The Problem of Baloch Insurgency

By Muhammad Suleman Khan – Research Associate

April 16, 2019

Balochistan has been in turmoil since Pakistan’s creation. A desperately underdeveloped region that makes up nearly half of the country, Balochistan province has seen insurgencies for almost 70 years, with the first round beginning following the accession of the ‘State of Kalat’ with Pakistan in 1948. The province has undergone four phases of insurgency in the past (1948, 1958, 1962, and 1973). And a fifth (and current) phase is ongoing. Several insurgent groups such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), Baloch Republican Army (BRA), and United Baloch Army (UBA) have managed to perpetuate low-intensity insurgency, targeting government installations like electric pylons, railway tracks, etc and ambushing security forces convoys in the mountainous regions. Successive governments have suppressed the uprisings with the use of force and sometimes with attempts of negotiations with the indignant Baloch leaders.

The Shujaat-Mushahid sub-committee made a number of recommendations to the federal government, but they were never implemented.

The First Phase (Apr 1948-Sep 1948): The first phase of insurgency was triggered by the accession of the State of Kalat with Pakistan. In April 1948, Pakistan sent in the army to force Mir Ahmed Yar Khan – the Khan of Kalat – to sign the instrument of accession after the Khan had expressed desire for Kalat to remain free of a central rule. The Khan’s brother Abdul Karim who was the governor of Mekran fled to Dhadar area of Balochistan and later in May 1948 launched a separatist movement from his base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Karim was finally arrested along with 142 of his followers in Sep 1948. They were condemned to 10 years in prison and fine.

The Second Phase (1958-1959): Seeing the political turmoil in the country, the Khan of Kalat sought to avenge the loss of his state’s independence and declared revolt against the central government in Oct 1958. The revolt was instantly crushed by military operation and the Khan was arrested. However, Khan’s close aide Nawab Noroz Khan fled to the mountains and started a guerilla insurgency for the restoration of the former Kalat State and release of the Khan of Kalat. In the battle with the security forces, the insurgents suffered heavy losses and Noroz Khan and many of his followers were arrested. They were tried in a military court and sentenced to life in prison. Noroz died four years later in Kohlu prison.

The Third Phase (1962-1969): Following the arrest and trial of Noroz Khan, Baloch insurgency subsided temporarily and a period of relative calm ensued in Balochistan. However, the political temperature shot again after the federal government removed the traditional tribal leaders of the major Baloch tribes such as Marri, Bugti, and Mengal and replaced them with its handpicked ones in 1962. The move was extremely resented by the Baloch who took it as an insult to themselves and their Sardars. They murdered the chieftains installed by the government and took up arms against the government. Consequently, the government launched a military operation to subdue the uprising which was led by Sher Mohammad Marri.

This phase of the insurgency witnessed the formation of the Baloch Students Organization (BSO) in educational institutions and the induction of Baloch youth in insurgent groups. In the meanwhile, the insurgents continued their sabotage activities, bombing railway tracks, ambushing security convoys, and looting police posts. The government adopted a dual policy of force and reconciliation to deal with the problem. Many Baloch leaders were released from prisons. But the insurgency problem persisted. However, in 1969, the Baloch insurgency began to subside due to the changing political scenario in the country and the end of the One Unit. Balochistan was given the status of fourth province of Pakistan in 1970.

The Fourth Phase (1973-1977): During the early 1970s, Pakistan was going through a period of unprecedented crisis triggered by the breakup of the country in Dec 1971. The country was in a state of shock. In Balochistan, the political landscape was dominated by the National Awami Party (NAP) led by prominent Baloch leaders. The NAP demanded greater say in provincial matters, while the newly elected President, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, refused to talk to NAP leaders.

Subsequently, Bhutto removed Balochistan’s chief minister and governor along with some members of the national and provincial assemblies. This rather autocratic move angered the Baloch who started agitation against the federal government. Bhutto employed force to calm the situation which backfired and finally the government had to launch a full-fledged military operation in 1973-74 to control the situation. The operation led to heavy casualties on both sides. The insurgents withdrew after Bhutto was overthrown in a military coup staged by General Zia-ul-Haq. Zia imposed martial law which marked the end of the fourth phase of Baloch insurgency.

The Fifth Phase (2004-present):  The fifth and current phase of insurgency was initially led by Akbar Khan Bugti and Mir Balach Marri. On Sep 22, 2004, Akbar Bugti presented 15-point demands to Tariq Aziz, Secretary General of the National Security Council and President Musharraf’s personal aide, to address the grievances of Balochistan. Some prominent demands included provincial autonomy, Baloch ownership and management of natural resources, greater control over province’s executive and financial matters and revenue, shifting of Balochistan mega projects to provincial authority especially the Gwadar Port, end of further planning for military cantonments in the province, etc. By 2004, an estimated 500 Chinese nationals were working on the construction of the Gwadar Port. The Baloch fear the influx of foreigners to Gwadar would turn the local Baloch population into a minority. In May 2004, the BLA killed three Chinese workers in Gwadar. Few days later, the Gwadar Port was attacked with rockets.

The federal government made efforts to address the concerns and grievances of the Baloch people by forming committees to take up the issues with the Baloch. In Sep 2004, a sub-committee headed by PMLQ leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Mushahid Hussain Syed were tasked to negotiate with Baloch leaders notably Nawab Akbar Bugti whose area was worst-hit by insurgency. Another sub-committee, headed by Waseem Sajjad, was to deliberate on the question of provincial autonomy. The talks covered a number of subjects from confidence building measures to provincial autonomy and other grievances. The Shujaat-Mushahid sub-committee made a number of recommendations to the federal government, but they were never implemented.

Consequently, armed conflict resumed once again and Baloch militants began attacking military and civilian targets. On Dec 14, 2005, the Baloch insurgents fired rockets at a gathering in Kohlu where President Pervez Musharraf was addressing an audience of local leaders and state officials, though everyone remained safe. Earlier, the deputy chief of the Frontier Corps, Saleem Nawaz, was injured after his helicopter was fired at by militants in the same district. Another issue in Jan 2005 that served as fuel to the fire was the allegation that an army captain had raped a female doctor Dr. Shazia Khalid who worked at a hospital in Sui area of Balochistan. The government set up a fact-finding tribunal to resolve the issue. However, it could not pacify the Baloch who demanded justice for Dr. Shazia. Talking to BBC, Akbar Bugti accused the government of pressurizing the victim into silence in order to save the officer.

The insurgency intensified as the government and the Baloch leaders failed to reach a consensus over the former’s demands. On August 26, 2006, Akbar Bugti along with 37 other rebels was killed on the hills of Dera Bugti in a military operation. The province witnessed a severe backlash to Bugti’s death, as violent protests spread on the streets across Balochistan. In Nov 2007, Balach Marri, a Baloch militant leader who had fled to Afghanistan following Bugti’s killing, was also killed mysteriously in Gramshar, Afghanistan. Balach was thought to be the head of BLA. Like Bugti’s death, the killing of Balach intensified sabotage activities by Baloch insurgents.

Pakistan has repeatedly accused New Delhi of fomenting unrest in Balochistan from Afghan soil. Many Pakistani analysts believe the plethora of Indian consulates in Afghanistan is used to support the Baloch rebels. Pakistan’s stance gained credence after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a reference to the Baloch insurgency in Pakistan during his independence day speech on August 15, 2016. Pakistan responded by saying that Modi’s statement confirmed India’s role in Balochistan. Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz said, “PM Modi’s reference to Balochistan, which is an integral part of Pakistan, only proves Pakistan’s contention that India through intelligence agency RAW has been fomenting terrorism in Balochistan”. On the other hand, the United States refused to support Narendra Modi’s position on Balochistan. On Sep 15, 2016, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said the United States respects the unity and territorial integrity of Pakistan and does not support independence for Balochistan. Earlier in March 2016, Pakistan had also arrested an Indian intelligence operative Kulbushan Jhadav from Balochistan. Jhadav confessed to having been involved in subversive activities in the province. Following Jhadav’s arrest, Pakistan army spokesman General Asim Bajwa said, “there can be no clearer evidence of Indian interference in Pakistan”.

The grievances of the Baloch are as old as Pakistan itself. Right after the accession of the State of Kalat with Pakistan, the Baloch took up arms and demanded the restoration of the independent status of the former Kalat State. For the obvious reasons of national security and territorial integrity, the federal government rejected the insurgents’ demand. The independent and semi-independent princely states were left with little choice but to join either Pakistan or India in the wake of British withdrawal in 1947. In India, the security forces invaded the independent State of Hyderabad and forced the Nizam to sign the instrument of accession in Sep 1948.

The initial periods of Baloch insurgencies revolved around the restoration of the State of Kalat. However, later these demands morphed into calls for provincial autonomy and greater control over the province’s natural resources. During the early 1970s, the Baloch demanded more representation in the government which did not sit well with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. In Feb 1973, the police seized a consignment of Iraqi diplomatic pouches containing arms, ammunition, and guerilla warfare materials. Pakistan authorities claimed these arms were en route to Baloch insurgents. Citing treason, Bhutto dismissed the provincial government of Balochistan and imposed governor’s rule. Bhutto’s autocratic approach triggered another wave of Baloch insurgency that lasted for years. After Zia-ul-Haq took over, he appointed General Rahimuddin Khan as Balochistan governor under his martial law regime. Khan announced general amnesty for the Baloch militants willing to give up arms. He also oversaw military’s withdrawal from Balochistan. Gradually, the insurgency died down.

The current phase of insurgency began with the decades-old demands of provincial autonomy, greater representation in the federation, and more control over Balochistan’s natural resources, etc. The Shujaat-Mushahid sub-committee had recommended that Balochistan be given greater share in the gas profits and more jobs in the exploration of natural resources. Likewise, it asked the federal government to pay Balochistan’s arrears amounting to $100m. The Musharraf regime, of course, implemented none of the recommendations. Instead, it took up the military option which pushed the province into more chaos and instability.

Responding to the rocket attacks in Kohlu in 2005, military ruler Pervez Musharraf had reportedly warned the insurgents that “don’t push us, it isn’t the 1970s when you can hit and run and hide in the mountains. This time you won‘t even know what hit you” Following Musharraf’s warning, Baloch leader and former Balochistan chief minister, Sardar Mengal, replied in the same tone. In an interview to the Newsline Magazine in 2005, Mengal said, “It is not the 70’s for us; it is also not the 70s for them. If there is any change, it will be for all. If we have to face severe consequences of change, then they will also not be in a comfortable position”.

In 2008, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) came into power after winning the general elections. The PPP inherited as Musharraf legacy the problem of Baloch insurgency. The elected government declared peace and reconciliation with the Baloch as one of its top priorities. The 18th Constitutional Amendment was passed that extended greater autonomy to the provinces. The PPP government promised to commit its first hundreds days to resolving the Balochistan problem through talks. In 2009, after months of deliberations, the government announced the Balochistan Package that sought to alleviate the Baloch people’s grievances.

The Package included the return of political exiles, the liberation of jailed Baloch political activists, the army’s withdrawal from some key areas, a reform of the federal resources allocation mechanism, efforts to create jobs, and greater provincial control of Balochistan’s resources. In 2010 Islamabad doubled Balochistan’s budget and immediately released an additional $140 million to the provincial government to settle outstanding natural gas revenue debts. However, the so-called Package failed to impress the Baloch. Commenting on the Package, a daily Dawn editorial of Dec 21, 2009, wrote the following,

“The belated and half-hearted olive branch offered by Islamabad’s weak-kneed political establishment has been unanimously rejected by Baloch nationalists. In fact, the crisis of confidence between the Baloch and Islamabad is one of the major reasons for the strong reaction from Balochistan with regard to Islamabad’s unattractive and impractical ‘package’. The Baloch people believe they have been repeatedly betrayed by the establishment, and there is no way to trust Islamabad’s unilateral offer without firm internal and external guarantees.”  

Despite efforts by Islamabad to alleviate the grievances of the Baloch people, the issue of insurgency continues to date. In recent years, the Baloch have expressed concerns over the Pakistan China Economic Corridor (CPEC) – the trade route that culminates in Gwadar Port of Balochistan. Baloch insurgent groups have been attacking laborers and construction sites, creating delays and issues in the completion and safety of the project. On Nov 23 2018, BLA attacked a Chinese consulate in Karachi in which three policemen and two civilians were killed. No Chinese national was hurt in the attack. The government has responded to the Baloch insurgency largely with force. Little meaningful efforts have been made to bring the disgruntled Baloch to the mainstream. The issue of missing persons lingers on. Though the government recently released many suspected militants who had been missing for years, yet the whereabouts of many more are still unknown. The province is rich in natural resources, yet one of the most backward in South Asia.

Balochistan’s former chief minister, Dr. Abdul Malik, has been credited for making reconciliatory efforts to address the Baloch people’s grievances. He was of the view that civil military authorities must work together for peace in Balochistan. He also urged for the resolution of missing persons and the rehabilitation of people who were displaced due to military operations. According to Dr. Malik, he was in contact with Baloch leadership abroad throughout his tenure as chief minister. It is believed that at some point Dr. Malik almost convinced Brahmdagh Bugti, the grandson of Akbar Bugti and an insurgent leader, to end his self-imposed exile in Switzerland and return to Pakistan. However, he did not return and later reportedly sought asylum in India.

Political issues have political solutions. Balochistan has a political problem and should be resolved politically. Currently, there is a crisis of trust between Islamabad and the Baloch people. The government must go beyond statements and lofty promises and take practical steps to address the genuine grievances of the Baloch people. The province must be given just and rightful shares in the natural resources. The formula for gas royalties must be updated to reflect the current values in the market. Besides, the federal government and the military establishment should refrain from intervening in the political affairs of the province and let the people of Balochistan elect their leaders through free, fair, and transparent ballot.

In addition, the fruits of the multi-billion dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) must reach the people of Balochistan.  The Baloch must be taken on board with regard to the CPEC mega projects. The government should practically assure the Baloch that the project will not undermine the local population and the local population will be given priority in terms of jobs in the projects in Balochistan. Training and skills development programs should be introduced to enhance the skills of Baloch youth so as to make them eligible for the demands of the job market.

The Balochistan government expressed outrage recently over the findings of its Planning and Development Department that two of the largest projects under CPEC – the Quetta Mass Transit and the Quetta Water Supply scheme from Pat Feeder canal – were to be financed by the Balochistan government. Originally, the two projects were supposed to be funded under the CPEC. On the other hand, the Orange Line Metro Train in Lahore was included in the high-priority CPEC projects. Such discriminations in the CPEC projects would undoubtedly widen the trust deficit between Islamabad and Balochistan.

Pakistan has been branding the CPEC as a game changer for the country and the wider region. Balochistan constitutes the most critical part of the corridor as the “jewel of the CPEC” the Gwadar Port is situated here. The project can transform the lives of the Baloch people and alleviate poverty in the region. The local population should no longer be a mere bystander in the CPEC-related economic activities. They must be made active stakeholders. The labor force for the mega projects should be drawn from within the province. And most importantly, the federal government must address the longstanding grievances of the Baloch people and bring the insurgents to the mainstream by giving them amnesty and jobs. If the government can contemplate a plan for the mainstreaming of the religious extremists, why a similar plan cannot be worked out for the Baloch insurgents who shun violence? Pakistan expects a positive economic transformation once the CPEC is completed. However, with trouble continuing in Balochistan, it would be challenging to realize the dream of the promised economic prosperity.

– Image credit: Reuters

The Hazara People: A Trail of Blood & Persecution

By Muhammad Suleman & Wajahat Khalid

April 22, 2019

“For me the targeted killing of the Hazara community in Quetta is ethnic cleansing and that is why I had to take suo motu notice. We have no words to condemn the killings of Hazaras.”

– Saqib Nisar (Chief Justice of Pakistan, May 10, 2018)

The Hazara have been the victim of religious and ethnic persecution since the late 19th century. Some historians claim about half of Hazara population was either wiped out or subjected to forced deportation from Afghanistan – their country of origin – during the reign of Afghan ruler Abdur Rehman (1880-1901). During the second half of the 1990s, they were massacred both by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Their security improved temporarily after the US overthrew Taliban government in 2001. However, with the re-emergence of Taliban and other terrorist groups like Daesh in Afghanistan, the Hazara have come under renewed attacks. Hazara travelers are frequently intercepted on highways in Afghanistan, taken out of vehicles, and executed in cold blood.

Their systematic persecution in Afghanistan in early 1890s triggered a mass exodus of Hazara people to the neighboring countries of Iran and British India. In India, they mostly settled in Quetta where they found a welcoming environment. In 1904, the British Commander-in-Chief in India, Lord Kitchener, directed Major C. W. Jacob to raise a separate regiment of Hazara in Quetta. Officially known as the 106th Hazara Pioneers, the regiment was raised in the same year and later disbanded in 1933. In Balochistan, the Hazara lived in peace for over a century. However, the turn of the new millennium initiated a long period of persecution and violence against them in Balochistan. Due to their distinctive Central Asian facial features, the Hazara people stand out amongst other ethnic groups in Balochistan which in turn make them an easy prey for the terrorist groups.

Where did the Hazara Come From?

Despite the fact that the Hazara people have been living in Balochistan for over a century, they had largely been in oblivion and little known to their fellow Pakistanis during most parts of the previous century. However, in the years since 2000, their repeated persecution and killing by terrorist groups and subsequent coverage by the local and international media and human rights organizations have introduced them to many people at home as well as abroad, though many people in Pakistan still continue to wonder about the background and origin of what some call the “Chinese-looking” Pakistanis. The Hazara trace their geographical background in Afghanistan. Their traditional home is the dry mountainous region in central Afghanistan called ‘Hazarajat’ and they mostly adhere to Shiite Islam.

In his memoir Baburnam, Zaheeruddin Babar (1483-1530), the founder of Mughal Empire in India, has called the Hazara homeland in Afghanistan as “Hazaristan” and has discussed his battles with the Turkmen tribe of the Hazara in Panjshir valley in 1505 A.D. There are several theories about the ethnic origin of Hazara. According to Professor Grant Farr, a researcher on South Asia and Afghanistan, the Hazara people represent the last remnants of the Mongol dynasty that came through the area that is now Afghanistan in the 13th century. Farr believes the Hazara ancestors were the soldiers of Chagatai, son of Genghis Khan, who was installed as a leader in the region in the early 13th century. The Hazara’s Mongol origins can also be seen in their Central Asian facial features, including high cheekbones, sparse beards, and epicanthic eye folds which distinguish them from the surrounding ethnic groups.

Their Mongol ancestry is also evidenced in the Mongol words found in the Hazara people’s language – Hazaragi. A dialect of Dari Persian, Hazaragi contains extensive words and forms from Persian, Turkic, and Mongol. Similarly, James Minahan, another researcher, writes that the Hazara are a people of mixed Turkic and Mongol background, with the Mongol strain more evident in their physical appearance. The name “Hazara” originally referred to a Mongol fighting unit of 1000 men, but now it simply means the “mountain tribe”. A genetic study of 153 Hazara males in Quetta in 2017 found the Hazara people had genetic affinities with the Mongols and Kazakhs. Likewise, another study conducted earlier, showed two-thirds of the Hazara males carry the Y-chromosome associated with Genghis Khan.

Anti-Hazara Violence in Pakistan

In Pakistan, the Hazara people have been facing persecution for almost two decades. In Oct 1999, Sardar Nisar Ali, a Hazara notable and education minister of Balochistan, survived an assassination attempt in Quetta. The minister sustained injuries, while his driver was killed. This incident was the first spark to an unending period of systematic mass persecution and killing of Hazara people. The Hazara community claim over 2000 of their members have died in bombings, assassinations, and targeted killings since 2000. The bulk of the killings have occurred in and around the capital city of Quetta. And the dead include men, women, children, and even infants. On 20 Mar 2018, the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) reported that 509 Hazaras were killed from Jan 2012 to Dec 2017 alone. Titled “Understanding the agonies of ethnic Hazaras”, the report was based on official figures provided by the Balochistan government.

Thousands of Hazara have left Pakistan for other countries to escape the seemingly indefinite persecution. In Nov 2017, a number of senators including Farhatullah Babar and Rozi Khan Kakar censured the government for failing to stop the persistent killings of the Hazara community members. The Senate was informed that about 70,000 Hazaras have taken refuge in Australia alone after fleeing Pakistan. Senator Farhatullah Babar likened the Hazara of Pakistan to the Rohingya of Burma because both were fleeing their home countries in desperation.

The Hazara people have faced deadly attacks both in Afghanistan and Pakistan from a number of Sunni extremist groups including the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Daesh, etc. During the Taliban rule of Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Hazara were massacred both by Taliban and Al-Qaeda. While in Pakistan, they have mostly been targeted by the extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Lately, Daesh also has claimed attacks on the Hazara in Balochistan.

Hazara in the Afghan Civil War

The Hazara were part of the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance that resisted the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. The Taliban and its allies like Al-Qaeda considered the Hazaras heretics and enemies of Islam. On May 25, 1997, Taliban seized control of the northern Afghan city of Mazar Sharif – the last stronghold of the Northern Alliance. The Taliban immediately started implementing their version of Shariah by closing down schools and offices and disarming the local population. According to Pakistani journalist and author, Ahmed Rashid, a squabble broke between the Taliban and a group of Hazaras on May 28, 1997, as the latter refused to be disarmed. First Mazar’s Hazara and then the rest of the population rose in revolt. In 15 hours of intense fighting, some 600 Taliban were massacred and around 1000 were captured at the airport as they tried to flee. The uprising also led to Taliban losing many of their captured territories in the north and around Kabul.

However, the Taliban returned with a vengeance and retook Mazar Sharif in August in the following year. The Taliban fighters went on a killing spree in the city, targeting non-Pashtun inhabitants particularly the Hazaras. According to reports by the UN and ICRC, around 5000-6000 people were massacred in the two days of massacre. A report in Nov 1998 by the Human Rights Watch observed the following:

The Hazaras, a Persian-speaking Shi’a ethnic group, were particularly targeted, in part because of their religious identity. During the house-to-house searches, scores and perhaps hundreds of Hazara men and boys were summarily executed, apparently to ensure that they would be unable to mount any resistance to the Taliban…. The killings of Hazara men and boys appear to have been carried out largely in reprisal for the killing of several thousand Taliban soldiers after a failed attempt by the Taliban to take the city from May to July 1997. Of these, some 2,000 were reportedly summarily executed….. In speeches given at mosques throughout Mazar, the Taliban governor, Mulla Manan Niazi, also blamed Hazaras for the 1997 killings.”

Earlier in August 1997, the Taliban used food as ‘weapon of war’ by imposing a blockade of the Hazara-dominated Bamiyan valley in the Hazarajat, and forcing the inhabitants into starvation. Relief convoys and humanitarian aid were also denied access to the city that housed the giant statues of Buddha. Ahmed Rashid writes in the Taliban that the Hazara and Taliban were poles apart in their attitude towards women. Taliban were particularly irked by Hazara women who played significant roles in political, social, and military life. Many of them fought alongside their men in the battles. While the Taliban received international condemnation for their treatment of women, the Hazara’s Unity Party had 12 women members in its executive council.

In Afghanistan, the anti-Hazara hatred, based on faith and ethnicity, predates the Taliban or the Afghan jihad. The aversion to Hazara ethnicity and faith existed in Afghanistan since at least the early 1890s. However, it intensified during the brutal civil war that raged under the Taliban. During the 1990s, a number of Pakistan-based sectarian extremist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi also joined the Taliban militants in Afghanistan. They fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance which also included the Shiite Hazaras.

The US invasion dispersed all shades of jihadists from Afghanistan, and with that the anti-Hazara hatred was exported to the Balochistan province that has a sizeable population of Hazara people. The Pakistani Hazara, who had been living in peace in Quetta for most parts of the 20th century, began to experience violence inflicted by the extremist groups that had just returned from fighting the Hazara in Afghanistan. In 2011, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed that it had participated in the war in Afghanistan and killed what it called the Hazara infidels. Through a proclamation, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi declared that their jihadists would kill the Hazara people in every corner of Pakistan, the way they killed them in Afghanistan.

Following are some of the extremist groups that have claimed terrorist attacks against the Hazara in Balochistan.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ):

Founded in 1996, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is inspired by anti-Shiite salafist ideology. It is believed to have affiliations with similar extremist groups such as TTP, Sipah Sahaba, Harkatul Jihad-E-Islami (HUJI), Jundallah, and Daesh. The LeJ assisted and fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Members of LeJ and SSP reportedly played an active part in the massacres of Shiites in Afghanistan in late 1990s. Many LeJ fugitives were given sanctuary by the Taliban regime. In July 2011, the LeJ’s Balochistan chapter issued the following proclamation:

“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. As 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.”


The Hazara have faced hundreds of terrorist attacks in Balochistan since 2001. Most of these attacks have been claimed by the LeJ. The worst sectarian violence in Pakistan’s history came in early 2013 when LeJ carried out two terrorist attacks against the Hazara in Quetta. The Hazara neighborhood of Alamdar Road was targeted by twin suicide attacks that initially left 93 people dead on Jan 10, 2013. Later, the death toll crossed 100 as more injured people died at hospitals. The federal government responded by dismissing Balochistan’s provincial government and imposing governor’s rule.

However, the dismissal of the provincial administration could not prevent the LeJ from carrying out further attacks. A month later, on Feb 16, the group perpetuated yet another equally devastating attack in Hazara Town, killing 110 people including women and children. The attack left over 200 people injured. Besides, the LeJ also has targeted police personnel assigned on the security of the Hazara people.

In July 2015, the LeJ ringleader, Malik Ishaq, was killed along with his 13 accomplices in a gunfight with police in the Punjab city of Muzaffargarh. Several other senior LeJ leaders such as Usman Saifullah Kurd and Dawood Badini had previously been arrested and sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court in Quetta on Nov 8, 2003 for masterminding two terrorist attacks that killed 65 Hazaras in Quetta. The detention of Kurd and Badini brought the Hazara killing in Balochistan to a halt. However, both Kurd and Badini managed to escape from a high-security prison in Quetta in Jan 2008. According to English daily The News:

“Both the LeJ men managed to escape under mysterious circumstances on January 18, 2008 after breaking the jail located in the high-security zone of Quetta Cantonment where no one can go without a pass. A subsequent report by the Minority Support of Pakistan (MSP), a non-partisan NGO which is devoted to building advocacy for the minority rights, alleged that all signs of escape pointed to orchestration from the powerful groups. The report added that the night Usman Kurd and Dawood Badin had escaped along with their third companion Shafiqur Rehman Rind [who was arrested in 2003], the Hazara guards were relieved from duty and the roster was abruptly changed by the jail bosses.”

Later, Usman Saifullah Kurd was killed by the Frontier Corps (FC) in Feb 2015 in Quetta. Pakistani security analyst Amir Mir wrote that Kurd’s killing was a major blow to LeJ as it broke the back of LeJ in Balochistan. Nevertheless, the LeJ continues to carry out attacks against the embattled Hazara community. And the law enforcement agencies have largely been ineffective in preventing the attacks despite the fact that the LeJ has officially been declared a terrorist group in Pakistan.

In a fresh blow to the government’s claim of cracking down on terrorist groups, the Balochistan government released on 10 April 2019 the LeJ leader in Balochistan, Ramzan Mengal. Mengal had publicly threatened to wipe out the entire Hazara community from Balochistan in the past. Two days after his release, a bombing incident targeted Hazara vegetable vendors in the Quetta’s suburb, killing 18 people including 8 Hazaras. Terrorist group Daesh claimed responsibility for the bombing through its official news channel Amaq. The LeJ has worked both with the Al-Qaeda and Daesh in Balochistan against the Shiite Hazara.

The Islamic State (Daesh):

Daesh has targeted the Hazara people both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the Hazara have come under heavy attacks by Daesh and its affiliates. Inspired by an extreme version of salafist ideology, Daesh was originally founded as Jamaatul Tawheed wal Jihad by a Jordanian salafist Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi in 1999. On 26 Jan 2015, Daesh announced the formation of its chapter in what it called the ‘Khorasan’ district. The Khorasan is an imaginary region drawn up by the jihadists that include Pakistan and its surrounding areas. Hafiz Saeed Khan, a former TTP pioneer, was made the chief of Khorasan chapter.

Worries about a Daesh presence in Pakistan came to surface as early as 2014. The Balochistan government warned the federal government through a letter, dated 31st Oct 2014, that the Daesh had offered some elements of LeJ and ASWJ to join hands in Pakistan. According to the letter, the terror outfit had formed a “ten-member strategic planning wing” that aimed to plan terrorist attacks against military personnel participating in the Operation Zarb-e-Azb, and seizure of important government installations. The letter also quoted Daesh claiming to have gained 10-12 thousand followers from Hangu and Kurram Agency. On 12 Apr 2019, Daesh claimed responsibility for a bombing in Quetta that killed 18 people including 8 Hazaras. The group’s anti-Hazara attacks have been deadlier in Afghanistan where it has repeatedly targeted and killed many of them.

GOB letter

Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP):

Like other extremist groups, the TTP also has claimed responsibility for attacks on Hazara. On 3 Sep 2010, a suicide bombing targeted a Hazara religious procession in Quetta city, killing at least 73 and injuring 160. The procession was struck in a busy commercial area of the city. The TTP claimed responsibility for the attack. Similarly, On 12 April 2019, a bomb blast killing and injuring several, many of which were Hazaras was claimed both by the TTP and Daesh. The TTP is believed to have supportive links with the following militant groups:

  • Al-Qaida
  • Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ)
  • Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)
  • Haqqani Network
  • Harkatul Jihad-E-Islami (HUJI)
  • Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM)
  • Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM)
  • Jundallah
  • Lashkar-e-Taiba

Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ):

Formerly known as SSP, ASWJ has been involved in anti-Shiite hate campaign for years. Though a proscribed group in Pakistan, ASWJ takes out public rallies, calling for violence against Shiites. It also has affiliations with mainstream religious political parties like Jamaat-e-Islam and Jamiat Ulema Islam. During the general elections in July 2018, the Election Commission of Pakistan allowed many ASWJ leaders, including Ramzan Mengal, to contest elections. The move incited fears amongst the Hazara people because they believe ASWJ is a political cover for the LeJ. Talking to Al-Jazeera, Agha Raza, a Hazara politician, said the ASWJ wants to reach the Parliament so as to protect the killings carried out by the LeJ.

High-intensity Violence

The Hazara have been suffering from high-intensity violence. The HRW issued a report on the Hazara persecution on 29 June 2014 which revealed some horrifying figures. Titled “We are the walking dead”, the report said that approximately one-quarter of all the Shiites killed in sectarian violence across Pakistan in 2012 belonged to the Hazara community in Balochistan. In 2013, nearly half of Shiites killed in Pakistan were Hazara. The Hazara community accuses the provincial authorities for willful negligence towards their security. According to the HRW report, there is no evidence to suggest that the government is backing the terrorists, but very little has been done so far to contain the anti-Hazara violence.

Due to continued attacks, the Hazara have been confined to two ghettos in the eastern and western parts of Quetta city. All the entry points to their ghettos are manned by the FC personnel. Outcast and marginalized from the rest of the city’s population, the Hazara as a community has plunged socially and economically. Many of their businessmen have been killed, and their businesses shut in the main city. Restrictions on their movement have curtailed their economic opportunities as they mostly remain confined to their guarded areas. Thousands of their members have already left Pakistan to seek refuge in Europe, Australia, and other countries. The police have repeatedly demonstrated their inability to deal with the terrorist attacks on Hazara people.

Aslam Raisani, former chief minister of Balochistan, once mocked the Hazara victims of a terrorist attack by saying that it was not a big deal if 40 people were killed in a province whose population was in millions. He also said that he would send a truckload of tissue papers to the victims so that they could wipe their tears. Raisani’s government was dismissed in Jan 2013 following a massive terrorist bombing that killed over 100 Hazaras in Quetta.

Is inaction affordable?

Khaled Ahmed, Pakistani journalist and author, wrote in the Newsweek on 11 Mar 2014 that “If there ever was a sign of the demise of the Pakistani state, it is the killing of the Hazara community of Quetta.” Khaled Ahmed’s statement serves as a reminder of the gravity of the situation. Having been exhausted by the statements of condolence and sympathy that come after every deadly attack, the Hazara of Pakistan really need protection now. The government must dismantle the terror infrastructure in Balochistan that perpetuate anti-Hazara violence with impunity. Those involved in carrying out terrorist attacks and inciting violence against the community should be held accountable under the anti-terrorism laws. The National Action Plan, drawn up with much resolve and commitment back in 2014, has largely remained buried in the papers. It must be implemented in letter and spirit. It is the constitutional, legal, and moral responsibility of the State of Pakistan to protect the lives of its Hazara citizens who have grown tired of digging mass graves and burying their loved ones. No excuse whatsoever can justify the government’s repeated failures to prevent the terrorist attacks against the Hazara.

Security arrangements like ghettoization and individual security escorts for select Hazara people are unlikely to address the problem as long as the terrorist groups continue to operate in the province. The terror infrastructure must be uprooted permanently and the sources of support and finances for terrorism must be chocked. Besides, at a time when the country is under heightened international scrutiny for the problem of terrorism, a persistent killing of a minority community in Balochistan does not augur well for the government. The Foreign Office might find it challenging, if not possible, to convince the international community that Pakistan is serious in tackling all shades of terrorism indiscriminately, despite the fact that Pakistan has suffered heavily, in terms of human cost and financial losses, in the war against terrorism and extremism. Undoubtedly, it is time to put empty statements to rest and act decisively against the terrorists.

The Blood Trail

Below is a timeline of the terrorist attacks on the Hazara community in Balochistan since 1999.

1999: On 06 October 1999, unidentified gunmen ambushed the vehicle of Sardar Nisar Ali, a Hazara notable and education minister of Balochistan, in Quetta. The minister survived with injuries but his driver was killed. The attack marked the beginning of a systematic campaign of violence against the Hazara community of Quetta.

2001: Armed assailants ambushed a Suzuki pickup carrying members of Hazara community on Pudgali junction on Kirani Road in Quetta on 9 Feb 2001, killing eight people.

2003: Armed motorcyclists kill 13 Hazara police cadets and injure 8 more on Sariab Road in Quetta. The trainee cadets were returning home from police training school when their Toyota pickup was intercepted by terrorists. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the attack.

2003: On 4 July 2003, in one of the deadliest sectarian terrorism in Pakistan’s history, three terrorists armed with AK-47s, grenades, and suicide vests stormed the main Hazara Shiite mosque on the Prince Road in Quetta city. The terrorists opened indiscriminate firing on worshippers who had gathered for the afternoon Friday prayers. A third one finally blew up his suicide vest. A total of 58 people including children were killed, and around 200 were wounded. Two bombs were also planted outside the mosque which were later diffused by the bomb disposal squad.

2004: The religious procession of Ashura was attacked in Quetta on 2 Mar 2004 which left over 40 people dead and around 100 injured. The terrorists first threw grenades into the crowd and then started indiscriminate firing as the procession reached the heart of Quetta city. Most of the victims were Shiite Hazaras. LeJ claimed responsibility for the deadly attack. It is noteworthy that the procession route had been declared safe by the government previously.

2008: On 30 May 2008, six young men belonging to Shiite community were shot dead and four others wounded in an ambush by terrorists on the Samungli Road in Quetta. Baloch insurgent group BLA claimed responsibility, with its spokesman claiming that the boys were spying for the intelligence agencies against the insurgents. A spokesman for the BLA claimed responsibility for the attack. A majority of the murdered boys

2008: On 22 Sept 2008, three Hazara tribesmen were shot dead at two different places in Quetta. Armed motorcyclists gunned down Yousuf Ali and Mohammad Alam who were going to their homes in the Hazara Town. In another incident on the same day, gunmen killed another Hazara Zaman Ali in the Munawar Colony in Quetta.

2009: On 5 Jan 2019, terrorists killed two Hazaras on Kirani Road in Quetta despite tight security arrangements due to Muharram. The police identified the deceased as Muhammad Essa and Muhammad Khan.

2009: On 14 Jan 2009, unidentified assailants killed four Policemen, including a deputy superintendent of Police, in a shootout on Sariab Road in Quetta. Three of the victims were Hazaras. LeJ claimed responsibility.

2009: On 26 Jan 2009, terrorists assassinated Hussain Ali Yousafi, chairman of Hazara Democratic Party, on Quetta’s busy Jinnah Road. LeJ claimed responsibility for the assassination.

2009: On 2 Feb 2009, unidentified gunmen kidnapped a senior UNHCR official John Solecki from Chaman Housing Society in Quetta. His driver, a Hazara, was killed during the kidnapping. Solecki was an American national.

2009: On 4 March 2009, Four Hazara laborers and their Punjabi colleague were killed by unknown gunmen on Eastern Bypass in Quetta.

2009: On 11 March 2009, nnknown gunmen shot two Hazara people dead on Arbab Karam Khan Road in Quetta.

2009: On 11 March 2009, three Hazaras were attacked on the Spini Road in Quetta by unknown gunmen. The victims escaped unhurt; however, a passerby was injured by a bullet.

2009: On 12 April 2009, a person identified as Ghulam Hussein was killed while another man sustained critical wounds when unknown armed men opened fire at them on Kirani Road. Both were Hazara.

2009: On 12 October 2009, terrorists killed Ashraf Ali, chief inspector of mines in Balochistan, on Sariab Road in Quetta. Ali belonged to the Hazara tribe.

2009: On 15 October 2009, Muhammad Asif, a Hazara, was shot dead in his shop at Jinnah Road Quetta. Asif was the brother of Musa Jaffari, a senior police officer in Balochistan.

2009: Mehmud Ali, a young Hazara boy, was killed by terrorists on the Quetta-Karachi highway while another boy Mohammad Yousuf was injured in the same incident.

2010: In March 2010, two Hazaras identified as Ghulam Rasool and Muhammad Ali were killed in Akhtarabad in Quetta. Both were day-laborers.

2010: In March 2010, Shabbir Hussain, a Hazara shopkeeper, was killed by armed men while he was working in his shop in the Hazar Ganji area.

2010: In March, Muhammad Ali, Ghulam Raza and Ramzan Ali who were vegetable vendors were killed in the Hazar Ganji area. All were Hazara Shiites.

2010: In May 2010, a young Hazara boy, Ali Murtaza, was shot dead on Sirki road.

2010: On 3 Sept 2010, a suicide bomber hit a religious procession of Hazaras on Meezan Chowk in Quetta, killing 59 people and injuring over 200. Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the attack was a revenge for the death of Sunni scholars allegedly killed by Shiites (without giving details).

2010: On 28 Sept 2010, a Hazara businessman, Muhammad Ali, was found dead in Killi Qambarani in Quetta. He was kidnapped for ransom a month before the incident. His family paid 20 million in ransom two days before he was found dead.

2010: In Oct 2010, four Hazaras were abducted and killed for ransom. Haji Ali Akbar, who was the owner of Al-Abbas store was captured along with his son, bodyguard and an employee and later killed.

2010: In Nov 2010, Haji Idrees, the owner of Barkat medical store in Quetta, was kidnapped and his bodyguard Mohammad Ali was killed.

2010: In December 2010, three Hazaras, including a four-year-old girl, were killed in a terrorist attack on Arbab Karam Khan Road in Quetta.

2011: In May 2011, eight people, including children, were killed in a rocket and gun attack which targeted Hazaras in the early morning in a park. After the rockets were fired, armed men on vehicles shot at people and fled. Lashkar-e-Jhangavi claimed responsibility for the attack.

2011: In May 2011, two Hazara policemen, Mohammad Musa, and Ishaq Ali were shot dead on Sipni Road while on their way home.

2011: In June 2011, a former Pakistani Olympian and deputy director of the Pakistan Sports Board, Abrar Hussain, was shot by armed men on motorcycles as he was returning home. He belonged to the Hazara tribe.

2011: In June 2011, armed terrorists attacked a bus carrying Hazara pilgrims from Iran, killing three and injuring 11 others in the Hazar Ganji area of Quetta.

2011: In July 2011, eleven Hazaras, including one woman, were killed when a Suzuki van was attacked on Spini road in Quetta.

2011: In Sept 2011, thirteen people, including four women, were killed in a suicide bombing attack on Eid day.  The target was the morning Eid prayers, however, the vehicle carrying the suicide bomber exploded a few yards before the target due to a collision.

2011: In Sept 2011, twenty-six people were killed when a bus carrying pilgrims from Quetta was attacked by armed men in Mastung. The attackers stopped the bus and shot the victims one by one.

2011: In Sept 2011, three Hazaras were killed when gunmen attacked a van. Three others, including a child, sustained injuries.

2011: In October 2011, Fourteen vegetable vendors were killed when gunmen attacked a van going to a vegetable market in Quetta.

2012: On 25 January 2012, Walayat Hussain (FIA inspector), Abid Hussain Nazish (artist) and Mohammad Anwar Hussain (govt. official) were gunned down near Mecongi Road, Quetta. The three were going home in a car when assailants on a motorcycle opened fire on them with automatic weapons in a street.

2012: On 26 March 2012, Ejaz Hussain and Ali Asghar were killed on Sabzar Road when unknown men opened fire on them. Both were Hazara.

2012: On 28 March 2012, two people, identified as Jawad Ahmed and Khadem Hussain, belonging to the Hazara community, were injured while their three companions escaped unhurt when the car they were riding was attacked by a group of armed militants near Dasht area in Mastung District.

2012: On 29 March 2012, at least five Hazaras were killed and seven others injured when unidentified militants opened fire on their car on Spiny Road in Quetta in a suspected sectarian attack.

2012: On 3 April 2012,  two Hazaras, Ali Akbar and Ali Raza, were killed when unknown men opened fire on two shops on Meconghy Road, Quetta.

2012: On 9 April  2012, Mama Karim, Mohammad Hassan, Saeed Ahmed, Qurban Ali, Nadir Ali, and Shabir Hussain were killed when armed assailants opened fire at a shoe shop on Prince Road, Quetta. All were Hazaras.

2012: On 14 April 2012, three men were killed when armed men on a motorbike opened fire at a tea shop. Six Hazaras were killed when armed men ambushed a taxi on Brewery Road, Quetta. The victims were on their way to Killi Ibraimzai from Hazara Town.

2012: In April 2012, unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on a tire shop situated at Quarry road, killing a businessman, Salman Ali Hazara.

2012: On 21 April 2012, two Hazara brothers, Baban Ali and Hussain Ali, were gunned down on Brewery Road, Quetta while they were on their way to a bazaar from Hazara Town.

2012: In May 2012, Mohammad Ali was killed by unknown gunmen while working in his tire shop.

2012: In May 2012, two Hazaras, Mohammad Tahir, and Mohammad Qadir were killed outside the passport office on Joint Road when armed assailants opened fire and fled.

2012: In June 2012, fourteen people, including two policemen and a woman, were killed and many others injured in a suicide attack on a bus carrying pilgrims returning from Iran. The suicide bomber was in a private car which hit the bus in the Hazar Ganji area of Quetta.

2012: In August 2012, three people of the Hazara community were killed and three others injured when gunmen opened fire on a taxi going to Marriabad from Hazara Town on Spiny Road in Quetta.

2012: In August 2012, three people going to Hazara Town in a rickshaw were killed when gunmen on a motorbike opened fire on them and escaped. Out of the three, two were identified as Ghulam Hussain and Khadim Hussain

2012: In Sept 2012, gunmen on motorcycles shot dead seven Hazara Shia Muslims in two separate incidents.

2012: In Oct 2012, four Hazara men were shot dead in an attack on a scrap shop. Men on motorcycles opened fire on the shop in Kabarhi Market on Sirki Road and fled after killing Ata Ali, Muhammad Ibrahim, Ghulam Ali, and Syed Awiz.

2012: On Nov 6, 2012, three members of the Hazara community were gunned down while two others sustained injuries when assailants on a motorcycle opened fire on a yellow taxi cab on Spinny Road in the provincial capital. DIG Police Hamid Shakeel told The Express Tribune “The victims were on their way to Hazara Town when the cab they were traveling in was attacked. Three people died on the spot, while the injured were rushed to Bolan Medical College Teaching Hospital”

2012: On Dec 4, 2012, a man was killed and his brother injured when they came under fire on Airport Road near Askari Park here on Tuesday evening. The victims belonged to the Shia Hazara community. Ashfaq Hussain and Altaf Hussain, a police constable, were going home on a motorcycle when they were fired upon by motorcyclists chasing them. A man was killed and his brother injured when they came under fire on Airport Road near Askari Park.

2013: On 10 Jan 2013, at least 80 people were killed and over 120 injured in an attack targeting Hazara Shiites at Alamdar Road in Quetta late in the evening. A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a snooker club on Alamdar Road. When people came to retrieve the bodies and rescue the injured, a second more powerful blast occurred, killing more people including some police officers. Lashkar-i-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the deadly attack.

2013: On 29 Jan 2013, two Police constables, identified as Ali Dad Hazara and Shamir Baloch, were shot dead on Sabzal road of Quetta.

2013: On 16 Feb 2013, a remote-controlled bomb targeting Hazara Shiites killed  84 people including women and children and wounded more than 200 in Quetta.

2013: On 22 July 2013, two Shia Hazaras were killed when unidentified militants opened fire at a taxi on Shahrah-e-Iqbal Road in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan

2013: On 24 November 2013, a Hazara man, identified as Arif Hussain, was shot dead in a targeted sectarian attack on Kirani Road in Quetta.

2014: On 12 April 2014, two bus passengers belonging to Shia Hazara community were killed in an incident of target killing on Sariab Road in Quetta

2014: On 29 July 2014, two Shia Hazara persons, identified as Zakir Hussain and Ghulam Hussain, were killed by unidentified assailants in Sabzal road area of Quetta

2014: On 23 October 2014, nine members of the Hazara community were shot dead in sectarian target killings in different parts of Quetta (Quetta District), the provincial capital of Balochistan. Eight of them were killed in a single incident, which took place early in the morning in the Hazarganji area. The men were gunned down by unidentified militants as they were about to leave the area’s vegetable market. An hour after the Hazarganji killings, armed men on a motorbike shot dead another member of the Hazara community in Kirani Road area.

2015: On 12 May 2015, a man belonging to the Hazara community was killed and five others, including two Policemen, were injured, apparently in a targeted attack at Kasi Road of Quetta.

2015: On 25 May 2015, at least three Hazara Shias were killed and nine others were injured when unidentified militants opened fire at two separate buildings on M.A. Jinnah Road in Quetta.

2015: A local trader, identified as Anwar Ali Hazara, was shot dead by unidentified militants on Fatima Jinnah Road in Quetta. Following the attack, members of the Hazara community staged a protest against the killing.

2015: Two Shia Hazaras, identified as Mohammad Arif and Mohammad Hussain, were shot dead, while another, Mohammad Essa, was injured when unidentified militants opened fire at their cloth shop in a shopping plaza in Mecongi road area in Quetta. No outfit claimed responsibility for the attack

2015: At least five Hazara Shias were killed when unidentified armed assailants opened fire at them in Bacha Khan Chowk area Quetta.

2015: Unidentified militants shot dead a Shia Hazara, identified as Ghulam Raza, while he was on his way home in Quetta.

2015: On 7 Nov 2015, armed assailants killed two Hazara Shias in Spiny road in Quetta.

2016: On 28 June 2016, two policemen belonging to Hazara community, identified as driver Muhammad Ali and guard Muhammad Ayub, were killed when unidentified militants opened fire at a Police mobile van near Hazara Ganj area of Quetta.

2016: On 1 August 2016, two Hazara Shias, identified as Ghulam Nabi and Mohammad Nabi, were killed in a targeted attack near the Government Boys Degree College while they on their way home on Sariab Road of Quetta

2016: On 4 October 2016, at least four Hazara Shia women were killed and one injured when unidentified armed assailants opened fire on a bus on Kirani Road near Pud Gali Chowk area of Quetta

2017: On 6 January 2107, unidentified assailants shot and injured five Hazara Shias in a suspected sectarian attack community on Spiny Road in the Qila Mubarak area of Quetta.

2017: On 4 June 4 2107, a man and his younger sister belonging to the Shia Hazara community were shot dead in the Spiny Road area of Quetta.

2017: On 10 Sept 2017, unidentified assailants opened fire at a vehicle coming from Chaman in Kuchlak area of Quetta in the evening, leaving five Shia Hazara persons dead.

2017: On 9 Oct 2017, at least five Shia Hazara persons were killed and one other was seriously injured when unidentified assailants opened fire at their vehicle on Kasi road in Gawalmandi area of Quetta.

2017: On 22 December 2017, two persons belonging to the Hazara community were killed and two others were injured when they were targeted near Western Bypass in Nakhailabad area of Quetta.

2018: In April 2018, two people from the ethnic Hazara community were shot dead in a sectarian attack in southwestern Pakistan. Two members of the community were killed and another was injured in an attack in the Western Bypass area of the city last Sunday. A shopkeeper was gunned down on April 18 while another Hazara man was killed at the beginning of the month.

2018: Two men belonging to the Hazara community were killed, while a third was injured in an incident of firing in Quetta’s Western Bypass area on Sunday.

2019: On 12 April 2019, at least 20 people were killed and 48 injured in a blast believed to be targeting members of the Hazara community in Quetta’s Hazarganji market. Among the dead, 8 belonged to the Hazara community. Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pak-Iran Relations and the Problem of Cross-border Militancy

Apr 30, 2019

Pakistan and Iran share common history, faith, and culture. Their bilateral relations have seen ups and downs over decades. Their 900-km long common border often serves as a point of attraction for criminal and militant activities. The border area has been ripe for human trafficking and smuggling of petroleum products. Illegal immigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan mostly take the Iranian route to reach Europe via Turkey. On the other hand, Iranian petro products regularly make their way into Pakistan through smuggling. Pakistan’s Balochistan province is a huge market for smuggled Iranian oil. However, what creates tension between the two countries is the cross border movement of militants. Both sides have accused each other of supporting or sheltering militants against each other. Iran complains that Pakistan is not doing enough to contain anti-Iran militants that allegedly operate from Pakistani soil. Pakistan, on its part, blames Iran for the same.

Just recently, Pakistan lodged a strongly-worded protest with Iran over the killing of 14 Pakistani security personnel in the Ormara area of Balochistan. Pakistan’s Foreign Office conveyed a letter of protest to the Iranian Embassy in Islamabad, and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi called his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif to protest. On 20 Apr 2019, Qureshi said Pakistan had credible information that the training and logistics camps of the Baloch terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the attack were based on the Iranian side of the border. Pakistan’s allegations came just days before Prime Minister Imran Khan was due to visit Iran.

In 1998, the killing of Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e-Sharif triggered a war-like situation as Iran mobilized its army on the Afghan border. A public rally in Iran accused Pakistan of being responsible for the murder of their diplomats. Pakistan denied the allegation.

The Pak-Iran relations had a warm start as Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan’s sovereign status after the latter’s independence. During the 1970s when Pakistan was facing a Baloch sub-nationalist insurgency, Iran came forward to help Pakistan put down the insurgency for their mutual benefit. Iran’s Sistan-e-Balochistan province is home to Sunni Baloch who resent Tehran’s discrimination against its Sunni citizens particularly the ethnic Baloch minority. Iran also supported Pakistan during its wars with India in 1965 and 1971.

However, the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 drastically changed the political and security dynamics in the region. In Iran, the pro-West Shah was deposed and replaced by Khomeini, a religious hardliner who adopted an aggressive foreign policy towards the United States. To make matters worse, a group of Iranian revolutionaries stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took 52 American diplomats and citizens hostage on 4 Nov 1979. It became the longest hostage crisis in recorded history as it lasted for 444 days. The crisis formally laid the foundation of enmity between the US and Iran.

On the other hand, Pakistan came closer to the United States during the same time. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the US formed a trio to push the Red Army back from Afghanistan. The Zia regime whipped up the fears of communist expansion, driving the Saudis and Americans to commit funds for the Afghan jihad. However, Pakistan’s policy of welcoming the US presence in the region during the 1980s did not sit well with Tehran. Another factor that upset the Pak-Iran relations was the exclusion of Shia militias from the Afghan jihad. Saudi Arabia which was a major stakeholder in the Afghan war favored the exclusion of Shia militias from training and funding. They were left to be taken care of by Iran.

During the 1990s, Pakistan and Iran again found themselves on opposing sides in Afghanistan. Pakistan backed the Taliban who in turn aroused Iran’s suspicion and discomfort by clamping down on Shiite populations in Afghanistan. Iran extended support to the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance. In 1998, the killing of Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e-Sharif triggered a war situation as Iran mobilized its army on the Afghan border. A public rally in Iran accused Pakistan of being responsible for the murder of their diplomats. Pakistan denied the allegation. It was reported that the diplomats were killed by some unruly Taliban elements following the takeover of Mazar.

In recent years, Iran has been inching closer to India. Their bilateral agreements in trade, energy, and infrastructure etc have led to a growing Indian presence on the Iranian soil. The strengthening of ties between Iran and India has caused considerable security concerns in Islamabad. Official quarters in Pakistan see the Indian expansion in its west as an attempt at Pakistan’s strategic encirclement by India. India’s deep engagement in the post-Taliban Afghanistan has frequently been blamed for the Baloch insurgency in Pakistan. Pakistan has been accusing India of fomenting unrest in Balochistan through its consulates in Afghanistan.

Now Pakistan is worried that India would do the same from Iran too. This fear magnified after Pakistani authorities nabbed an Indian national, Kulbushan Jhadav, from Balochistan province in Mar 2016. Jhadav was later identified as a serving officer of Indian navy who worked for the Indian intelligence agency RAW. In a confessional statement to Pakistani authorities, Jhadav said he planned and carried out subversive activities in Balochistan. Following his arrest, Balochistan’s Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti claimed Jhadav provided finances to the terrorists in Balochistan and Karachi. According to Jhadav’s confession, he was resided in and operated from the Iranian port city of Chahbahar, and maintained relations with the Iranian intelligence. India’s investment in the construction of Chahbahar port has stressed the Pak-Iran relations.

However, no country has factored in the Pak-Iran relations as much as Saudi Arabia. In Dec 2015, Saudi Arabia announced the formation of what it called the Islamic military alliance against terrorism. Officially known as ‘Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition’, the Saudi-led security alliance comprised 41 member states. The alliance is thought to be the brainchild of the ambitious Saudi prince, Mohammad bin Salman. Iran was excluded from the group. The alliance claims it seeks global peace and elimination of terrorism. Iran, however, believes the coalition has been put together with Iran in mind. Later in Jan 2017, Saudi Arabia appointed Raheel Sharif, a former Pakistan military chief, to head the coalition. Though the coalition has largely been insignificant since its inception, nevertheless it has served to widen the trust deficit between Pakistan and Iran.

A problematic border region

The most prominent factor which triggers tension between Pakistan and Iran is the cross-border movement of militants. Iran alleges that terrorist groups such as Jandullah and Jaish-ul-Adle carry out terrorist attacks in its border regions from their safe havens on Pakistani side. Jandullah and Jaish-ul-Adle (both believed to be Al-Qaeda affiliates) target personnel of the Iranian border security, often triggering a standoff between Pakistani and Iranian forces. Jandullah and Jaish-ul-Adle are Sunni extremist groups that oppose Tehran’s repression of its Sunni citizens in regions like Sistan-Balochistan. Iran’s stance on the border issue, at times, been marked by frustration and warning towards Pakistan. In 2014, anti-Iran militants kidnapped five Iranian border guards and allegedly transported them to Pakistan. Following the incident, Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani accused Pakistan of inaction against the militias. Pakistan refuted the allegation.

Similarly, General Soleimani, a commander of Iran’s revolutionary guards, has criticized Pakistan for not taking sufficient actions against the anti-Iran militants that allegedly operate from the Pakistani side. Soleimani, who is famed in Iran for his efforts against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, once threatened that Iran would take direct action against the terrorists if Pakistan was unable to do so. The General went as far as to accuse Pakistan of playing Saudi’s proxy against Iran. Such war of words between Pakistan and Iran, mostly triggered by militancy on the borders, increasingly push the two countries apart.

Pakistan, on its part, accuses Iran of allowing India to use the Iranian soil instigating separatist insurgency in the troubled Balochistan province. Several Baloch separatist groups have been fighting the law enforcement agencies in the province since the early 2000s. Pakistan’s Baloch problem worsened after a noted Baloch tribal head and politician, Akbar Khan Bugti, was killed in a military operation in Aug 2006. Security operations have largely suppressed the insurgency, but it has not died down completely. And Pakistan blames the Indian presence in Afghanistan and Iran for the problem.

In Aug 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a reference to Balochistan during his Independence Day speech in New Delhi. Later, a suspected Indian intelligence operative was caught in Balochistan who confessed to having been involved in promoting insurgency in Pakistan. These factors cemented Pakistan’s apprehensions about Indian presence in Iran. Pakistan’s army chief, General Raheel Sharif, took up the matter of Kalbushan Jhadav with the Iranian president during the latter’s official visit to Pakistan in Mar 2016. The arrest of the Jhadav was an embarrassment for Iran as Pakistan had always maintained that Baloch militants linked to BLA and BRA were sheltered in Iran. Pakistan maintains that Iranian authorities are aware of the movement and whereabouts of these militant groups.

Earlier this month, Pakistan experienced one of the deadliest attacks from Baloch separatists in Balochistan. On 18 Apr 2019, suspected Baloch militants intercepted several passenger buses on a highway near the coastal area of Ormara. The militants checked the passengers’ IDs and offloaded 14 passengers. Those taken out were lined up and executed in cold blood. The victims were personnel of Pakistan’s armed forces. An alliance of Baloch militant groups called BRAS claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack. The incident drew a strong reaction from Islamabad which blamed Iran-based militants for the massacre. Pakistan claimed the terrorists had fled to Iran after carrying out the deadly attack. Pakistan’s Foreign Office sent a protest letter to the Iranian Embassy in Islamabad, and the foreign minister called his Iranian counterpart to lodge a protest. Few days after the Ormara attack, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Iran with the cross-border terrorism on the top of his agenda. In Tehran, PM Khan and Iranian President Rouhani agreed to form a joint “Quick Reaction Force” to tackle the shared problem of cross-border militancy and terrorism. Commenting on the proposed force, the Iranian president, however, said:

Both sides would benefit from it. I don’t expect it to be a separate force per se but rather a mechanism for sharing intelligence on what is happening in the area… Iranian border forces won’t tolerate a Pakistani command and Pakistani forces won’t tolerate an Iranian command. It will be a consultative body, I believe”.


Jundallah is a Sunni militant group that fights against the Iranian regime for suppressing Iran’s Sunni Baloch in the Sistan-Balochistan region. It was founded by an Iranian Baloch Abdul Malik Regi in 2003. It has roughly about 1000 men with explosives and small weapons in the Sistan-Balochistan that border Pakistani Balochistan. Its power is derived primarily from the local Iranian Baloch people. Its declared objective is autonomy for the Baloch in Iran. Jandullah militants mostly target Iranian revolutionary guards through guerilla warfare. It has carried out suicide attacks, assassinations, bombings, and targeted killings in Iran. In 2014, Jandullah declared allegiance with TTP and Daesh. Iran claims the group is funded by the US and UK to instigate instability in Iran.

Jandullah began actively attacking Iranian targets in 2005. In one of their initial attacks, the Jandullah militants ambushed the motorcade of Iranian President Ahmedinejad in 2005. The president remained safe. On 16 Mar 2006, the group blocked a road near Tasooki in Sistan-Balochistan and killed 22 civilians. Likewise, on August 19 2007, Jandullah militants abducted 21 Iranian truck drivers near Chahbahar and took them to Pakistan. The Pakistani forces responded by arresting the kidnappers and freeing the drivers after a fierce gunbattle. On June 13 2008, the militants struck again. They abducted 16 Iranian police officers from Sarawan district of Sistan-Baluchistan and transported them to Pakistan where some of them were killed.

Iran executed Jandullah’s founder Abdul Malik Regi in June 2010. A month later, the group carried out two suicide attacks, targeting members of revolutionary guards at a mosque in Zahedan. The group claimed the attacks were a revenge for Regi’s death. Regi’s execution dealt a blow to the militant group. It split into two factions namely Jaish-ul-Adle and Harkatul Ansar Iran. Both splinter outfits drew their manpower from Jandullah.


Jaishul Adl is the most active Sunni terrorist group operating in Sistan-Balochistan. It killed 14 Iranian border guards near the Pak-Iran border in Oct 2013. Five months later, its militants abducted five Iranian soldiers and took them to Pakistan. Later, four of the soldiers were released while the fifth one was killed. On 26 Apr 2017, Jaishul Adl ambushed a group of Iranian border patrol near Pakistani border, killing nine and injuring several others. In Oct 2018, the group took 12 Iranian security personnel from Zahedan and shifted them to the Pakistani side. Pakistan helped recover some of the kidnapped Iranians. One of their deadliest attacks came in Feb 2019 when a Jaish suicide bomber hit a bus carrying the members of Iran’s revolutionary guards. At least 27 people were killed and 13 wounded.

India in Iran

The problem of cross-border terrorism has afflicted bilateral ties between Pakistan and Iran for years. India’s growing presence in Iran has further compounded Pakistan’s security worries. India has invested heavily in the construction of the Chahbahar port that many view as counterweight to the Gwadar port. In 2003, Iran and India signed a defense pact that allow Iran significant reach to the Indian defense technologies, joint military exercises, up-gradation of defense systems, and establishment of joint counter-terrorism groups. The arrest in Mar 2016 of a suspected Indian spy in Balochistan cemented Pakistan’s fears about its Baloch insurgents getting support from India in Iran.

Traditionally, Pakistan has mostly been concerned about the security of its eastern borders with India. But, now with India effectively present in its west in Afghanistan and Iran, Pakistan fears India is attempting to strategically encircle Pakistan. Pakistani defense circles believe if Pakistan deploys its troops on both eastern and western borders it would become weaker militarily which would ultimately benefit India. Therefore, peaceful western borders with Iran and Afghanistan are indispensable for Pakistan’s security.

On the other hand, Iran is also skeptical about Pakistan’s close relations with Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom’s financial and ideological influence is a cause of concern for Iran. The country has indispensable financial stakes in the Kingdom because the bulk of Pakistan’s foreign remittances come from Saudi Arabia. Lately, the issue of gas pipeline has also stressed the ties between Pakistan and Iran. Iran believes Pakistan halted its part of the project under Saudi pressure rather than international sanctions against Iran. Pakistan has arranged an alternative to the Iranian gas by importing gas from Qatar.

Squeezed between two regional rivals

Pakistan frequently finds itself caught in a difficult situation in the Saudi-Iran tussle. It has to balance its relations with the two regional rivals. Pakistan is a Sunni-majority state with a considerable Shiite population. Over decades especially since the Iranian revolution, both Iran and Saudi Arabia have made attempts to export their respective religious ideologies to Pakistan. Both have stakes and influence in the country. Therefore, Pakistan has exercised caution in its relations towards the two rivals. Notwithstanding the balancing efforts, Pakistan often ends up upsetting one or the other on some count.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia requested Pakistan to provide troops for its war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Pakistani government put the matter before the parliament which debated the question for about four days and finally passed a resolution in favor of Pakistan’s neutrality on Yemen war. According to analysts, the Kingdom was considerably annoyed with Pakistan’s neutral stance. Pakistan feared becoming a party in the war between Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels backed by Iran could invite sectarian tensions in the country because there are an estimated 35 million Shiites in Pakistan.

However, three years later Pakistan sent over 1000 troops to Saudi Arabia. In Feb 2018, Pakistan army announced the sending of the troops. The army said the troops were on a training and advisory mission. It also clarified that no Pakistani troop would be deployed outside the kingdom. Many politicians in Pakistan were shocked by the decision because it clearly contradicted the parliament’s resolution of maintaining neutrality on Saudi-Yemen conflict. Some security analysts speculate that the real behind the sending of the troops was to help protect the royal family which was probably feeling vulnerable after Prince Mohammad bin Salman launched a crackdown against some very powerful members of the royal family on charges of corruption.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have been competing for hegemony in the region. Both want self-serving governments in their neighbors and indulge in intense proxy wars. And Pakistan gets caught in the middle. Deadly proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, not to mention the radicalization on sectarian grounds in regional countries including Pakistan.

Counter-militancy efforts

It is virtually impossible for Pakistan and Iran to completely man their 900-kilometer long porous border which is the reason the militants operating in the border regions always manage to cross over to either side. The cross-border movement of the militants has often brought the security forces of the two countries eye ball to eye ball. Though the two sides have often demonstrated their seriousness in tackling the militancy issue and addressing the other’s grievances, yet the mutual trust deficit continues. In 2008, Pakistan handed over Hamid Regi, brother of Malik Regi and a key commander of Jandullah, to Iran. The move was seen as a remarkable instance of bilateral cooperation against cross-border terrorism. In 2018, both countries signed an MoU to contain the illegal movement of people and goods on the borders.

Earlier this month, Pakistan announced the formation of a new security command structure in the Turbat city of Balochistan with the purpose of boosting the effectiveness of troop deployment at the Pak-Iran border. The two sides have already agreed on setting up border centers under which the patrolling on both sides would be synchronized. A proposal for aerial surveillance of the borders is also on the cards in order to prevent cross border movement of militants and criminals.

Need for joint efforts

The border issue has often stressed the ties between the two neighbors. There is a chronic trust deficit between Pakistan and Iran on the question of cross-border militancy. The two countries should start by building mutual trust. They should adopt a holistic strategy for bilateral cooperation regarding their border issues. The Iranian forces have more than once crossed over into Pakistani territory allegedly in pursuit of militants. Such a reckless approach is bound to invite resentment from Islamabad. Therefore, the sovereignty and territorial limits of both countries must be honored by both sides.

Most importantly, however, both Pakistan and Iran must not allow militant groups, criminals, and other non-state actors to use their territory against the other. Denying space to militants of all shades is in the interest of both Pakistan and Iran in the long run. Using or supporting extremist militant groups for short-term strategic purposes is always fraught with great security risks. Therefore, both countries should resist the temptation of supporting or sheltering proxies against each other. Pakistan is in a tougher position viz-a-viz Iran because it has to do a delicate balancing in its relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia. The latter is one of the largest markets for Pakistani labor, and a top source of foreign remittance. Besides, the kingdom has often bailed Pakistan out of financial crises through cash payments and deferred payments on oil supplies to Pakistan. Ideologically too, Pakistan is more tilted towards Saudi Arabia.

Currently, Pakistan is facing an economic crisis. The country is negotiating a bailout package with the IMF. With its economy tottering, Pakistan tends to look more towards Saudi Arabia for financial help. However, despite these challenges, Pakistan must tread with caution and avoid over engagement with the kingdom as far as possible. The parliament’s 2015 decision of neutrality on Saudi-Yemen war was a hard but prudent one. Neutrality should be maintained for greater security interests. Pakistan is already facing violent extremism. It cannot afford to become a fuel in the regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Pakistan has already suffered too much from the Iran-Saudi tug of war.

Likewise, Iran must also address Pakistan’s grievances regarding cross-border terrorism. No doubt, as a sovereign nation Iran has every right to maintain relations with other countries including India. But the fact that an Indian intelligence operative confesses to having used the Iranian soil against Pakistan raises many questions about India’s presence in Iran. It is surely unlikely that Iran is oblivious of India’s intentions or activities on its soil. Pakistan has long maintained that the insurgency in its Balochistan province is fuelled by India. Therefore, Iran must address Pakistan’s genuine security concerns regarding India. The two countries need more diplomatic engagement to discuss bilateral issues and common interests. Lastly, Pakistan and Iran are unlikely to establish good relations as long as the Afghan issue lingers on. These two countries should support peace efforts for an inclusive Afghanistan where no segment of Afghan society is left out of the mainstream.



Daesh Activities in Pakistan

By Wajahat Khalid – May 02, 2019 (Updated on May 18, 2019) 

On 15 May 2019, the Islamic State or Daesh announced the creation of its province in Pakistan, just days after it had declared the establishment of Hind province through its propaganda mouthpiece Amaq news agency. Previously, these divisions fell under Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP). The ISKP or Wilayat Khorasan was created over four years back on Jan 26, 2015. The ISKP consisted of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and parts of India and Iran. Announcing the creation of ISKP back in 2015, Daesh spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani had nominated Hafiz Saeed Khan, a former Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander, as the head of Wilayat Khorasan. The Long War Journal reported that the ISKP consisted of a core group of 12 members – nine of them Pakistanis and the rest Afghans.

The TTP had lost territories in Pakistan’s erstwhile FATA region following the operations by Pakistan army. Disarrayed, the TTP infrastructure cracked as many TTP commanders broke free from the outfit. The breakup was announced in a video message by TTP’s ex-spokesman Shahidullah Shahid. Later, these “disenchanted” TTP elements became the pioneers of ISKP. The group was primarily focused on Afghanistan, but eventually it had to turn its guns on Pakistan since the group’s founding commanders were predominately Pakistanis.

The fact that many TTP elements of Pakistani nationality spearheaded the establishment of the ISKP is nothing short of a nightmare for the law enforcement agencies in Pakistan because those who founded the Wilayat Khorasan chapter are well acquainted with the security landscape in Pakistan. They know the country well, and have influence with local people, tribes, and other terror groups operating in the country. These factors enhance their likelihood of establishing a support base in the country. According to a research in Sep 2016 by Tariq Pervez, former NACTA chief, some members of ISKP are allegedly linked to the Lal Masjid which is believed to serve as a networking point for various extremist groups and seminaries in the country.

Over a year after the ISKP’s creation, its founding commander Hafiz Saeed Khan was killed in an American drone strike in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar. His death was announced by a Pentagon spokesman on July 26, 2016. Khan was succeeded by Maulvi Abdul Haseeb. Pakistan designated Daesh as a terrorist group in 2015. However, it has not joined the ‘Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS’. So far, members of the following Pakistan-based terrorist groups have, at various points, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State:

  • Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP)
  • Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ)
  • Jamaat-ul-Ahraar (JuA)
  • Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ)
  • Jundullah Pakistan

The ISKP has not been able to demonstrate a strong command and control infrastructure in Pakistan so far. However, it has claimed responsibility for some deadly terrorist attacks in the country in the past few years. The group has carried out attacks in KP and Balochistan, while in Sindh it targeted Sehwan Sharif – a Sufi shrine – in 2017 that left 90 people dead and over 300 wounded. Daesh ideology has inspired people and groups to recruit, raise funds, and carry out attacks in Pakistan. With religious extremism running deep in Pakistani society, the increasing presence of Daesh is worrying for Pakistan’s security agencies. Its extremist Salafist ideology is likely to attract existing and prospective militants who believe in violence against the Shiite Muslims, the Pakistani state, and Western interests. Many extremist groups find Daesh’s goal of creating a pious Islamic caliphate inspiring.

Initial Denials and Vague Stances

The government stance on the presence of Daesh has largely been marked by confusion or vagueness since at least 2015. Statements by government officials and reports by local media on the presence and activities of Daesh have been contradicting each other for years. The government either lacks a coherent stance on the issue or it deliberately downplays the threat for security reasons. In Feb 2016, Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief Aftab Sultan warned about the Daesh threat in Pakistan only to be refuted by the interior and foreign ministries. Sultan told the Senate that Daesh was an emerging security threat because many Pakistani-based terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah Sahaba and others had soft corner for the group. He further added that IB had busted an IS network in Punjab following the Safoora Goth massacre in Karachi in May 2015.

The next day, the Foreign Office spokesman, Nafees Zakaria, contradicted the IB chief, saying there was no organized presence of what he called “the Middle Eastern group” in Pakistan. Few days later, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar, also downplayed the IB chief’s warning. Nisar claimed that local terrorist groups were building their profiles by using Daesh’s name, and that there was no Daesh presence in Pakistan. Earlier in Nov 2015, the army spokesman, General Asim Bajwa, had declared that Pakistan had zero tolerance for Daesh. A report by the UK-based Royal United Services Institute in Feb 2016 estimated that around 2000-3000 active Daesh members were based in Pakistan.

Despite the confusion, however, the Pakistani media have reported Daesh activities in many cities in Pakistan including Lahore, Sialkot, and Karach, Quetta, Mastung etc. A column titled “Miss Leading” in the Urdu daily Khabrain on 12 Feb 2016 said:

“The recruitment of women in terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Daesh in the name of Islam is creating problems for the Law-enforcement agencies. Recently a group of women was arrested from Karachi, which was motivating innocent girls to become wives of the jihadists of terrorist groups. One of them was the wife of Khalid Bari who was running a religious seminary for women and was brainwashing young girls by showing them videos of ISIS and creating sympathies for ISIS fighters in order to convince these girls to marry members of ISIS”.

Likewise, another piece by Haider Javed Sayyed in the Urdu daily Khabrain of 27 Jan 2017 mentioned Daesh activities in Pakistan. Titled “Sir, the ISIS threat is increasing”, the column had this to say:

“At last the Interior Ministry has admitted that the ISIS does exist in Pakistan, but they have not admitted the full truth. The members of banned jihadi groups are joining ISIS for rupees 30,000-50,000 per month. Other incentives include: a new war front where plenty of beautiful girls from Syria and other countries would become their jihadist wives. According to a new fatwa (religious decree) of Muradul Najeeb Basri, a jihadist can just say nikah three times when he likes a woman and that woman will become his wife. More than 800 members of LeJ, JeM, and LeT have joined the ISIS. The ISIS conducted its activities in extreme secrecy in the country.”

Daesh terror in Pakistan

July 2014: The Iraq-based Jamaat Ansar ul-Islam releases a video of their militant training camp in Syria in July 2014. Dozens of men, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and a few anti-aircraft guns, are put through military drills. The terrorist training camps is named after Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, the radical cleric who was killed in 2007 after the security agencies conducted an operation on Lal Masjid.

Oct 2014: The Sindh Home Department reports that Abid Kohat, a resident of Rawalpindi, has been recruited by Daesh to reach out to disgruntled elements of Pakistan-based terrorist groups such as TTP, Sipah Sahaba, JeM etc and set up an office in Rawalpindi.

Oct 2014: The Balochistan Home Department writes a letter to senior officials, warning about Daesh activities in Pakistan. The letter claims that Daesh has gained 10-12 thousand followers in Hangu and Kurram agencies. It also warns about Daesh’s plans to attack the Shiite community.

Dec 2014: A group of female students from a seminary in Islamabad declare their allegiance to Daesh in a video recording, and vow to avenge the security operation against the Lal Masjid. In the same month, police in Karachi detain six women for recruiting jihadist brides for Daesh. Many of them were the wives of the suspects of Safoora Goth massacre.

Jan 2015: Daesh announces the creation of its chapter for Khorasan region that includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, and parts of Iran in Jan 2015. The allegiance to Daesh was announced by ex-TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid in a recorded video message.

Mar 2015: Graffiti supporting Daesh and the terror group’s trademark black banners start appearing in several cities in Pakistan in Mar 2015.

Graffiti supporting Daesh in Pakistan (Photo: The Nation)
daesh 3 the nation
Graffiti in support of Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi in Pakistan (Photo: The Nation)

May 2015: Eight heavily armed terrorists ambush a bus carrying Ismaili-Shiites in Safoora Goth in Karachi in May 2015, killing at least 46 and injuring 13. Daesh claimed its militants targeted Shiite infidels in the attack. Another terrorist group Jandullah also claimed responsibility for the carnage.

July 2015: Punjab police kill LeJ chief Malik Ishaq and eleven of his accomplices in a shootout in Muzaffargarh in July 2015. Reports suggest Ishaq was about to announce his allegiance to Daesh kingpin Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi.

Nov 2015: Unidentified gunmen throw grenades into the offices of Dunya TV and Din News in Faisalabad and Lahore respectively in Nov 2015. While no one was killed or injured, Daesh pamphlets were found from both crime scenes.

Dec 2015: The Punjab Counter-terrorism Department (CTD) raids a house in Sialkot and nabs nine suspected militants affiliated with Daesh in Dec 2015. Following the security raid, Daesh Sialkot sent a message to media houses, threatening to overthrow the government. It identified the arrested people as members of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). The suspects were actively recruiting militants and arranging funds for Daesh in Pakistan. The CTD officials claimed the men were in contact with Abu Muavia Salafi, a Pakistani Daesh terrorist in Syria, via Skype. The CTD further said they had credible intelligence that six young boys from Sialkot, who had been reported missing earlier, were killed in the fighting in Syria.

Jan 2016: Pakistan authorities launch a crackdown to nab Daesh members and sympathizers in Punjab and Sindh in Jan 2016. Punjab’s law minister reveals that over 100 people had left to fight alongside terrorist groups in the Middle East. Three women and twelve children go missing from Lahore. Later, one of the women sends a voice message to her husband in Pakistan, confirming that she and other women were in Syria where her son was fighting for Daesh.

May 2016: A military court hands down death sentences to Saad Aziz and four others in May 2016 in 18 cases including the Safoora Goth massacre and assassination of rights activist Sabin Mehmood. According to authorities, Aziz, a graduate of Pakistan’s top business school, was inspired by Daesh and Al-Qaeda. He was also charged with an attempt to murder Debra Lobo, an American educationist and vice principal of Jinnah Medical and Dental College, Karachi.

Jul 2016: Hafiz Saeed Khan, head of the Wilayat Khorasan chapter, is killed in a US drone strike in Afghanistan in July 2016. Khan had defected from TTP to establish the Wilayat Khorasan chapter of Daesh.

Aug 2016: The president of Quetta Bar Association is killed on 8 Aug 2016. When his body is brought to a hospital, a suicide bomber blows himself up, killing 93 people mostly lawyers and media persons. Daesh claims responsibility for the attack.

Sep 2016: The first major admission about Daesh presence comes from Pakistan army in Sep 2016. General Asim Bajwa, a former military spokesperson, admits that Daesh has a presence in Pakistan. He says over 300 people, including foreign nationals, have been arrested in connection with Daesh. He reveals that authorities had thwarted Daesh’s plans to attack foreign embassies and the airport in Islamabad.

Oct 2016: A Pakistani intelligence officer, Akbar Ali, is gunned down by unidentified motorcyclists in Charsadda on 24 Oct 2016. Later, Daesh claims responsibility for the killing.

Oct 2016: Three heavily armed terrorists storm a training college of Balochistan police in Quetta on 24 Oct 2016, killing 61 cadets and injuring 165 others. Daesh claims responsibility for the attack. The LeJ also claims to have worked with Daesh to carry out the deadly assault on the police. Pakistan authorities said the attackers came from Afghanistan, and were facilitated by local handlers.

Nov 2016: Terrorists attack the crowded shrine of Shah Noorani in the Lasbela district of Balochistan on 12 Nov 2016, killing at least 62 Sufi worshippers and injuring over 100. Daesh claimed responsibility, saying its fighters targeted the Shiite worshippers.

Dec 2016: Daesh claims responsibility for killing a police officer and injuring his son in Peshawar on 10 Dec 2016.

Feb 2017: Daesh pamphlets are distributed in the volatile Kurram Agency in Feb 2017. The pamphlets show beheadings and warn that Daesh would soon start operations in Hangu and DI Khan areas of Pakistan after its success in neighboring Afghanistan.

Feb 2017: The shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sindh is hit by a suicide bombing on 16 Feb 2017. As the followers of Sufi Islam were busy in a dance ritual at the shrine in evening, a bomber blew up his suicide vest, killing over 100 people and injuring more than 300. The ISKP claimed responsibility for the deadly attack.

March 2017: Five terrorists, including a Daesh commander, are killed in an intelligence based operation (IBO) in Orakzai Agency on 21 Mar 2017. Daesh was planning to target the Shia Nauroz (New Year) festivals.

Apr 2017: Pakistani security personnel raid a home in Lahore and arrest Noreen Leghari and seize suicide vests, grenades, and bullets on 4 Apr 2017. A medical student at the Liaqat Medical University, Leghari was to be used by Daesh as a terrorist to bomb a church on Easter in Pakistan. An intelligence tipoff led to her arrest and pre-empted what could have been a deadly attack against the Christians. Reportedly, Leghari was inspired and recruited by Daesh through the internet.

May 2017: A Chinese couple is kidnapped from the Jinnah Town area of Quetta city on 24 May 2017. Police say the couple was forced into a vehicle and driven away by armed kidnappers. The Chinese couple reportedly ran a Chinese-language training center in the provincial capital. A month after the abduction, Daesh claims it had killed the couple.

June 2017: Pakistan security forces kill 12 terrorists belonging to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami (LeJA) near Mastung in Balochistan in a 3-day operation from June 1-3. Briefing the media, the army spokesman says the terrorists were Daesh facilitators. The security operation denied Daesh presence in Pakistan, the spokesman adds.

Aug 2017: Pakistan army launches Operation Khyber 4 in the Rajgal valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Aug 2017. The operation involves 3000 troops to comb the area. According to reports, TTP, JuA, and Lashkar-e-Islami were teaming up with Daesh in the Rajgal valley.

Dec 2017: Two suicide bombers storm a church ahead of the Christmas in Quetta on 16 Dec 2017, killing at least 9 worshippers and injuring dozens others. Daesh claims responsibility through its Amaq news channel, claiming that two of its militants had stormed the church.

July 2018: Daesh claims responsibility for one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s history. A suicide bomber strikes a political rally of the Balochistan Awami Party ahead of the general elections in Mastung area of Balochistan on 13 July 2018, leaving at least 150 people dead and 186 wounded. Daesh claims responsibility via its Amaq and identifies the bomber as Abu Bakar Al-Pakistani.

July 2018: Pakistani security forces kill Daesh’s Balochistan chief, Mufti Hidayatullah on 19 July 2018, on a tipoff from intelligence agencies. Hidayatullah was believed to have masterminded the Mastung attack a week earlier that left 150 people dead.

July 2018: A suicide bomber hits a polling station on the day of Pakistan’s general elections on July 25, 2018. The attack kills 31 people and injured 35 others. Daesh claims responsibility via its Amaq website.

Sep 2018: On 26 Sep 2018, law enforcement personnel including commandos raid a compound in Mangochar area of Balochistan where, according to intelligence reports, multiple terrorists (believed to be affiliated with Daesh) were holding some men, women, and children hostage. The raid leaves the three armed terrorists dead. Two security personnel were also killed in the gunbattle.

Nov 2018: A suicide attack kills 33 people and inures 56 others in the Orakzai district of KP on 23 Nov 2018. The attack is later claimed by Daesh through a video message.

Apr 2019: A bomb blast in a fruit market in the suburb of Quetta city kills 20 people and injures 48 on 12 Apr 2019. Eight of the victims belonged to the Hazara Shiite community. Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack.

May 2019: On 17 May 2019, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of Balochistan raid a Daesh hideout in Qabu Koh-e-Mehran area of Mastung, 47 kilometers from Quetta city on the basis of an intelligence tipoff. The raid kills at least nine Daesh terrorists and leaves four security men wounded. The bodies of the terrorists are shifted to the Civil Hospital Quetta. The police also seize arms, ammunition, and suicide vests from the site.


Worries About Afghan Peace Talks

By Muhammad Suleman Khan – May 06, 2019

Afghanistan is a landlocked country in the north and west of Pakistan. Its estimated population of 29.2-34.1 million consists of various ethnic groups. Demographic data for Afghanistan tend to be unreliable and hard to verify. The figures about the ethnic composition of the country are also disputed by various ethnic groups. According to the 2010 data from the US Department of State, the Pashtun roughly make 42% of Afghanistan’s population, followed by the Tajik who account for 27%.

Majority of the Pashtun are Sunni Muslim, with the exception of the Turi tribe that professes Shiite faith.Other ethnic groups include Hazara, Uzbeks, Baloch etc. Islam is the state religion in Afghanistan. However, the country’s post-Taliban constitution, enforced in Jan 2004, gives fundamental rights and freedoms to religious minorities in the country. The Article 2 of the constitution states: “followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of the law”.  It is not compulsory for a non-Muslim to study Islam in public schools.

Religious Makeup of Afghanistan

Around 99% of Afghans are Muslim. The Sunnis constitute roughly 80% while the Shiites are around 19% of the population. The remaining 1% consists of the followers of Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, and Judaism etc.

Data source: US Department of State (2010)
  • Shiite: 19%
  • Sikhs: About 1,000-8,000 Sikhs live in cities like Jalalabad, Ghazni, Kabul, and to a lesser extent Kandahar
  • Hindus: An estimated 1000 individuals live mainly in Kabul and other major cities
  • Zoroastrians (a monotheistic religion): 100-200 members live in Afghanistan.
  • Baha’i Faith: About 400 members are living in Afghanistan.
  • Christianity: Approximately 500-8000 Afghans are Christian. Reports suggest most of the Afghan Christians practice their faith secretly.
  • Judaism: As of now there is only one Jew living in Afghanistan. The Jews are said to have resided in Afghanistan for over a millennium. The Afghan Jewish community now mainly resides in Israel and the United States
A Jewish cemetery in Herat, Afghanistan

Religious Intolerance

The Afghan history is riddled with faith-based violence. Afghanistan’s religious minorities have suffered persecution and violence during various periods. Religious intolerance and sectarian bloodshed often drive mass exodus of Afghans to neighboring countries. In recent years, religious extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), Al-Qaeda, and Taliban have been targeting members of religious minorities particularly the Shiites with impunity. In 2001, the Taliban forces blew up over 1000-year old Buddhist murals in central Afghanistan that led to a global outcry.

Constitutional guarantees have largely failed to improve the situation of the religious minorities. For instance, the Hindus and Sikhs claim they avoid settling of disputes with Muslims at courts due to fear of retaliation. Instead, they prefer dispute resolution through community elders. And if they do knock at the courts for justice, their cases often get delayed unnecessarily by judicial officers. They also suffer from land grabbing. There have been instances of their properties being illegally occupied by influential Muslims. They also report that Muslim communities interfere in their religious rituals like cremating their dead. Their funeral processions are often flanked by police officers due to threats of harassment from Muslims.

Likewise, the followers of Ahmadi sect report social discrimination due to their faith. There are an estimated 600 members of Ahmadi faith, mostly living in Kabul. They mostly hide their faith due to fear of risks to their lives. Ahmadi children enroll in public schools without mentioning their faith. The members of the community have reported harassment by neighbors. Many Afghans consider them Indian, and hence outsiders despite them living in the country for decades. Both Sunni and Shiite clerics have shown hostility towards the community because they view certain Ahmadi beliefs as un-Islamic. Due to chronic faith-based discrimination and restrictions on fundamental rights, many Ahmadis seek to leave the country.

The Afghan Christians have similar complaints of discrimination. They mostly worship and practice their rituals in private, away from the sight of Muslims. The number of Christians has been on the decline for decades. They face risks and challenges while practicing their religion, which is a reason many of them tend to migrate to the West.

The Shiites account for 15-25% of the Afghan population. Most of the Shiites are members of the ethnic Hazara people, though there are also Sunni and Ismaeli Hazaras in the country. Over the last decade, the Hazara people have been targeted by a number of extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Khorasan Province and Taliban. The Hazara localities and social and religious gatherings have repeatedly been bombed in Kabul and other areas, resulting in massive casualties. Despite increased security from the government, the attacks against the Hazara continue.

Talking to the Taliban

In Sep 2010, the Karzai government constituted a ‘High Peace Council’ with the objective to hold talks with the Taliban insurgents. A month after the council’s formation, President Karzai appointed Burhanuddin Rabbani as the council’s head and government’s chief negotiator with the Taliban. The peace talks could not make any visible progress as the Taliban showed a lack of interest in putting down their arms and accepting the Afghan constitution. The peace efforts came to an end after Rabbani, the chief negotiator, was assassinated by suicide bombers in Sep 2011. In subsequent years, various attempts at talks with the Taliban for a peaceful resolution of the conflict failed to achieve any concrete results.

The Latest Push for Peace

In early Sep 2018, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appointed Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to Afghanistan, as special advisor on Afghanistan. Khalilzad was tasked to lead the Afghan peace process in order to bring an end to America’s longest war. The Taliban expressed interest in negotiations with the US in Dec 2018. The talks began in Doha, Qatar in late Jan 2019. On 25 Feb 2019, Khalilzad claimed that the fresh round of talks was more productive than they had been in the past.

One of the key Taliban negotiators is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar who was released by Pakistan just months before the initiation of the latest round. Pakistan had arrested Baradar from the port city of Karachi in 2010. According to Khalilzad, a “draft framework” of a peace deal has been agreed, based on the commitment from the US to withdraw the international forces from Afghanistan, and from Taliban not to allow jihadist groups to operate in the country. What is conspicuous in the peace talks is the absence of the Kabul government. The Taliban refuse to talk to the Afghan government, dismissing it as a puppet.

However, not everyone is happy with the exclusion of Kabul from the talks. American journalist Edward Luce wrote in the Financial Times on 4 Apr 2019 that “Just as he (Trump) is preparing to leave Syria’s Kurds to their fate at Turkey’s hands, he is willing to risk sacrificing Kabul to the Taliban”. Luce likened Trump’s Afghan policy to America’s policy in Vietnam. The Afghan officials are angry at being shut out of the peace process. They claim their exclusion legitimize the Taliban and undermine their authority. Many political analysts believe the chances of achieving peace in Afghanistan would be slim without the inclusion of Kabul in the process.

The sixth round of talks began on May 1, 2019 with focus on four main points:

  1. Troops withdrawal
  2. Guarantee against terrorism
  3. Talks between Taliban and Afghan government
  4. Lasting ceasefire

The seriousness on the parts of both the US and Taliban indicates a peaceful settlement of the conflict might finally be close. Although hopes are high, still the Taliban have not observed a ceasefire, and continue to carry out attacks in the country. President Donald Trump is keen to end the war that reportedly costs around 45 billion dollars a year. In Apr 2019, Khalilzad told Afghanistan’s Tolo television that the US’s focus was terrorism in Afghanistan. He assured the US would sign no agreement with the Taliban unless there was a permanent ceasefire and a genuine commitment to end the war. “We want peace to give us the possibility to withdraw”, he added.

Pakistan, Afghanistan’s most important neighbor, supports an “Afghan-led” and “Afghan-owned” peace process in Afghanistan. The US government has been cognizant of Pakistan’s significance in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the table. In early Dec 2018, the US President, Donald Trump, wrote a letter to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, seeking Pakistan’s help with the Afghan peace process. In order to facilitate the US-Taliban dialogue, Pakistan also released key Taliban figure Mullah Baradar who had been in prison since 2010.   

Women and Minorities in Post-American Afghanistan

The US-Taliban peace talks have sparked a hope that the nearly two-decade old war in Afghanistan would come to an end. However, the conspicuous absence of Afghan women from the negotiations has been unsettling for the defenders of women’s rights. The brutal suppression of women by the Taliban during the second half of the 1990s still haunts a large part of the Afghan society. Long-term peace and stability would continue to remain a dream unless all Afghan stakeholders including the religious and ethnic minorities are taken on board in the peace process.

Any peace settlement between the US and Taliban that overlooks human rights including the rights of women, children, and persons belonging to minority religious groups would be extremely fragile. Susan Chira of the New York Times fears that the future of Afghan women is not on the American agenda for its peace talks with the Taliban. She believes the talks primarily revolve around terrorism and US military presence in Afghanistan. In the past, the Taliban had completely curtailed the women’s rights to movement, education, and work.

Apart from women, religious minorities are also apprehensive about the ongoing negotiations that would likely bring the Taliban back to power in Afghanistan. The Hazara, a religious and ethnic minority, fear persecution under Taliban rule. The Hazara people are already under fire from the Islamic State and Taliban forces. They have repeatedly been hit by IS suicide bombers in recent years. Similarly, non-Muslim minorities equally dread a potential return to power of the Taliban hardliners. They see escalated risks and threats to their lives in the post-American Afghanistan.

The country has seen a sharp decline in the number of non-Muslim minorities since the days of the anti-Soviet jihad. The Afghan Hindus and Sikhs already suffer harassment at the hands of their intolerant Muslim neighbors. They often rely on police protection to cremate their dead. According to Awtar Singh Khalsa, an Afghan Sikh, the Muslims throw stones and abuse at their funeral processions. In such a situation, the religious minorities see even darker times ahead in the context of the US-Taliban talks.

Experts warn that a hasty American withdrawal would jeopardize the future of Afghanistan. They point to the fact that the US-Taliban negotiations have so far overlooked the issues and matters relating to women and religious and ethnic minorities in the post-American Afghanistan. The Taliban’s open aversion for women’s freedom does not augur well for the future of an Afghan society that has seen women coming into businesses, politics, government institutions, colleges, and universities over the past years.

Women are an integral part of the Afghan society and their absence from the talks presents risks for them after the US withdraws from the country. The outcome of the talks is hard to predict at this stage. However, it remains to be seen whether the Taliban agrees to fundamental human rights for all Afghans as per the international laws. Whatever the outcome of the peace settlement, the women and minorities in Afghanistan are currently worried by the sight of the exclusionary talks in Qatar.

– Feature image credit: Vox

Religious Extremism on Social Media in Pakistan

M. Suleman Khan & Wajahat Khalid – May 13, 2019

Pakistan has an estimated 37 million active social media users, which amounts to 18% of the population. The number of users has spiked by 5.7% over the last year, as per the Global Digital Report by ‘We Are Social and Hootsuite’ in Feb 2019. Those who use mobile internet in Pakistan account for 21% of the total population. Social media have unlocked incredible opportunities for individuals and entities to network with other peoples and organizations around the globe. Public and private entities use social media to reach out to their customers and audience with ease. The access to social media is indiscriminate which means that even those individuals or entities that seek to use the cyber platforms for illegal and criminal purposes also get space and voice in this ever-expanding online world.

In recent years, worries have grown about the promotion of hate speech and other extremist contents on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube etc and there has been an increased debate about whether the social media should be regulated by states to check the spread of cyber violence. The governments’ inability to control contents on social media sites has caused considerable frustration in many countries. In 2017, Pakistan warned of imposing a blanket ban on social media sites like Facebook if the latter did not remove sacrilegious materials from its pages.

The Christchurch tragedy drove the Australian government to introduce a sweeping legislation to punish social media companies for failing to check hate speech and extremism on their platforms. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison argued that social media sites have a responsibility to ensure that they are not serving as vehicle for terrorist agendas.

In March 2017, Pakistan’s former interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, threatened to block all social media sites over the issue of blasphemous contents allegedly propagated by some Facebook pages[1]. Earlier in Sep 2012, Pakistan imposed a ban on YouTube after an anti-Islam film was uploaded to the site. The film had triggered violent protests across the country. The site was allowed to return only after it introduced a localized version which allows the Pakistani authorities to request removal of illegal or violent contents[2].

On 15 Mar 2019, a terrorist stormed a mosque and opened indiscriminate firing at the Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand. The terrorist, identified as a white supremacist by media, livestreamed on Facebook the massacre of innocent people[3]. The incident was shocking, but hardly surprising since social media have been used by many individuals and groups for propagating violence in the past. The Christchurch tragedy drove the Australian government to introduce a sweeping legislation to punish social media companies for failing to check hate speech and extremism on their platforms[4].

The proposed legislation aims to punish social media giants if they do not “expeditiously” remove abhorrent violent content produced by perpetrators, such as terrorism, kidnapping, and rape. If found guilty, a company could not only face fines of up to 10% of their annual turnovers, but its executives imprisoned for up to three years[5]. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison argued that social media sites have a responsibility to ensure that they are not serving as vehicle for terrorist agendas. Critics of the proposed law have warned of unforeseen consequences and reduced international investment in Australia[6]. The Australian government is, nevertheless, determined to go on with the legislation.

In Pakistan, online extremism is a growing problem. Hundreds of pages on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter propagate hate speech and sectarian extremism. Many extremist groups broadcast violent content and propaganda through their social media accounts. Pakistan’s PMLN-led government passed a controversial law called ‘Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act’ (PECA) on 11 Aug 2016 with the purpose to curb hate speech on cyber space. The opposition political parties initially resisted the proposed law, but after some cosmetic amendments supported it. The PECA imposes a fine of rupee 10 million, or an imprisonment for up to 5 years to anyone found guilty of promoting religious hatred or sectarianism[7].

In Dec 2018, a study by the Rand Corporation found that ISIS mobilized around 40,000 people from 110 countries to join the terror organization through the strategic use of social media[8]. Sectarian extremist groups in Pakistan are likely using similar cyber strategies for mobilizing potential followers around sectarian causes. It is hard to provide authentic statistics on the actual recruits gained by such groups through the internet. However, given the deep-running religious and sectarian extremism in the country, it is safe to assume that social media platforms do serve as effective vehicles for extremist propaganda. Through social media platforms, many extremist groups attempt to create a mob mentality, and urge their followers to fight for a given cause. The followers of such groups are predominately male.

Pakistan is home to an alarming number of militant and extremist groups. The interior ministry has banned over 70 outfits, most of them associated with extremism[9]. There is a well-established pattern in the country that whenever an outfit is officially banned, it simply adopts another name and resurfaces to carry out its business as usual. Many of the banned groups operate social media accounts and propagate their message to their audience unhindered. In the first half of 2018, the government of Pakistan reported over 3000 accounts to Twitter for allegedly violating the country’s laws. During the second half, the number of reported accounts dropped to 2349. The government has often complained that Twitter has been slow in responding to its requests for action against social media accounts. According to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), Twitter has responded only to 5% of the complaints forwarded by the government.

On 13 Feb 2019, Pakistan’s then Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced the government’s plan to launch a crackdown against hate speech on social media. A working group of intelligence agencies reportedly led by the federal investigation agency (FIA) has been set up to help regularize expression on social media platforms. Chaudhry claimed that hate speech was not a problem on mainstream media. The challenges lied with the social media, he added. As expected, many people view the government’s planned clampdown on social media with suspicion, fearing that it might lead to a curtailing of freedom of expression in the country. The country already stands at 142nd out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index. The situation of press freedom has worsened by 3 points since last year. Details are also scant about the nature of accounts that have been reported to Twitter by the government. It is unclear if the reported accounts were involved in promoting religious extremism and terrorism.

A study by daily Dawn in Sep 2017 found that 41 banned outfits in Pakistan openly operated accounts on Facebook. Some of the key extremist groups on the social media were Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), Sipah Sahaba, Sipah Mohammad, Lashkar Jhangvi, Tehreek Taliban Pakistan, Tehreek Taliban Swat, Tehreek Nifaz Shariat Mohammadi, Jamaatul Ahrar, 313 Brigade, and many Shia outfits[10]. According to the report, around 160,000 people have subscribed to the pages of banned outfits. The leading group with most followers is Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. Below are some of the hundreds of Facebook accounts that propagate religiously extreme contents on their pages:

Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ):

ASWJ runs about 200 pages and groups and spread anti-Shia hate material. Formerly known as Sipah Sahaba, ASWJ was banned in 2012. However, the outfit routinely operates in the country by holding public rallies and spreading sectarian hatred. ASWJ leaders have also been participating in mainstream politics.


With over 500,000 followers on Facebook, this page proudly glorifies extremists like Mumtaz Qadri, the police officer who assassinated Punjab’s governor Salman Taseer for blasphemy allegation in 2011. It openly instigates violence against the Supreme Court judges who exonerated a Christian woman Asia Bibi of blasphemy charges.

Twelver & Forum:

This explicitly anti-Shia Facebook platform claims to offer true history of Shia Muslims which involve hate speech and instigation for violence. It was created in October 2014.

Ahlulbait [A.S] (shias):

This Facebook page, with over 2500 followers, propagates hardcore extremist content against Shia Muslims, and abuse Shia religious leaders. The identity of its administrator is unknown.

Jago Sunni Jago:

It has over 158,000 likes on Facebook. It spreads religious hatred and incites violence against the Shias and Ahmadis in Pakistan. Created in Sep 2014, its admin’s identity is as usual unknown.

Sunni killing:

Apparently linked to ASWJ, this page is liked by 11,657 people. It propagates extreme anti-Shia contents and promotes religious extremism.

X-Shia Exposes Shiaism:

Created in Feb 2013, this Facebook page spreads hatred against Shia faith and Sufi rituals. It projects Shias as proxy of Iran in Pakistan.

Sunni Defense & Media Cell .Kashmir:

It has a more global tone as it claims to raise a voice against the alleged injustice to Muslims around the world. At home, it specifically targets the followers of Ahmadi faith. It is liked by more than 1400 people.

Sunni Rights:

It has been involved in sharing extremist religious content. The page is liked by nearly 6000 people.

AHL E Sunnat (SunNi Brelvi):

This page is particularly anti-Ahmadi. Created in Sep 2012, it is liked by over 39,000 people. The page shares extremist religious content and incites sectarian violence.


This page is apparently administered by Pakistan Sunni Tehreek. It promotes sectarian hatred against Shias and Ahmadis, with some criticism also directed at Wahabis.

True Sunni Defender:

This Facebook page promotes violent narratives of Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) – an extremist group led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi. The account propagates hate speech and instigates violence against the Supreme Court justices who set Asia Bibi free in the blasphemy case. Bibi, a Christian woman from Punjab, was in death row for years on charges of blasphemy.

Sipah-e-Sahaba Kohistan:

A hardcore anti-Shia platform, this page shares extreme hatred against Shias. Its motto is to expose what it calls non-Muslim Shias. Apart from Shias, it also targets Barelvi sect.

Qadianis & Ahmadis are Kaf***:

As the name suggests, this Facebook page with over 900 likes openly calls for the violence against the Ahmadi community which was declared non-Muslim in Pakistan through a constitutional amendment in 1974.

Anti Ahmadiyya, Difa-e-Risalat:

This page also promotes hatred and incites violence against the Ahmadi community. It is liked by 1200 people.

Shia Help-Refrences:

Followed by over 11,000 people, this Facebook page promotes sectarian content against followers of Sunni Islam.

Shi’at Is The Right Faith:

Created on in 2011, this Shia page has been involved in sharing religiously extreme content. Its admin is unknown, while its followers are over 2000.

Basij-e-Pak Watan BPW (official):

This pro-Iran and anti-Saudi page promotes sectarian content, portraying Iranian clerics and Saudi sheikhs in good and bad light respectively. The page is liked by over 11,000 people. It also shares anti-Israel and anti-Jewish content.

Political Shia – Pakistan:

The sectarian tug of war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is the focus of this page. It propagates content in favor of Iran, and against Saudi Arabia. Its followers are over 40,000.


This Shia page promotes hate speech against the Sunni sect. It is liked by over 6000 people.

Open Letter کُھلا خط:

It’s a Shia page with over 17,000 likes. It specifically shares abusive content about Pakistan’s former President Ziaul Haq. It also shares pictures of Hezbollah militants. Some of its contents are extreme in nature.

– Image credit: The National












Gawadar: Economic Hopes & Security Challenges

Mohammad Suleman Khan – May 22, 2019

Gawadar means ‘door of wind’ in Balochi[1]. It is a coastal city on the Arabian Sea in the southwest of Balochistan. Its deep sea port is often called the ‘Jewel of the CPEC Crown’. Karachi – Pakistan’s economic hub – lies 600 kilometers to the east of Gawadar, connected through the Mekran coastal highway[2]. Gawadar is one of the three districts of the Mekran division, the other two being Kech (Turbat) and Panjgur[3]. The coastal city and its neighboring regions of Turbat and Panjgur have been the ground zero of an insurgency in the southwest by Baloch militant groups that demand grater rights from the federal government. Turbat has seen most insurgent violence followed by Panjgur. Similarly, Gawadar is also facing attacks from Baloch insurgents, with latest attack in May 2019 on Pearl Continental hotel Gawadar.

Districts of Balochistan   Credit:

Gawadar: the Economic Powerhouse

Pakistan hopes the Gawadar port would boost its economy in the coming years. China is investing over $60bn to develop the port and build a huge network of highways across Pakistan under its Belt and Road vision[4]. The port has the capacity and natural depth to harbor large ships which means big businesses and more economic opportunities and growth for Pakistan.[5] The port is also projected to help develop the desperately backward Balochistan province where Gawadar is located. The port seeks to provide facilities for all kinds of ships and all sizes of cargo category handling and improve trade[6].

Comparison of Depth

National PortsDepth (m)International PortsDepth (m)
Karachi Port9-10Singapore20-21
Port Qasim11-12Hong Kong9-10
Gawadar Port17-18UAE15-16
  • More depth means heavy ships can be docked
  • Heavy ships means more goods
  • Less time – less money – economical

Many in Pakistan have propounded Gawadar as the future counterpart of Hong Kong and Dubai which contribute huge chunks to the GDPs of their respective countries[7]. The expansion and the improvement of the port will give Pakistan leverage on maritime trade routes and connectivity with South Asia, Central Asia, Africa, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East.[8]

The port is expected to handle an estimated 400 million tons of cargo annually by 2030.[9] China’s investment in Pakistan under CPEC stood at $ 62bn in 2017. In 2000, Pakistan’s annual maritime trade was 42 million tons which rose to 78 million tons by 2015. According to the ‘China Overseas Ports Holding Company’, the Gawadar Port’s operator, some 20 companies in different businesses have already joined the Gwadar free trade zone with direct investment of over $460 million.[10] Gawadar will be able to produce businesses worth $ 40bn in next decade.[11]

The port’s development has enhanced the real estate value of Gawadar. Many housing schemes have already sprung up in the port city. The Gawadar Development Authority (GDA) estimates that economic activities and opportunities would drive an estimated 1.7 million people to shift to Gwadar within the next thirty years.[12]

cpec corridor

A Critical Maritime Route

Gawadar to Kashghar is the most economical and fastest route for China, which can greatly cut its costs of import and export. If China wants to import energy via the Indian Ocean and South China Sea then the distance is over 12,000 kilometers, but from Gawadar to China it is merely around 2,000 kilometers.[13] China imports 80% of its oil from Malaca Strait and South China Sea, which keeps its imports at risk from regional and international players, for which CPEC route is most favored and best alternative.[14] If Malacca Strait or South China Sea is blocked by regional or International players then Gawadar will be a viable and reliable option for China for its imports.  The port city would also serve China’s economic expansion into the Middle East and Africa.[15]

Army Takes Charge of Security

The development of Gawadar Port has increased the security presence in the insurgency-hit Balochistan. Since the CPEC originates in Balochistan and stretches throughout the country, security of the port and the trade routes is critical as Chinese nationals are already on the radar of Baloch insurgent groups. This backdrop led Pakistan to raise a special army division in 2016 to protect the CPEC. Comprising 9,000 army soldiers and 6,000 paramilitary men, the division was put under the command of a major general. This special force would be further developed and its strength increased to 32,000 personnel.[16]  Likewise, Pakistan Navy’s special task force called TF-88 is charged with maritime security of the Gawadar Port. The task force is armed with surveillance drones fast attack boats, and latest weapons.[17]


The initial cost of this special security was estimated at 23 billion rupees.[18] Different units will serve under this force in different areas. For example, in Balochistan, the Frontier Corps will serve as the main tier, supported by army, police and Levies; in Sindh, the Rangers will be the main tier force, supported by army and police; in Punjab, police will serve as main tier with support from army; in KP, army will serve as main tier with the support from police; and in Gilgit-Baltistan, too, army will serve as the main tier and will be supported by local law enforcers. [19]

There were speculations in early 2018 that China was planning to build a naval base at Gawadar on the model of its base in Djibouti in the horn of Africa.[20] The speculation was triggered by a report in the ‘South China Morning Post’ in which a Chinese military analyst Zhou Chenming stated that the base near the Gwadar would be used to dock and maintain naval vessels as well as provide other logistical support services”[21]. However, both Pakistan and China have denied such reports.[22]

Baloch Insurgency and the CPEC

China started the construction of the Gawadar Port in 2002, and by 2004 over 500 Chinese nationals had landed in the port city. The Chinese presence came as an additional upset for the Baloch nationalist groups that had already locked horns with the federal government over a number of issues including provincial autonomy and increased control over the province’s mineral wealth. The Baloch feared the development of the port would inevitably lead to huge influx of outsiders to the port city, turning the natives into a minority in their own land. On 3 May 2004, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) gunned down three Chinese engineers working at a construction site in Gawadar. A few weeks later, it attacked the port with rockets[23].

Baloch insurgents  Photo credit Al-Jazeera

Some Baloch insurgent groups such as BLA view China as partnering with Pakistan’s federal government to exploit their natural resources. Pakistan had also contracted out to China the extraction of gold and copper from the Saindak gold mines in Balochistan in 1990s – long before the CPEC was conceived. [24]

Besides, the Baloch militant groups also accuse China of helping Pakistan militarily to suppress Baloch insurgency. In an interview, BLA ringleader Aslam Baloch claimed elements of Chinese military were present in Balochistan. He blamed China for alleged plunder of Baloch resources under the guise of mega projects.[25] Baloch was killed in a bombing in Kandahar, Afghanistan in Dec 2018. Pakistan accuses its neighboring India of giving money, training, and sanctuary to Baloch militants in Afghanistan. Likewise, Pakistan has also expressed concerns about some insurgent elements allegedly operating from the Iranian soil.

Following are some of the Baloch insurgent groups operating in Gawadar region:

  • Majeed Brigade of the Balochistan Liberation Army.[26]
  • Baloch Liberation Front is acive in Awaran, Panjgur, Washuk, Turbat and Gwadar in southern Balochistan.[27]
  • Lashkar-e-Balochistan (LB).[28]
  • Baloch Republican Army (BRA).[29]
  • Baloch Liberation Army (BLA).[30]

These groups have often targeted Chinese nationals in Pakistan.[31] In July 2007, a bus full of Chinese engineers was bombed in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.[32] In November 2018, three BLA terrorists attacked the Chinese consulate in Karachi, killing three policemen and two Pakistani civilians. None of 21 Chinese officials inside the consulate was harmed.[33] In May 2019, BLA stormed a luxurious hotel, Pearl Continental, in Gawadar which is frequented by Chinese nationals and other foreign investors. No Chinese citizen was hurt in the attack[34].

Troubling Neighbors?

Parts of CPEC project in Balochistan have faced considerable security challenges. Most of the problems are homegrown with alleged encouragement and support from outside like Afghanistan, Iran, and India. The BLA has been targeting Chinese citizens in Balochistan for years.[35]

Pakistan claims the Indian presence in Afghanistan and Iran is fueling the insurgency in its disturbed Balochistan region. The suspicion got stronger after Pakistani security agencies nabbed an Indian intelligence operative, Kalbushan Jhadav, from Balochistan in Mar 2016. Jhadav reportedly worked undercover for India’s premier intelligence agency RAW, and extended support to the insurgency and other terrorist activities in Pakistan.[36]


Some insurgent groups like BLA and BRA reportedly operate from the Iranian side of the border where they take shelter after carrying out attacks in Balochistan. Pakistan believes Tehran is aware of the whereabouts of these militants groups on its soil. [37] In April 2019, the BLA killed 14 security personnel after offloading them from passenger buses in Ormara, near Gawadar.[38] These BLA terrorists reportedly fled back to Iran following the attack.[39] Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, has categorically said that Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies have been involved in fueling unrest in Pakistan.[40]

Addressing the Problem

Many mainstream Baloch politicians have urged for a peaceful resolution of the insurgency problem in Balochistan. The province’s former chief minister, Abdul Malik Baloch, had proposed that the civilian and military authorities must get together to address the grievances of the disgruntled Baloch people. Malik is often credited for making genuine attempts to reach out to the indignant Baloch elements in order to figure out a solution to the security crisis in Balochistan. He had urged the federal government to rehabilitate the Baloch tribes uprooted by military operations in the province, and resolve the problem of Baloch missing persons.[41] 

Pakistan has high economic hopes attached to the China-funded CPEC. The project has frequently been branded as “game-changer” not only for Pakistan but the entire region. It has been instrumental in deepening Pakistan’s ties with China. However, with an active anti-CPEC insurgency going on in Balochistan, it would be challenging for Pakistan as well as China to reap the full potential of the mega project. There have been worries that Pakistan’s certain neighbors are exploiting the homegrown Baloch insurgency to sabotage the joint Pak-China mega development projects. Islamabad must, therefore, take the problem of insurgency seriously before it becomes its Achilles ‘heel.

The Baloch insurgency is underpinned by decades-old political grievances and exploitation. The government must give political solution a preference in Balochistan, by reaching out to Baloch leaders and initiating a genuine process to address their grievances. The province makes up 44% of the country and offers the biggest reserves of natural resources. It deserves more than what it gets politically and economically. A stable Balochistan integrated to national mainstream may help Pakistan fully realize its expectations attached to the CPEC.










































[41] Book Dr. Naimatullah Gichki “Baloch in search of Identity” page 241-251, 2015

The Genesis of Religious Radicalism in Pakistan

May 30, 2019

Jinnah – Pakistan’s founding father – declared that the citizens’ caste and religion had nothing to do with the business of the Pakistani state.[1] He advocated for freedom of the press and speech and criticized the laws that curtailed that freedom.[2] As a constitutionalist, Jinnah stood by legal process rather than executive action.[3] While addressing an audience at the Kingsway Hall in London on 13 Dec 1946, he said “Democracy is in the blood of Muslims who look upon complete equality of man. Muslims believe in fraternity, equality, and liberty”.[4]

As the president of Pakistan’s first constituent assembly, one of the first steps Jinnah took was to form a committee on the fundamental rights of the citizens and minority issues.[5] Historical accounts from Jinnah’s political life amply suggest that his idea of Pakistan was an inclusive democracy where all citizens irrespective of which faith they subscribed to were equal members of society.

So in Mar 1949, the post-Jinnah constituent assembly took the first major step to Islamize the country by presenting the ‘Objectives Resolution’ – a set of principles that were to guide future constitution making in the country.

In a tragic turn for Pakistan, however, its founder passed away too soon to practically determine the political future of the new state. And his immediate successors most likely did not agree with the Pakistan Jinnah had envisaged. As Jinnah died, the other founding leaders embarked on their own plan of creating an Islamic state where a Muslim was the primary and natural citizen, while non-Muslim Pakistanis were minorities. And unfortunately minority often equates degraded citizenship with truncated rights in the country. For Jinnah’s successors, Pakistan was to be an exclusive territory where the Muslims were to practice and promote their faith with ultimate freedom, while “other” citizens were merely an afterthought, at best.

jinnah - the print
Mohammad Ali Jinnah- Pakistan’s Founder

So in Mar 1949, the post-Jinnah constituent assembly took the first major step to Islamize the country by presenting the ‘Objectives Resolution’ – a set of principles that were to guide future constitution making in the country. The resolution declared the following:

  • Allah Almighty alone is responsible for sovereignty over the whole universe and that authorities are to be exercised as sacred faith by Pakistani citizens.
  • Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teaching and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah;
  • The principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance, and social justice enunciated by Islam shall be fully observed;
  • The rights and interests of the minorities to freely profess and practice their religion will be protected.[6]

Liaqat Ali Khan took power after Jinnah died. While presenting the objectives resolution, Khan said:

The ideals that promised the demand for Pakistan should form the cornerstone of the state. When we use the word ‘Democracy’ in the Islamic sense it pervades all aspects of life. It relates to the system of government and to our society with equal validity because one of the greatest contributions of Islam has been the equality of men”.

liaqat a khan
Liaqat Ali Khan – Pakistan’s First Prime Minister

Liaqat Ali Khan was not a religious man. Like majority of early lawmakers, he belonged to the secular elite class.[7] While Khan pushed for the creation of an Islamic state in Pakistan, he loved to flaunt his love for alcohol in the Western capitals in order to impress his foreign friends. One of his Western admirers was US assistant secretary of state, George McGhee, who was impressed by Liaqat Ali Khan’s ability to consume alcohol without losing his sobriety.[8]

When non-Muslim Pakistani lawmakers pointed out that the Objective Resolution barred them from becoming head of the state, Liaqat Ali Khan was quick to reject their concerns. Khan promised that in no way was the idea of an Islamic state envisaged by the Objectives Resolution a theocracy discriminating against non-Muslims. Nevertheless, the president’s office was reserved for Muslims when Pakistan’s first constitution was enforced in 1956. However, it was argued that president was the symbolic head of state like the Queen of England and that the real power office, i.e. prime minister, was open to all communities, both Muslim and non-Muslim.

Bhupendra Kumar Datta, a Hindu member of the opposition in the constituent assembly said:

“My fear is real, as these concepts will everywhere be interpreted by much less enlightened men. Sir, it would be wiser perhaps for the House, as our Leader suggested the other day, to dispense with a Resolution of this nature at this stage”.

Likewise, another opposition leader Mian Iftikharuddin called the resolution a historic blunder. But there was no turning back from the status of Pakistan as an Islamic state after the objectives resolution. The fate of the new born nation had been sealed.[9] The house went on with passing the resolution without addressing the concerns put forth by non-Muslim lawmakers.[10] While the objectives resolution buried Jinnah’s inclusive Pakistan, it simultaneously laid the foundation of an Islamist Pakistan.

A Sindhi politician Shehla Raza claims the objectives resolution was authored by Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of Jamaat Islami. It is, however, unclear what drove an alcohol-loving secularist like Liaqat Ali Khan to push for an Islamic state in Pakistan. The architects of the objectives resolution clearly failed to foresee that such religiously-skewed principles would facilitate state-led persecution of minorities and lay these principles open for misinterpretation and exploitation.

Institutionalizing Radicalism and Exclusion

Pakistan’s founding politicians could not write the country’s first constitution for about nine years after independence. And when they did put out the first document in 1956, it was a basic constitutional roadmap for Islamist radicalism in the country and exclusion of Pakistan’s non-Muslim communities from mainstream. The constitution prevented a non-Muslim Pakistani from holding the office of the head of state. Besides, all laws were to be aligned with Islamic teachings. No law considered to be contrary to Islam was to be made in the country.

This provision gave immense power and freedom to the religious establishment to decide what did or did not contradict Islamic teachings. The Objective Resolution, adopted in 1949, was made the preamble of the 1956 constitution and the country was declared an Islamic republic. The second constitution more or less retained the exclusionary Islamic provisions in 1962. Both constitutions, however, did promise to protect the rights of non-Muslim Pakistanis. But, unfortunately these safeguards have hardly saved the minorities from the extremist onslaught.

Under the constitution of 1962, the president became the effective head of government and the office was still reserved for Muslims. In 1973, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in an attempt to appease the religious right, declared that the offices of the president and prime minister were reserved for Muslims alone. After having the non-Muslim Pakistanis excluded from the high offices, the clergy demanded of the state to define who was and who was not a Muslim.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto

An intensive debate ensued in the parliament that culminated in the declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims through a constitutional amendment in 1974. Ironically, the National Awami Party leaders such as Wali Khan who branded themselves as secularists also voted in favor of the amendment.[11] When Pakistan’s first foreign minister Sir Zafarullah Khan, an Ahmadi, objected that the parliament had no authority to make a decision on Ahmadis’ faith, Pakistan’s law minister, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, replied that parliament was the supreme body whose decisions could not be contested.[12]

The 1973 constitution declared Islam as state religion and defined a Muslim as someone who believes in the unity of Allah and finality of the prophethood of Mohammad (PBUH). It also stipulates that only Muslims can be elected as president and prime minister of Pakistan.[13] By 1974, Pakistan as a state effectively took over the role of a radical cleric and began deciding who was a Muslim and who was an apostate. The citizens were categorized into Muslim and others. The plant of religious extremism was watered and groomed which over decades became a formidable tree with firm roots. The declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslim institutionalized their persecution. It initiated the state’s hostility towards this downcast religious community.

Islamist Extremism in Early Days

Mohammad Ali Jinnah appointed Zarfarullah Khan, a member of Ahmadi community, as foreign minister after the Kashmir issue erupted in 1947. His appointment did not sit well with the Majlis-e-Ahrar, a group of radical Muslims which had been campaigning for the expulsion of Ahmadis from public offices since at least 1935. The Ahrar started calling for Ahmadis to be declared non-Muslim in 1948. Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of Jamaat Islami, severely criticized the Ahmadi faith.

maududi - the news
Abul Ala Maududi – Founder of Jamaat Islami

On 22 Feb 1953, at the convention of Muslim League in Dhaka, anti-Ahmadi Islamists threatened to take direct action if their demand of declaring Ahmadis non-Muslim was not met.[14] In the same year, Jamaat Islami waged an anti-Ahmadi campaign which resulted in a countrywide agitation and violence.[15] The Punjab was most affected. According to an estimate, about 2000 people mostly Ahmadis were killed across the country.

The violence spiraled up to such a point that martial law had to be imposed to contain the violence in Punjab. The governor general dismissed the federal cabinet.[16] Ahrar activists attacked Ahmadi rallies, raided their homes and shops, and burned their places of worship. In hate campaigns, Ahmadis were ridiculed and humiliated. A judicial investigation was carried out into the anti-Ahmadi pogrom. The findings, known as the ‘Munir Report’, unveiled atrocities committed against the community.[17] The martial law authorities sentenced JI founder Maududi to death for instigating anti-Ahmadi violence. [18] His sentence was later turned into life imprisonment. The anti-Ahmadi agitation achieved a milestone in 1974 with the declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslim.

Religious Extremism as Policy Instrument

After the East Pakistanis started a separatist insurgency in 1971, President Yahya Khan’s dictatorship embarked on a disastrous policy of using religious extremists to counter the Bengali nationalism and insurgency. His regime mustered up pro-federation elements from amongst Bengalis to form religious militias such as Al-Shams and Al-Badar. These militias were tasked to counter pro-independence Mukti Bahini and their supporters and sympathizers. Jahangir Satti in his book ‘The Ruling Enemy: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Taliban’ argues that General Rao Farman Ali, who was good at exploiting religious sentiments, was the architect of these militias.[19] [20]

Al-Badar consisted of Bengali students from colleges, universities, and seminaries who were loyal to Jamaat Islami.[21] On the other hand, Al-Shams was made up of students, teachers, and supporters of Islamist parties other than JI.[22] Scholars from Bangladesh accuse these outfits of exterminating leading left-wing professors, journalists, littérateurs, and even doctors in 1971.[23] Many activists of Al-Shams and Al-Badar were also killed in clashes with Mukti Bahini. These numbers grew significantly when Bengali nationalists settled scores after East Pakistan became Bangladesh.[24] Al-Shams and Al-Badar disintegrated after the fall of Dhaka.

A Dictator with a Holy Mission

The Islamization campaign that began with the Objectives Resolution in 1949 touched its zenith under President Ziaul Haq. He took a holistic approach in bringing religion into everyday life. His mission was to turn the country into a citadel of Islam so that it could lead the Muslim world.[25] Scholars, however, maintain that beneath Zia’s Islamization was the sole purpose of legitimizing his dictatorial regime. Zia made blasphemy punishable by death which would later lead to vigilante lynchings in the country.

Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq

His imposition of zakat and ushr laws triggered a massive protest by Shiites who suspected Zia of attempting to create a Sunni state in Pakistan. In early July 1980, the Shiites marched on the federal capital in protest against the imposition of zakat ordinance. Around 100,000 Shiites laid siege to the secretariat of the chief martial law administrator, paralyzing the bureaucracy and finally forcing the regime to give them exemption from paying zakat to the state.[26]

Zia’s gory penchant for creating a cocktail of power politics and religion had serious repercussions for Pakistan as a society. According to historian Vali Nasr, the Islamabad protest revealed the Shiite community’s reliance on Tehran to organize and assert its demands. While Pakistan’s Shiite leaders felt empowered after their encounter with Zia, the conservative Sunni groups were appalled by Shiites’ assertiveness.[27] As if the division of citizens on the basis of Muslim and non-Muslim was not enough, Zia took up policies that widened the sectarian crack within the Muslim community. Under Zia’s watch, extremist terrorists groups were created that would wreck havoc with the country later.

Pakistan’s political nobility has always sought to create an exclusive Islamist state where Muslims are primarily the natural and legitimate citizens, and where people professing other religions are relegated to political and social oblivion. Bigoted policies since inception have produced a society that routinely tolerate religious extremism and intolerance, and loathe diversity. The non-Muslim citizens are frequently under fire from extremists, and their populations are dwindling. Religious extremism and terrorism have become formidable threats to Pakistan’s political and economic stability and national security. The country is shuffling, at best, under the weight of religious extremism, and it remains to be seen if the ruling elite would ever contemplate over the relationship between their policies and the overall decline of the country.

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[12] Dawn, Karachi, 10 October 1974












[24] Jalalzai, Sectarianism and Politico-Religious Terrorism in Pakistan, p. 258



[27] 78 Vali Nasr, ‚The Rise of Sunni Militancy in Pakistan: The Changing Role of Islamism and the Ulama in Society and Politics,‛ 155.

A Dangerous Education

June 13, 2019

American educational philosopher Robert M. Hutchins once warned that “Education can be dangerous. It is very difficult to make it not dangerous. In fact, it is almost impossible. The only way you can prevent education from being dangerous is to try and develop an educational system in which the pupil is exposed to no ideas whatsoever”.[1] Education is one of the key factors that determines the making or breaking of a society. Education helps shape the collective thinking and worldview of a population. The educational content is, therefore, of critical importance for a country’s educational system. An education riddled with omissions and distortions of facts serves no purpose, apart from acting as an intellectual plague for a country. Distorted educational contents tend to create paranoia where everyone and everything is a suspect.

Pakistan’s public education is a case of what devastation a bad education can inflict on the mental health and capabilities of a society. Pakistan is one of the few countries that continue to suffer from a disturbing scale of religious extremism and high impact terrorism[2]. This grim state of affairs has a critical relationship with the textbooks taught at public schools in the country.

Millions of children in Pakistan do not even go to schools, and end up as child laborers. A 2018 estimate puts the number of out-of-school children at 22.84 million. But the issue of access to education pales when compared with the problem of contents taught at the educational institutions, public as well as private.

Corrupting the Contents

The textbooks taught in public and private schools across Pakistan are riddled with distortions of historical accounts, omissions, and bits of truth mixed up with untruths. Many Pakistanis demonstrate a strong interest in their general history. The region forming Pakistan has an ancient past, stretching thousands of years back. The land was home to some of the earliest human civilizations such as Indus Valley and Gandhara. Some believe people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.[3] But, what if the history is corrupted with omissions and, sometimes, with falsities? People who are deprived of a true reading of their history tend to repeat the history of their predecessors.

In Pakistan, education has always been a rundown sector, where public investment is made more out of compulsion rather than preference. The nobility who control political power and national resources generally tend to educate their children in the West who often return to succeed their elders in power and politics. And the majority of the population is mostly left at the mercy of a largely wrecked education system that indoctrinates pupils with a chronic paranoia about the world around them. Millions of children in Pakistan do not even go to schools, and end up as child laborers. A 2018 estimate puts the number of out-of-school children at 22.84 million[4]. But the issue of access to education pales when compared with the problem of contents taught at the educational institutions, public as well as private[5].

The radicalization of the textbooks and the propagation of Muslim faith as the sole national identity by the regime of President Zia-ul-Haq during the 1980s have had a devastating impact on the collective thinking and behavior of the society in Pakistan.[6] Zia, however, was not the first ruler to distort textbook contents. President Ayub Khan abolished history as a subject and replaced it with social studies for classes 1-8 and Pakistan Studies for classes 1-12. These subjects are a cocktail of history, geography, and economics etc.[7] The content fed into the raw minds of students has a direct bearing on the views and perceptions they develop later in life.[8]

Over years, three types of school systems have emerged in Pakistan; elite private schools, public schools and non-elite private schools, and the religious seminaries which provide different types of environments, teaching styles, exposures, and textbooks to their pupils.[9] President Zia went farthest in restructuring the education and rewriting the textbooks with Islamist overtones.[10] Pakistani historian K. K. Aziz has discussed how history subjects are taught to students in a distorted way.[11] His book ‘Murder of History’ details shocking accounts of the deliberate distortions put into the educational literature in the country.

A ghost school in Sindh
school 2
A private school in the capital
school 3
A seminary in Islamabad
schools 4
Seminary students burning DVDs in Islamabad

Click here for the source of these images

A study of the textbooks by SDPI in 2003 concluded that the “contents of the textbooks do not fulfill the values and objectives for the pursuance of a progressive nation.[12] Likewise, Prof. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physicist and critique of religious radicalism, sees the Pakistani education as part of problem rather than solution. He believes the textbooks taught to millions of young students across the country are a major driver of religious extremism.[13] Hoodbhoy laments what he sees as serious distortions of facts in the textbooks.[14] He believes there is a critical link between the pervasive extremist mindset in Pakistani society and the school curriculums taught to children.[15]

The Structure of Education

There are textbook boards at provincial levels that are responsible for curriculum till the 12th grade. Next, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and universities manage the contents of the textbooks taught to the graduates. This is overseen by the federal education ministry. The basic educational structure is 7-layered:

  1. Nursery
  2. Primary (grades 1-5)
  3. Middle (grades 6-8)
  4. High school (grades 9-10)
  5. Intermediate (grades 11-12)
  6. College (grades 13-14 in most cases, except for 4-year programs)
  7. Universities (15-upwards)[16]

Investing in Education

Source: The Global Economy

Education Spending 2006-2018:

Source: Trading Economics

Reforming the Curricula

Pakistan adopted its first public policy on education in 1959. Called the “National Education Policy”, it transferred the responsibility for primary education to the provinces. During the second 5-year plan (1960-65), primary and secondary curricula were revised, and “much emphasis was laid on Islamic studies and religious education. Later, the 1969 education policy sought to bridge the gap between general education and seminary education.[17] Islamic religious teachings were made integral parts of the new textbooks, and Islam was to be taught as the state religion.

However, most of the radicalization of the textbooks occurred under President Zia (1977-88) who embarked on an ambitious project to Islamize Pakistan as a state and society. He declared ‘Islamiat’ compulsory at all levels of education till college, and made seminary certificates equivalent to university degrees.[18] Many scholars believe Zia formally strengthened the foundation of religious extremism and Muslim exclusiveness in Pakistan. Several governments in Pakistan have attempted to undo Zia’s educational reforms, but in vain largely due to fear of backlash by religious extremists, says Prof. Hoodbhoy.[19]

Demonizing the Hindus

The post-Zia textbooks are filled with radical contents that promote paranoid views about the Hindus. They are portrayed as untrustworthy, despite the fact that Pakistan is home to millions of Hindus. Sometimes, the Hindus are equated with India. No wonder Pakistan’s Hindu community has been suffering persecution for years. Over the past decade, the news of forced conversions of Hindus by Muslims has frequently hit headlines in the country. A large number of Pakistani Hindu families have left the country to escape religious persecution. The textbooks project Islam as the exclusive faith of the Pakistani society at the disadvantage of other non-Muslim faiths. The Hindus and their faith are demonized through distortions in historical accounts. The textbooks blame Hindu conspiracy for the miserable condition of the Muslim community under the British Raj, and claim that British-Hindu conspiracy prevented the Muslims from progressing politically, economically, and socially in the undivided India.[20]

Image: Express Tribune

A study of Pakistani textbooks titled “The Subtle Subversion” by the SDPI has identified the following major themes in the contents of public sector textbooks:

  1. Pakistan is for Muslims alone;
  2. Compulsory Islamic teachings including memorization of the Quran are included in all subjects, and taught to all the students, whatever their faith;
  3. The Pakistani ideology is to be internalized as faith,
  4. Hatred against Hindus and India;
  5. Encouragement for jihad and martyrdom; [21]

The ideology of Pakistan has been a subject of debate among scholars since nobody has been able to produce evidence showing Pakistan’s founder Mohmmad Ali Jinnah ever used the term. The term was coined much later when political parties began using it for political motives.[22] In contrast, while addressing the first constituent assembly in Aug 1947, Jinnah said:

We are starting with the fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state … Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual but in the sense as citizens of the state. … You may belong to any caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state”.[23]

Many believe the anti-Hindu biases were largely absent from the textbooks before the Zia period.[24] In the initial few years, the contents of the textbooks were drastically different from what is taught today. For example:

  1. The early history books contained chapters on not only on the ancient civilizations such as Moenjo Daro, Harappa, and Gandhara, etc, but also on the Hindu mythologies of Ramayana and Mahabharata and extensively covered, often with admiration, the great Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms of the Mauryas and the Guptas.
  2. The textbooks did reflect biases while discussing the politics of Indian independence, but still they had chapters on Mr. M. K. Gandhi, using words of respect for him and admiring his qualities.
  3. The creation of Pakistan was attributed to the intransigence of the All India Congress and its leadership rather than on ‘Hindu machinations’.
  4. Some textbooks also clearly mentioned that many prominent Muslim religious leaders were bitterly opposed to the creation of Pakistan.[25]

However, criticality and balance in textbook contents were done away with after General Zia came to power in 1977. The Zia regime redesigned the books to inculcate religious biases and intolerance in the minds of the young generations. The primary purpose of the textbooks was to make students understand the differences between the Muslims and Hindus. The post-Zia textbooks attribute Pakistan’s creation to these religious differences.[26] They portray the Hindus in the following manner:

  1. The Hindus have always been an enemy of Islam (Class-5 Urdu book of Punjab textbook board, March 2002, Page 108).[27]
  2. The Hindus made the British Raj believe that the Muslims were solely responsible for the war of independence of 1857 (Class-8 book of Punjab text book board, March 2002, Page 90).[28]
  3. The British snatched all lands from Muslims and gave them to Hindus. (Class-8 book of Punjab text book board, March 2002, Page 91)[29]
  4. In the introduction of political reforms Muslims were not allowed to cast vote. (Class-8 book of Punjab text book board, March 2002, Page 94-95)[30]
  5. The Hindus always wanted to eliminate the Muslims as a nation. (An Introduction to Pakistan, The Caravan Book House Lahore, 1995, page 12)[31]
  6. All India Congress was against Muslims and the British gave the leverage to Hindus over Muslims.[32]
  7. Hindu pundits were jealous of Muslim scholars like Al-Beruni because they could not compete nor had such talent.[33]
  8. Child marriages were common among Hindus; they used to live in dark and small houses and their women were held lower positions.[34]
  9. Hindu culture was imposed on Muslims. In the war of 1965, India conspired with the Hindus of Bengal and succeeded in spreading hate among the Bengalis about West Pakistan.[35]
  10. The Hindus do not respect women, and Hinduism is not capable of teaching good things. (Urdu Class V, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 108)[36]
  11. The Quaid saw through the machinations of the Hindus. (Social Studies Class-VII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, p 51)[37]
  12. The wars with India are also branded as jihad, and sometimes historical facts are distorted. For example, recounting the 1965 war, one textbook reads, “The Armed Forces of Pakistan, filled with the spirit of jihad, forced an enemy many times bigger than them to face a humiliating defeat”.[38]
  13. Another textbook says “After the 1965 war, India, with the help of the Hindus living in East Pakistan, instigated the people living there against the people of West Pakistan, and at last in December 1971 India invaded East Pakistan. The conspiracy resulted in the separation of East Pakistan from us. All of us should receive military training and be prepared to fight the enemy”.(Muashrati Ulum [social studies], Class V, NWFP, Textbook Board, Peshawar, p.93)[39]
  14. Another book states that “There were a large number of Hindus in East Pakistan. They had never really accepted Pakistan. A large number of them were teachers in schools and colleges. They continued creating a negative impression among the students. No importance was attached to explaining the ideology of Pakistan to the younger generation. The Hindus sent a substantial part of their earnings to Bharat, thus adversely affecting the economy of the province. Some political leaders encouraged provincialism for the selfish purpose of gaining power. They went around depicting the central Government and (the then) West Pakistan as hostile and exploiters. Political aims were thus achieved at the cost of national unity”. (Pakistan Studies for secondary classes, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, May 1993, p. 39) [40]
  15. In the same way, textbooks blame India for initiating the Kargil War in 1999.[41]

The History: Twisted and Deformed

The educational institutions teach unauthentic history, with accounts of many major historical events twisted. Some have called it the “hiding of history” because it not only omits many facts but also excludes the rich and diverse South Asian cultures and traditions. The Muslim culture is portrayed as good and the Hindu culture as bad.[42] The Bhutto government brought the non-Muslim religious schools under state’s watch, but left the Muslim seminaries unchecked which later produced jihadists for anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan.[43]

Since the late 1970s, the mission of authorities responsible for national curriculum has been the Islamization of the society. For example, social studies textbooks published under the national curriculum guidelines stress Islamic ideology and contain material that can be characterized as insensitive toward non-Muslims. Such teachings pose a serious threat to interfaith harmony and tolerance in the society. These books project Muslim citizens above all other citizens.[44]

A seventh class textbook advocates for Pan-Islamism, with most of its chapters dedicated to Muslim countries. The first chapter discusses Pakistan and the Muslim world and begins with the statement that ‘Pakistan is a sovereign Islamic nation’. Islam is presented not only as a belief system but also as the sole political ideology of Pakistan. The region’s history, culture, and traditions are largely overlooked.[45] The history of Punjab also suffers from omissions of facts because the wars of the Sikhs against the British are squarely excluded from the accounts. Instead, only the British conquest of Punjab is mentioned. As a result of appalling distortions of history, the students develop biases and hatred against the Hindus.[46]

The textbooks till the early 1970s included balanced contents on the culture and history of the Subcontinent. In her paper ‘Hegemony and Historiography: the Politics of Pedagogy’, American scholar Yvette C. Rosser highlights that till 1972 the textbooks included much more elaborate sections on the history of the subcontinent. The books described the Hindu Period, The Muslim Period and the British Period. History textbooks such as Indo Pak History Part-1 published in 1951 included chapters called Ramayana and Mahabharata Era, Aryans’ Religion and Educational Literature, the Caste System, Jainism and Buddhism, Invasions of Iranians and Greeks, Chandra Gupta Maurya, Maharaja Ashok, Maharaja Kaniska, The Gupta Family, Maharaja Harish, New Era of Hinduism, and The Era of Rajputs.[47] Till 1972, the textbooks used to have general and non-Muslim contents along with chapters on Muslim religion. For example, a textbook published in 1971 for military academy included material about ‘Mahatma Gandhi: the Man of Peace’.[48]

The Islamization of textbooks was initiated by secularist Z. A. Bhutto, and taken further by Islamist Zia-ul-Haq. The textbooks began intensively propagating the Two-Nation Theory and the supremacy of Islamic principles over principles of Hinuism.[49] Mehmood of Ghazna was elevated to the status of a national hero of Pakistan. His invasions of India that resulted in the deaths of thousands of indigenous people and destruction of many temples were painted as holy jihad against the infidels. Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir is glorified as a pious Muslim ruler, but his ruthless killing of his own brothers and the imprisoning of his father Shah Jehan for the throne are not mentioned.[50] On the other hand, Jalaluddin Akbar gets a slight mention. The rein of Akbar the Great is largely overlooked in the history of the Great Mughals. [51]

A portrait of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir (1618-1707)

The books promote exclusiveness of the Muslim community. M. K. Rabbani in his book which is prescribed for English medium schools writes that “As the Muslims of India found it extremely difficult to live according to the Islamic principles of life in the United India they were forced to demand a separate homeland to safeguard their national and religious identity”.[52] The history of Muslims is presented as the exclusive history of the Subcontinent. Such history typically begins with the invasion of Sindh by Mohammad bin Qasim. Though some textbooks in Sindh do mention the history of Moenjo Daro and the Indus Valley Civilizations but that too is very brief. Significant eras of the subcontinent are omitted such as the Aryan civilization, and the 1000 years of Buddhism etc.[53]

Distorting history can prove disastrous for a country and its people. Generations of Pakistanis grow up reading and learning chunks of truths mixed up with untruths. They mostly miss on the richness of their region’s true history and diverse cultures.[54] Instead of promoting genuine scholarship, the books propagate narrow mindedness to the pupils. They glorify the destruction of temples and forced conversions, and ignore the legacies of other historical figures such as Guru Nanak, Akbar, and Dara Shikoh etc.[55] A nation oblivious of its true past tends to live in a state of delusion. Unless the people know their true past, they continue to repeat the blunders and mistakes committed by their predecessors. History is considered the best teacher for nations. The Pakistanis deserve better than doses of selective truths and paranoia in the name of history. The textbooks need to be cleansed of distortions and falsities so that the future generations of Pakistanis learn from their past and do not repeat the wrongs committed by their predecessors.





















































[52] M. Ikram Rabbani, An Introduction to Pakistan Studies, The Caravan Book House, Lahore, 1987, p. 10




Proscribed Extremist Outfits

Wajahat Khalid – Jun 17, 2019

Pakistan’s ministry of interior has proscribed 71 organizations and splinter groups under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997.[1] These outfits were found to be directly or indirectly involved in acts of violence or hate crimes on the basis of religion. Some of the groups banned also include those which participated in separatist insurgency and other similar crimes designated as anti-state. Majority of the groups are, however, proscribed for violent extremism. Below is a brief profile of key religious extremist groups proscribed in Pakistan.

Daesh (Islamic State)

A Salafist terror group with transnational ambitions, Daesh aims to create an exclusive Islamist caliphate by conquering territories.[2] Such a caliphate is based on an extreme understanding of Islamic Shariah.[3] Daesh was originally founded as ‘Jamaatul Tawheed Wal Jihad’ by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, in 2000.[4] The members of this group were key players in the Iraqi insurgency during the US occupation of the country. Later, the group joined hands with Al-Qaeda in Iraq. When the Syrian civil war started, the members of this group shifted to the new war front.[5] In 2013, the group adopted the name ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’ (ISIS). The ISIS seized territories in Syria and Iraq during 2013-14 that shocked the entire world. Its atrocities against people in the captured areas paled Al-Qaeda’s terrorism.

  • Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi (2002 to Jun 7, 2006)[6]
  • Abu Ayub al-Masri (Oct 2006 to Apr 18, 2010)[7]
  • Abu Umar al-Baghdadi (Oct 2006 to Apr 18, 2010)[8]
  • Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (2010 to Present)[9]

Pakistan proscribed Daesh in 2015. Earlier, it was proscribed by the U.S. Department of State as well as the United Nations.[10]

Sources of Funding

Daesh has been the richest terrorist organization in the world. Its terror operations were financed by various extraction schemes within its controlled territories and foreign donations. Al-Qaeda also funded it in the past.[11]

Areas of Operation

Daesh mainly operated in Syria and Iraq where it captured territories and temporarily established what it called caliphate. It has also declared provinces in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the North Caucasus. Moreover, in Turkey, Lebanon, Belgium, Bangladesh, Morocco, Indonesia, Malaysia, Tunisia, Kuwait, and Sri Lanka it has claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks.[12]


Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL), Boko Haram, The Nusra Front, Taliban[13]

Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP)

On 14 Dec 2007, members of at least 27 terrorist and extremist groups came together under Baitullah Mehsud to establish what came to be known as the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP).[14] The terror movement’s prime focus is the state of Pakistan, but it also supports the Taliban insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.[15] Its first commander, Baitullah Mehsud, belonged to the Shabikhel sub-tribe of the Mehsuds.[16] In Aug 2009, Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike.[17]

TTP - dawn
TTP Commanders – Image:

Baitullah Mehsud was succeeded by Hakimullah Mehsud who was the Taliban commander in the Khyber, Kurram, and Orakzai regions. A graduate of a local religious seminary, Hakimullah had fought for Taliban in Afghanistan against the Western forces. He met his predecessor’s fate as an American drone targeted him in North Waziristan on Nov 1, 2013.[18]

After Hakimullah’s death, TTP’s rein was taken over by Mullah Fazlullah – one of the most brutal Taliban commanders to date. A former chairlift operator in Swat, Fazlullah got the sobriquet of ‘Mullah Radio’ after giving extremist sermons on his illegal FM radio in the tribal regions.[19] The US State Department added him to the ‘Reward for Justice’ wanted list on 7 Mar 2018. An American drone strike finally killed him in Afghanistan’s Kunar province on 14 Jun 2018.[20]


TTP follows an extremist version of Salafist ideology and justifies use of violence and violence in implementing Shariah. It demands of Pakistan to disassociate itself from the US-led war on terror. It publicly endorses violent implementation of Shariah laws in Pakistan, and propagates armed struggle against Pakistani security forces and coalition forces in Afghanistan. [21]

Organizational Structure

The outfit has an estimated 5000 fighters and a total of about 50,000 members.[22] It is based in South Waziristan and control a network of regional chapters headed by local commanders. It is believed to have links with other terrorist groups in Pakistan.[23]

Funding Sources
  • Drug trade
  • Kidnapping for ransom
  • Extortion
  • Other criminal activities for raising funds
  • Besides, TTP also maintains effective relationship with Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban which provide it with resources[24]

The TTP has been proscribed by the governments in Pakistan, Canada, the US and UK. The United Nations Security Council has also listed it in its international anti-terrorism sanctions list.[25]

TTP’s Manpower                 

The outfit mostly recruits fighters from tribal ranks and religious seminaries, and draws strength from foreign fighters coming the Middle East and Central Asia. Its affiliations with other terrorist organizations also provide it support in man and material.[26]

Areas of Operation              

The TTP has carried out terrorist attacks mostly in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and its adjacent tribal areas, but it has managed to stage attacks in other areas of Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan too.[27]

Nexus with other Terror Groups
  • Al-Qaeda, [28]
  • Afghan Taliban
  • Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ)
  • Jaish-e Muhammad (JeM)
  • Tehrik-e Nifaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi (TNSM)
  • Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)[29].


A Shiite extremist outfit, Sipah-e Muhammad was founded by Maulana Abbas Yazdani in 1993 with an aim to counter the Sipah-e-Sahaba’s anti-Shiite militancy in Pakistan. Yazdani broke away from the Tehreek-e-Jafaria after believing the outfit was unable to counter Sipah-e-Sahaba’s activism.[30] After his murder in 1996, Yazdani was succeeded by Ghulam Raza Naqvi. Naqvi and another leader of Sipah-e-Mohmmad Munawar Abbas Alvi have been in prison on murder charges.[31] The group follows the Shiite ideology. It is believed to receive financial support from Iran and other local Shiite organizations.[32] The outfit was banned in Pakistan on 14 Aug 2001.

sipah muhammad - pakistan today
Image: Pakistan Today
Recruitment and Operations                       

The organization’s recruitment sources are largely unknown but some young people from the Imamia Students have joined the group.[33] It mainly operates in Punjab, Pakistan. The outfit has participated in several targeted killings and robbery.[34]

Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ)

The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) was founded by Malik Ishaq, Akram Lahori, and Riaz Basra in 1996 as a breakaway faction from the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). These hardliners considered their parent outfit SSP too soft against the Shiites. LeJ has been one of the most brutal anti-Shiite terrorist groups in Pakistan.[35] Its founding commander Akram Lahori had joined the SSP in 1990. He is suspected of involvement in Shiite massacres in Pakistan.[36]

Another founding member of LeJ was Riaz Basra who had been associated with the SSP since 1985. Basra contested elections from Lahore for the provincial assembly seat in 1988, but lost. Later, he moved to Afghanistan to receive terrorist training in camps run by Harkatul Mujahideen. Basra was first arrested for the murder of a Shiite leader Syed Sikandar Shah and Sadiq Ganji – a director at an Iranian cultural center in Lahore.[37] He escaped from police custody during the hearing of the case.

LeJ - dawn
Malik Ishaq, Chief of LeJ – Image:

The third founding leader of LeJ was Malik Ishaq. Ishaq served in detention for over a decade for many counts of homicide and killings. However, he was subsequently released in 2011 due to lack of evidence. After a massive bombing targeting the Hazara Shiites in Quetta in Jan 2013, Ishaq was arrested and released again. On 29 Jul 2015, Ishaq along with his two sons and eleven other militants were killed by the police during an encounter in Muzaffargarh, Punjab.[38]

Sectarian Ideology

LeJ believes in an extremist version of Sunni faith and considers the Shiites as ‘infidel’ and justifies their killings. It has been involved in assassinating Shiite leaders and professionals in Pakistan. Many of its former and present members had participated in the anti-Soviet jihad.

Organizational Structure:

LeJ is known as a group of secrecy. It mainly consists of sub-unit of 5-8 men with one of them as the leader. A sub-unit operates in a specific area. Lack of communication among different sub-units makes it hard for the authorities to track their actions and movements. It is believed a sub-unit is divided and reconstituted in another secret place after carrying out assaults.

Funding Resources               

Reports suggest the LeJ receives funding from private sources in the Arab countries. A number of Karachi-based businesspeople are also suspected of being LeJ supporters. Besides, the group also raises funds to finance its terrorist activities by resorting to crimes.[39] The outfit was proscribed by the Musharraf regime on 14 Aug 2001.


The LeJ leadership is primarily based in Punjab, and secondly in Balochistan. The group recruits footsoldiers from Deobandi seminaries across Pakistan. It has carried out deadly terrorist attacks against Shiite leaders and practitioners through the country.[40]

Areas of Operation:

During the 1990s, the LeJ fought alongside the Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Following the fall of the Taliban regime, the LeJ returned to focus on targeting Shiites in Pakistan. In recent years, the LeJ has specifically targeted the Shiite Hazara community in Quetta. Their operations stretch from the tribal regions to metropolitans like Karachi, Quetta, etc.[41] According to latest reports, the LeJ has developed links with Daesh.[42]


Maulana Masood Azhar founded the Jaish-e-Mohammad in 2000, soon after his release on 31 Dec 1999 as a result of hostage-swap operation following the hijacking of the Indian Airline Flight IC-814.[43] The hijacked airline was forced to land in Kandahar, Afghanistan. A former general secretary of Harkatul Mujahideen, Azhar was born in 1968 in Bahawalpur, Punjab. He joined the corps of anti-Soviet “freedom fighters” during the 1980s, and later joined a religious seminary as a teacher. He preached jihad in Sindh province. In 1994, while he was on an insurgency mission in the Jammu and Kashmir, he was captured by the Indian authorities. India released him as during a hostage swap on 31 Dec 1999, following the hijacking of the Indian Airline Flight IC-814. Most of the outfit’s leaders are former members of Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM).

jaish mohammad - radio free europe
Maulana Masood Azhar – Image: AFP
Structure of the Organization                     

Jaish-e-Mohammed maintains offices in different cities of Pakistan as well as in Jammu and Kashmir. These offices also serve as schools of jihad. The exact locations of most of its offices are secret. However, the group has separate wings for militancy, finance, and propaganda.[44]

Funding Sources

Prior to 2002, the group reportedly received donations from Al-Qaeda. However, over the years the outfit has diversified its sources of financing. It also receives funds through charities. The JeM’s charity wing Al-Rehmat Trust seeks donations for carrying out social work and building of mosques.[45] JeM was proscribed by Pakistan in 2002.


JeM mainly hires members from semi-urban areas and seminaries. The outfit has organized many recruitment rallies in Pakistan since 2002, calling on the youth to take the path of jihad. Besides, it also recruits members internationally from Kashmiris and Pakistani immigrants in the UK. A considerable number of Afghan national are also part of the group.


JeM is a Deobandi extremist outfit that seeks freedom of Jammu and Kashmir from India and their accession with Pakistan. It also views India and the United States as significant threats to the Muslim world. In recent years, the group has also included sectarian minority groups to the list of its enemies.[46]

Areas of Operation              

JeM is a Kashmir-centric jihad outfit. However, it has also been blamed for the attack on Indian parliament in 2001 and an assassination attempt on Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf in 2003. Some reports suggest the group was also involved in the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Daniel Pearl in 2002.[47] It is believed to have links with Al-Qaeda, SSP, and LeJ.


Lashkar-e-Taiba operates mainly in the India-occupied Kashmir. It was formed in 1990 as a wing of ‘Markaz Al-Dawa wal Irshad’ (MDI) – an Islamist organization founded by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed in 1987.[48] Saeed is the chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). He studied at Punjab University before graduating in Arabic language from the King Saud University in Saudi Arabia. He remained associated with several Saudi scholars and became a favorite of a noted Saudi scholar Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz.[49]Other important leaders of JuD include Zakiur-Rehman and Maulana Amir Hamza.[50]

LeT zakiur rehman lackvi
Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, LeT leader
Structure of the Organization                     

The LeT reportedly acts as the militant wing of JuD, and perpetuates insurgency against the Indian forces in Kashmir. JuD also engages in social and philanthropic activities in Pakistan which help it develop strong bonds with its target populations. In Pakistan, where the civilian government is perceived as corrupt, organizations like JuD virtually act as an alternative to the state and provide humanitarian services to people.[51]

Funding Sources:                  

JuD solicits financial support for its activities from its target population and like-minded philanthropists. Donation boxes with emblem of JuD decorate countless retail shops in Pakistan. Besides, the group also collects animal hides on the occasion of Eid-ul-Azha. Saudi Arabia is also considered to be a donor of the outfit. JuD was first banned in Pakistan in Jan 2002.


Headquartered in Muridke, the JuD runs a network of religious seminaries and other educational institutions that also serve as outlets for recruitment of new members. It owns one of the biggest seminaries in Pakistan. The organization has been notable in providing relief works to victims during natural disasters such as earthquake and flood. It believes in jihad primarily against India, but also against the US and Israel. JuD shares ideological similarities with Al-Qaeda. One of Al-Qaeda operatives, Abu Zubaida, was captured in 2002 from an LeT safehouse in Faisalabad, Pakistan.

Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP)

Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan is an extremist Deobandi group. It was established by Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi in Jhang, Punjab on 6 Sep 1985 with an aim to counter the Shiite influence and activism in Pakistan.[52] Many SSP leaders have served as elected members in the parliament. The outfit is currently headed by Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi.[53]

SSP - news 4 europe
Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi

The SSP follows a radical anti-Shiite ideology that declares the Shiites as non-Muslims. The outfit has also shown hostility against other Sunni sects such as Barelvi.[54] The ultimate purpose of the SSP is to declare Pakistan an exclusive Sunni state. The outfit also opposes Pakistan’s participation in the war on terror.

Organizational Structure

According to an estimate by the International Crisis Group (ICG), the outfit had around 5000-6000 members in 20014. During its initial years, it had a central executive board. It established offices in major cities in Pakistan. Currently, it maintains small urban chapters under local leaders.[55]

Funding Sources:                  

The outfit has been receiving considerable funding from private sources in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. It also collects donations and zakat from rich people in Pakistan.[56]

Proscription by the Government:                

The government of Pakistan proscribed SSP on 14 Jan 2002, only to see it re-emerge with a changed name ‘Millat-e Islamia Pakistan’. It was again designated as a terrorist outfit in Sep 2003. Currently, it operates under the name of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). ASWJ leaders contested polls both in 2013 and 2018 general elections in Pakistan.[57] The outfit mainly operates in Punjab and Balochistan.


SSP has known relations with Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Jaish-e Muhammad, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The organization also has deep-rooted links with its offshoot Lashkar-e Jhangvi.

Tehreek Nifaz Shariat Mohmmadi (TNSM)

TNSM was established in Swat valley in 1994 by a religious leader Sufi Mohammad. TNSM abhors the democratic system and seeks to create a Shariah state in Pakistan with Islamic justice system.[58]

TNSM sufi mohammad - dawn
Maualan Sufi Mohammad, TSNM chief – Image:

Sufi Muhammad, the TNSM founder, was an active member of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in the 1980s which he quit in 1992. He was instrumental in mobilizing thousands of tribesmen for jihad in Afghanistan. With his outfit banned in 2009, he was put into detention. He was succeeded by his son-in-law Mullah Fazlullah, also known as ‘Mullah Radio’. Fazlullah later became the chief of TTP. Other prominent leaders of TNSM were Molvi Faqir Mohammad and Maulana Liaqat.[59] The outfit operated in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Structure of the Organization                     

The outfit had an estimated 10,000 members in 2001, according to Pakistan Journal of History and Culture. The New York Times reported that they had a power of approximately 4,000 in 2004.[60]

Hizb-ul-Tahrir Pakistan (HuT)

Hizb-ul-Tahrir was founded by a Palestinian cleric and judge Taqiuddin Nabhani in Jerusalem in 1953 with the objective to unite Muslim states around the idea of an Islamic caliphate governed by Shariah. HuT has spread to over 40 countries including the US, the UK, and Pakistan since its inception.[61] In Pakistan, HuT Pakistan was set up by Imtiaz Malik in 2000.[62]

HuT - tribune
A rally by HuT supporters in Karachi – Image: Express Tribune

Imtiaz Malik, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, was the founder of HuT. In the 1990s, Malik along with nine others travelled to Pakistan to establish HuT chapter in the country. His current status and location is unknown. The HuT’s spokesperson in Pakistan was Naveed Butt who was reportedly inspired by the outfit during his study in the United States. In May 2012, Butt was abducted by unidentified persons and has been missing since.[63] Similarly, another HuT leader Imran Yousafzai also went missing in 2012.[64] Very little is known about him. The HuT Pakistan’s deputy spokesman, Shehzad Sheikh, is believed to hail from Karachi where he reportedly act as a recruiter for the outfit. No more information is available about him.


HuT seeks to create Islamic caliphate run by Shariah laws in countries like Pakistan, and abolish democracy.[65]

Structure of the Organization                     

HuT reportedly operates in over 50 countries including the U.S, the UK, Russia, Germany, Turkey, Bangladesh, Australia, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan. It has a massive global network, and boasts over a million members worldwide.

Funding Sources:                  

HuT’s financial operations are largely unknown. However, they are believed to be financed by donations and contributions from their Middle Eastern and UK branches. HuT’s London office is reportedly most active in raising funds. HuT is proscribed in many countries. Pakistan proscribed it in 2004.[66]


JeI was formed in 2004 by Mufti Munir Shakir who ran an illegal radio station in Bara. The objective of JeI was to establish Shariah in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.[67] Shakir was succeeded by Mangal Bagh who was previously a driver by profession. JeI believes in suppression of women and harbors hatred against Shiites and Ahmadis.[68]

lashkar islam - mangal bagh - dawn
Jaish-ul-Islam commander, Mangal Bagh – Image:
Funding Sources:                  

The outfit mainly got funding through smuggling of goods at the Pak-Afghan border. After a security crackdown in 2009 cut their smuggling routes, the group’s revenues nosedived. It is also believed to extract funds through kidnappings for ransom.[69] The outfit has been banned in Pakistan. In Mar 2009, JeI claimed responsibility for blowing up the shrine of famous Pashto poet Rehman Baba near Peshawar.[70] In Jun 2010, it had an armed confrontation with TTP terrorists which left 25 people dead.[71]

Shia Tulba Action Committee (STAC)

The Shia Tulba Action Committee was founded in Pakistan’s northern areas of Gilgit-Baltistan. The outfit claims to protect the persecuted Shiite community in Pakistan. The exact date of its formation is unknown. The group subscribes to Shiite Muslim faith. It was proscribed on 10 Oct 2011. Its prominent leaders and activists include:

  • Allama Mirza Yusuf Hussain
  • Syed Sagheer Abid Razavi
  • Syed Ali Aosat
  • Sohail Mirza and
  • Hasan SagheerAbidi
shia tulba action - mirza yusuf -
STAC leader Allama Mirza Yousaf

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)[72]

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was created as a reaction to the banning of Adolat Islamic Party by Uzbek Prime Minister Islam Karimov in early 1990s. The IMU’s founding members were Taher Yaldashev and Namagani. The movement developed during and following the civil war in Tajikistan.[73]


The IMU command was controlled by Yuldashev, Namangani and then by Usmon Adil. Yuldashev was a renowned young mullah in the underground Islamic movement and he was 24 years old at the time he founded the IMU.[74] Yuldashev settled in South Waziristan after the US invasion of Afghanistan. Soon, he became famous among the local people for his fiery speeches at local mosques. Yuldashev was killed in a drone strike. After his death, Usmon Adil, another Uzbek Islamist took the charge of IMU. He was also killed in drone strike in 2012.[75] Pakistan proscribed IMU in Mar 2013.

IMU tahir yuldashev - RFE-RL
IMU Chief Tahir Yuldashev – Image: RFE/RL

In its early days, its recruits were purely Uzbeks who operated mainly in Central Asia and northern Afghanistan. The US invasion of Afghanistan forced them to move into Pakistan’s tribal areas. Besides, Uzbeks the outfit also has members from Tajik and Turkmen people.[76]

Funding Sources:

During the movement’s initial years, Yuldashev travelled to various countries like Turkey to seek political and financial support for his outfit. At that time, some countries did provide aid to the IMU. Al-Qaeda also extended financial and material support to it.[77]

Areas of Operation

Pakistan, Russia, Central Asia, and Afghanistan.[78]

Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF)

The FIF was established as a charity wing of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) in 1990.[79] It has been banned in Pakistan.

FIF medical camp

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA)

The JuA came into being in 2014 as a faction of TTP. The split was spearheaded by former TTP commander Omar Khalid Khorasani after he developed differences with Mullah Fazlullah.[80] Other prominent leader of JuA is Ehsanullah Ehsan who served as the TTP spokesman.[81]

JuA ehsanullah ehsan - dawn
JuA Spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan – Image:
Funding Sources:

JuA has reportedly been receiving support from the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP). It carries out attacks against the interests of Pakistani state.[82] The outfit recruits members from tribal regions including Mohmand, Khyber, Charsada, and Peshawar, and Bajaur etc.[83]

Major Attacks:[84]

The group carried out twin bombings, killing at least six people in the Mohmand Agency in Nov 2014. Later, it attacked a Roman Catholic Church in Lahore that left 15 people dead and around 70 wounded in Mar 2015. The outfit seeks to impose Shariah in Pakistan.

Al-Rashid Trust (ART)

Al Rashid Trust was established as an Islamic humanitarian organization in 1996. It opened 21 offices in Pakistan and also expanded its presence to Chechnya, Kosovo, and Afghanistan as a counterweight to Western-funded NGOs whom it considers as ‘enemies of Islam’. The ART provided funds to the Taliban and other similar organizations as relief packages.[85] Headquartered in Karachi, the organization also publishes a newspaper called ‘Zarb-e-Momin’.[86]

Funding Sources:                  

The Pakistani diasporas in the Middle East and the UK are major sources of funding for the ART. It also raises significant amounts of revenue locally in Pakistan.[87] The organization has been proscribed by Pakistan, the US, and the UN.

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[10]Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee. “The List established and maintained by the Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee with respect to individuals, groups, undertakings and other entities associated with Al-Qaida.” The United Nations. 2 Jun. 2014. Web. 25 Jun. 2014; Department of Public Information. “Security Council Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee Amends Entry of One Entity on its Sanctions List.” The United Nations, 30, May. 2013. Web. 25 Jun. 2014.






















[32]Mujtaba Rathore, MasrorHausen, Amir Rana, Safdar Sial and Abdul Mateen. Profiling the Violence in Karachi. Conflict and Peace Studies, Volume 2, Number 3. July-Sept 2009. Page number 17