relocated from his native town in Multan district. However, two other key
witnesses and one complainant have not been provided any security. The men,
identified as Khadim, Sikandar and Abdul Ghafour (complainant) are the only
people to have survived the court cases that have taken 20 lives, including
eight people who were murdered purely for being associated with the case.
Following Ishaq's release, Sikandar was quoted by newspapers as saying: "I can
be attacked at any time and I do not know if I will be alive tomorrow or not,
as you know almost everyone who was a witness or a relative has already been
Like Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed, another terrorist already sentenced to death for
the 2002 beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl, Ishaq was not subdued
by jail conditions and allegedly continued to plot acts while behind