Anger rises in Pakistan’s secret sectarian war

KARACHI- They have lost parents, brothers and friends in an unprecedented wave of religious violence. Despite pleas against retaliation, the anger of Pakistan’s minority Shiite Muslims towards Sunnis has only grown.

Growing violence between the two sides threatens a dangerous and destabilising escalation of the nuclear-armed state’s underground sectarian conflict.

In the Abbas Town area of Karachi, the dusty alleys are plastered with posters of local “martyrs” — young men with patchy beards and moustaches.

Here, everyone has lost a friend, relative or neighbour in a bombing or a shooting. In March last year a bomb at the entrance to the quarter killed 45 people.

Syed Zafar Alim Zaidi, a huge man with a rough, greying beard, lost his brother Akhtar in the blast. A few years before, two other brothers were murdered simply because they were Shiites.

“When Akhtar died I felt immense pain and anger, but I did not try to take revenge,” he told AFP, sitting in front of the apartment blocks damaged in last year’s bombing.

After each attack, local religious leaders go round the streets trying to calm people and keep the peace.

But despite this, the clamour for vengeance is rising in Shiite-dominated areas. Nearly 1,000 Shiites have been killed in the past two years in Pakistan, a heavy toll on the community that makes up roughly 20 percent of the country’s population of 180 million, which is predominantly Muslim.

“In our young generation, there is this mindset that says they are killing us, why are we not killing them?” said Mohammad Ali, 32, a computing engineer.

“It was not there before, it is a slow poison. It rises very slowly, but it is progressing.”

Syed Ahsan Abbas Rizvi, deputy secretary of the Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM), the main Shiite party in Karachi, agreed.

“This thinking of revenge exists among the Shiite youth, because if someone is killed in your family it is natural, but this thought should not translate into action,” he said.

Not everyone is on board. Last year Sipah-e-Mohammed, an umbrella organization of smaller Shiite groups, carried out around 50 attacks against Sunnis in Karachi, against 64 attacks by Sunnis on Shiites, according to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an independent research centre.