Writing on the wall

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What does the anti-ISIS graffiti in Karachi’s Shia neighborhoods mean?

By Naimat Khan

Graffiti in Karachi supporting the Islamic State, known locally by its Arabic acronym Daesh, have raised concerns about the Middle Eastern terrorist group’s expansion into Pakistan recently, but locals say they have now seen slogans against the network painted on the walls of the city’s Shia neighborhoods.

Residents of four major Shia localities – Abbas Town, Ancholi, Rizvia and Jafar-e-Tayyar Society – said the killing of Shias and the targeting of their holy sites by the IS in Syria and Iraq has given rise to strong anti-IS feelings among the community in Pakistan, surpassing even their anger towards the Taliban.

“The assertion is true for a number of reasons. While the Taliban have also targeted the Shia in Afghanistan during their rule, the Islamic State group specifically targeted the Shia on ideological and strategic grounds,” says Hasan Abdullah, an Istanbul-based Pakistani security expert.

Athar Mehdi, whose brother Akhter Mehdi was killed in the March 2013 Karachi bombing in Abbas Town, says terrorist groups that target innocent people are equally cruel, “but we see IS as more dangerous.” He was talking to me in his shop on the ground floor of a reconstructed building that had been destroyed by the 2013 bombing. “Buildings have been rebuilt, and our business is flourishing again, but the emotional wounds of that bombing by the Taliban are still fresh.”

Sajjad Haider, from same neighborhood, says the Shia community had been targeted by the Taliban in the past, but the emergence of Islamic State had increased their worries. “Remember the Safoora shooting by IS-inspired youths that left 46 people of the Shia Ismaili community dead?”

“If Taliban are killing everyone, militants of the Islamic State are specifically targeting our community in Iraq, Syria and even in Pakistan,” says Kamil, a resident of Ancholi.

Some of the concerns of Pakistan’s Shias also come from their religious affinity with Syria and Iraq, according to Dr Abbas. “Those holy sites really matter to us,” says Irtiza Rizvi, a resident of Jafar-e-Tayyar Society.

But the spokesman for the organization Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), Ali Ahmar, says the problem of terrorism is more widespread. “We don’t differentiate between the Taliban, Al Qaeda and IS,” he says. “They share the same approach, and they target both Shias and Sunnis.”

There are concerns that this rivalry towards the IS may translate into participation in the war against the group, especially in Syria in Iraq. Shia community leaders sternly deny that.

On May 2, AFP cited the Iranian state-run news agency IRNA to report that Tehran had passed a law to grant citizenship to the families of Pakistani ‘martyrs’ fighting in Syria and Iraq.

The MWM spokesman said the words of the source agency had been twisted. “The law applies only to those who had taken part in the Iran-Iraq war.”

The concerns are not new. On August 13, 2014, the National Counterterrorism Authority in Islamabad wrote a letter to the provinces that more than 2,000 Pakistani Shia students at the seminaries in Iraq had been “brainwashed” on sectarian lines. But there has been no substantiation of this allegation.

“Shia student and political groups in Pakistan do have a strong anti-IS sentiments. Some are actively campaigning against IS, while groups may have supplied manpower to anti-IS groups in Iraq and Syria,” says Asfandyar Mir, a US based researcher. “Boys from Kurram Agency’s Turi tribe have also joined anti-IS groups in Syria and Iraq, according to reports.”

Shia groups deny these reports.

The concerns about the emergence of sectarian fighting in Pakistan may have been fueled by the general interest among Pakistani Shias in the politics of the Middle East.

“For instance, there were widespread protests recently against the execution of Sheikh Nimr in Saudi Arabia. In 2011, there were protests against repression of the Shia community in Bahrain,” says Mir.

“Shias have differences with the Saudi Najdis and the Saud kingdom because of several reasons,” the MWM spokesman said.

There have also been reports of Sunni youth from Pakistan joining the IS in Iraq and Syria. A senior police officer told me two such young men had been appointed Qazis, or judges, by the group in a stronghold in Iraq.

According to Tariq Habib, an Islamabad based security expert, suspects from anti-Shia groups in Pakistan have been told by their leadership to leave for Syria via Balochistan.

If Shia and Sunni youth are joining the battles in Syria and Iraq, he is concerned that “sectarian violence will break all past records of Pakistan” when they return.

“Malik Ishaq’s extrajudicial killing was Pakistan’s way of stopping IS from consolidating itself in the country,” according to Mir.

Published in The Friday Times 

Present at ECP, proscribed lists, ITP shows its presence in Karachi by-polls

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Allama Sajid Naqvi
File Photo of Allama Sajjid Ali Naqvi, Chief of the Islami Threek Party (ITP) declared proscribed by the Interior Ministry in November 15, 2013

By: Naimat Khan

KARACHI: With mainstream political parties nowhere in the race with Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) – which has also lost some grounds – the banned sectarian organizations are showings footprints, the Thursday by-elections and last local government polls show the new trend.

The MQM retained the Sindh Assembly seat, PS-117 – which became vacant when the disgruntled Dr Sagheer Ahmed resigned from it after announcing to join Mustafa Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) .

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However, the turnout was historic low as only 14156 of the 163746 registered voters made it to the polling stations. The MQM’s Syed Muhammad Qamar Abbas Rizvi bagged 10738 votes; however, the runner was neither mainstream Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf nor the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party.

Islami Tehreek Party (ITP) – a Shia group is registered with Election Commission of Pakistan at 75 number of the registered political parties’ list and also placed on the list of proscribed organizations of the interior ministry, which declared it outlawed on Moreover 15, 2013 – secured 1018 voters and its candidate, Ali Raza, surpassed both Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Rafaqat Umar, who bagged 950 votes and Pakistan peoples Party’s Javed maqbool Butt, who could get only 924 votes.

According to a notification of the interior ministry issued on November 15, 2013 – a copy of which is available with The Frontier Post – the Islamic Tehreek Party was declared as banned outfit alongwith other 59 organizations.

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Islami Tehreek Party originally founded as Tehrik-e-Jafaria Pakistan in 1979 under the name Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqh-e-Jafaria to resist anti-Shia laws, according to reports.

Arif Hussain Hussaini – founder of the group who was a student of Ruhollah Khomeini who led the Iranian Revolution – changed the name of T.N.F.J to Tehrik-e-Jafaria (T.J.P). After his assassination in 1988 in Peshawar, Alama Sajid Ali Naqvi took the charge and is heading the group now. The group also remained part of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a conglomerate of the religious political parties, that won 53 out of 272 elected members in legislative elections held on October 20, 2002.  Several months before the general polls, on January 12, 2002, the T.J.P. was banned by the government of Pakistan. It was again banned on November 5, 2011.

In last local government elections the Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) – another major Shia but not among the banned organizations and the Islami Tehreek Pakistan (ITP) contested polls as rival parties.

“But interestingly Majlis Wihdatul Muslimeen, which has failed to leave marks in the city, supported Islami Tehreek Party (ITP), which it was considering as rival”, Says Wakeel ur Rehman, a Karachi based analyst.

According to Rehman it’s not the Shia organizations which are reaching out to electorates on pure sectarian basis.  Alama Aurangzeb Farooqi, the Chief of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a Sunni Sectarian organization, had lost to MQM’s Syed Waqar Shah with few votes difference in general elections on Provincial Assembly seat, PS-128, on May 11, 2013. Farooqi had bagged 23,625 votes for a narrow loss to MQM’s Waqar Hussain Shah, who got 23,827.

In last local bodies elections, several of the left, centre and right, including Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz and Jamaat-e-Islamic had made alliance with Pakistan Rahe Haq Party, the political face of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), which again is face of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, which remained in government in Musharraf regime.

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In Muzaffarabad Colony, Maulana Mohuiddin of the PRHP was contesting for the chairman of the union council, and Haji Misal Khan, associated with PPP, was his running mate, contesting for vice chairman.

In the UC-2 constituency of the Malir district council, the PRHP had allied with the PML-N. In UC-1, their chairman’s candidate had a Jamaat-e-Islami candidate as his running mate. The two parties have also made alliances in North Karachi.

In the local elections Majlis Wihdatul Muslimeen was also contacted by several mainstream parties, including PPP and PTI, but didn’t support any political clique. Meantime, Pakistani Sunni Tehreek, an organization under watch by the federal interior ministry, also remains active at the electoral front.

Published in The Frontier Post