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    South Asia
     Oct 5, 2011


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 opened fire.

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 Quetta district.

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 Pakistan.

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 stated:
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.
Those investigating 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 killed."

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 bars. 

Continued 1 2  


Pentagon aims at target Pakistan
(Sep 30, '11)


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4. Chickening out in Iraq

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6. Awlaki's killing sparks propaganda battle

7. Hu frets over Taiwanese election

8. Is Asia the light of the future?

9. Assassinations and the destruction of history

10. Pentagon aims at target Pakistan

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Oct 3, 2011)

 
 



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