Escalation, Targeted killings: Early Warning Signs of Shia Genocide in Pakistan

How is this grand protest different from what we witnessed at Tahrir Square in Egypt last year? It didn’t get the coverage it deserved. PHOTO: AFP

How is this grand protest different from what we witnessed at Tahrir Square in Egypt last year? It didn’t get the coverage it deserved. PHOTO: AFP

For The DiplomatWaris Husain writes: Last month the world commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. Dignitaries from around the world delivered speeches to mark the occasion, but UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s statement was perhaps the most remarkable, as he admitted that the United Nations was “ashamed” of its failure to prevent the mass killing. At the same time Ban was making this statement, a Shia doctor was gunned down in Karachi, Pakistan by sectarian terrorists, as part of a self-avowed campaign to “make Pakistan a graveyard” for all Shias.


The international community can no longer ignore the alarming rise in violence directed at Pakistan’s Shia minority.

Despite the escalation of targeted killings of Shia leaders and large-scale bombings of Shia neighborhoods, the Pakistani government and international community have failed to apply the lessons from cases like Rwanda in recognizing the early warning signs of an impending genocide perpetrated by sectarian terrorist groups. While the murder rates of Shias in Pakistan is nowhere close to the 800,000 Tutsis killed in Rwanda, members of the international community are duty-bound to prevent mass killing events before they occur.

REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

The Shia’s plight must be understood in the context of Pakistan’s position within the larger sectarian struggle between Sunnis, largely supported by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, and Shias, supported by Iran and its close allies. Pakistan walks a tightrope in this conflict as it shares a border with Iran, but relies on Saudi Arabia for aid and political patronage. This international tension has domestic implications with 20 percent of Pakistan’s population belonging to the Shia faith, amounting to nearly 25 million people who are being threatened with extermination by sectarian outfits.

To understand the threat that Pakistan’s Shias face, one must look to the Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of Genocide, to which Pakistan is a signatory. Under the Convention, a genocide occurs when a party has the intent to destroy a religious, ethnic, or racial group “in whole, or in part” and acts on that intent by killing, injuring, or deliberately causing conditions leading to the physical destruction of that group.

The Convention applies to all people, including private groups that are perpetrating genocidal acts in a country without direct assistance from the state. Under the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), all countries are obliged to recognize if such acts are taking place and take steps to punish past transgressions while preventing future acts.

In the context of Pakistan, the two elements to prove genocide are clearly satisfied: terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have openly committed brutal murders of Shias with the self-avowed purpose of “cleansing Pakistan” of their presence. The attacks against Shias have basically taken three forms. First, high profile community members like doctors, lawyers and judges have been targeted in drive-by shootings in Karachi. Second, Shia religious processions and pilgrims have repeatedly been targeted in mass-shooting attacks. Third, Hazara Shias have been attacked en-masse in the city of Quetta, with several car bombings that have left hundreds dead in the last three years.

This has led to a mass exodus of Hazaras from Balochistan, with as many as 30,000 leaving the province over the last five years, according to some estimates. Many have left because they believe the government refuses to acknowledge the concerted campaign against them, and is therefore not taking steps to protect them.

Sectarian groups like Laskar-i-Islam (LI) and LeJ use various methods to terrorize Shias and force them to leave their homes, including the distributing threatening pamphlets, as occurred in Peshawar on April 16, 2014. Further, these groups often accept responsibility for vicious attacks on Shias, and express their genocidal intent in promising future attacks. This was certainly the case when the “Principal of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi” issued an open letter declaring that all Shias were “wajib-ul-katl” or “worthy of killing” in the aftermath of an attack that left eight Hazaras dead.

Despite these openly violent assertions, the government of Pakistan continues to deny the existence of genocide against Shias. As such, there are no official statistics on the number of victims, which would be a key component in understanding the level and frequency of violence perpetrated by sectarian militants…(read more)

The Diplomat

Waris Husain is a professor of law in Washington D.C. and a writer on legal and U.S.-Pakistan issues.

2 Comments on “Escalation, Targeted killings: Early Warning Signs of Shia Genocide in Pakistan”

  1. […] Pundit from another Planet For The Diplomat, Waris Husain writes: Last month the world commemorated the 20th anniversary of […]

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