Parachinar, Pakistan – Intikhab Hussain was really looking forward to this Eid. The idea of his dad being around for Ramadan and Eid was all the 14-year-old could think about. His father had been working in Dubai for about five years and Hussain was too young to remember when his father left them to find job security in another country. At last, an Eid with Abba—the name Hussain used for his father—was approaching.
His father took Hussain to the market to shop for Iftar—the looming Ramadan meal that Muslims take in the evening to break their fast—when the blast happened right before Hussain’s eyes. His idea of the perfect Eid was shattered. His teenage smile gave way to sobs, as his dream was robbed, to be replaced with blood and carnage. Hussain’s father was killed along with 56 others in the two blasts that occurred within a span of four minutes.
A few weeks later, and Hussain’s mother is having trouble registering her husband’s death. “The authorities do not have any protection plan,” she told The Diplomat. “What is the meaning of a protection plan for us Shias anyway?”
She added, “If they had any interest in protecting us from radical militant groups we wouldn’t have been in so much trouble. The government people discriminate against us and speak to us like we are some criminals.”
A minority Muslim group, Shias in Parachinar have long been targeted in Pakistan. This attack was the deadliest, killing almost 60 and injuring more than 180, including many children, shopping in the main market.
Parachinar is located near the Kurram tribal Agency nation’s northern Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Hussain’s town connects Pakistan to Afghanistan and the roads between mountains here have long been used as a transit route by militant groups in both countries – especially since the 1980s – to smuggle weapons back and forth. A few years ago, however, the routes were closed by the Pakistani military at the insistence of Parachinar locals. But that hasn’t stopped the use of weapons in the town. Shias here have consistently been under attack by radical Sunni militant groups, rumored to be backed by the Pakistan military and intelligence agency.
But Parachinar is not the only place where the Shia community is threatened in Pakistan. Attacks against Shias have surged nationwide over the past two years. According to a report released in July 2013 by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, based on a collation of publicly available news reports, between January 2012 and June 2013 about 635 Shias were killed in at least 77 attacks across the country.
As The Independent reports, the report said that “In the past 18 months there have been over 200 incidents of sectarian violence in Pakistan. The Shia community has been the worst affected.” The report also documents attacks on Pakistan’s other religious minority groups who have suffered from the uptick in violence.
The Ahmadi Muslim sect, for example, faced 54 different attacks that led to the deaths of 22 members of that community. Christians were the third worst affected, with 11 members killed and several hundred forced to flee their homes in attacks often led by mobs. The small Hindu and Shia communities collectively mourned the deaths of three people.
Tragically, many attacks on minorities go unreported, especially in the regions of FATA, South Punjab and Interior Sind, where tribal leaders or feudal lords are able to influence police. These cases are never registered or documented, while the human rights abuses are being carried out primarily by stronger local communities with different beliefs.
Sadaqat Ahmed, a senior police officer in Peshawar, told The Diplomat that many incidents go unreported in the media due to their frequency, which causes the events to seemingly lose their significance as “news items.”
Mohsin Ali, a professor of conflict studies at a private university, concurs: “Violence against minorities has become a normal event in many parts of Pakistan. Lives of innocent civilians belonging to different minority community are now increasingly under threat because of this new ‘normalcy’ culture.”
The question remains as to what steps Pakistan’s recently elected democratic leader Nawaz Sharif and his party plan to take towards protecting the Shias in Parachinar and minorities in the country at large.
As long as the government fails to take serious action on behalf of the minorities living in Pakistan, teenagers like Hussain will continue to despair at the chance of a secure future.