G Parthasarathy

Pak in the grip of religious extremism

G. PARTHASARATHY | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on October 10, 2012

Pakistan’s Railway Minister Ghulam Mohammed Bilour stunned the world on September 22, by announcing that he would pay $1,00,000 to anyone who killed the California-based Egyptian who posted his blasphemous film “Innocence of Muslims” on YouTube.

Bilour added: “I invite my brothers in Taliban and Al Qaeda to join me in this blessed mission”. Bilour’s statement was surprising, as he represents the moderate, secular, Awami National Party, headed by the grandson of the “Frontier Gandhi,” Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.

Bilour’s statement reflects a deeper malaise afflicting Pakistani society, where religious zealots now dominate the public discourse.


On September 3, Senator Iqbal Haider, Pakistan’s former Minister for Human Rights, Law and Justice, expressed concern at what he said was “unchecked, unrestrained and repeated barbaric killings of Shia Muslims” all over Pakistan.

Haider also slammed the “continuing harassment, victimisation, killings and forced conversions of Ahmedis, Sikhs and Hindus, who have been forced to leave their places of residence for protection of their lives”. He held “one sect of Wahhabism” guilty of these acts of “barbarism”.

Haider averred that these acts by Wahhabi armed groups were being perpetrated with the support of the civil and military establishment of Pakistan, as well as their intelligence agencies, “to implement a well-conceived plan to allow Talibanisation of Pakistan and convert it into a Wahhabi State”.

Haider asserts that the army routinely facilitates the entry of the Wahhabi Afghan Taliban into Shia-majority Gilgit. In Karachi alone, 118 persons, mostly Shias, have died this year in sectarian conflicts. Over the past decade, most Shia doctors have fled Karachi. Even members of the peace loving Bohra community have recently been targeted as Shias, in Karachi.

Sufi-oriented Bareilvis, constituting just over 50 per cent of Pakistan’s population, have become targets like Shias, as Wahhabi influence in Pakistan has rapidly spread, aided by the state-supported Afghan Taliban and their Deobandi allies. According to an American study, Wahhabi oriented Ahle Hadith and Deobandi Madrassas receive $100 million annually from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.


Former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureishi recently spoke of the Bareilvi Sunni Tehriq as representing “a national consensus against Taliban style terrorism emerging across the country”. There have been major shootouts involving the Taliban and the extremist Sipah-e-Sahiba, targeting Bareilvis across Pakistan.

Major attacks on Bareilvis by these groups have occurred in 2006, 2007 and 2010. It is not the army alone that supports armed, Wahhabi-oriented Jihadi groups. Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, with his Ahle Hadith orientation, has enjoyed the backing of the Sharif family from the days of Nawaz Sharif’s father, Mian Mohammed Sharif, who was also a patron of the fundamentalist Tablighi Jamat.

The then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, directed the Governor of Sind and the Federal Information Minister Mushahid Hussain Saeed in 1998, to call on Lashkar-e-taiba Chief Hafiz Saeed at his headquarters in Muridke.


The key role in the establishment of the Taliban, with its cadres drawn from Pakistani Madrassas, was played by Benazir Bhutto’s then Interior Minister Major General Nasrullah Babbar. The links of Imran Khan with the military establishment and Taliban-oriented groups are well documented.

The 2.4 million Ahmedis in Pakistan are the most persecuted group in the country. Despite their reverence for the Prophet of Islam and for the Quran, Ahmedis are forbidden from describing themselves as Muslims or “posing” as Muslims. They are banned from calling their places of worship as mosques.

In recent days, the minarets in their mosques have been demolished. They now find the graves of their kin desecrated, if the gravestones carry Quranic quotations and their Mosques attacked by zealots. As many as 95 Ahmedis recently perished in a Taliban suicide bomb attack, while praying in their mosque. In India, however, the Kerala High Court held in 1970 that Ahmedis had every right to describe themselves as Muslims.

According to Sind Police records, 25 Hindu girls are forcibly converted to Islam every month in Sind Province. There has even been a case of conversion to Islam of a young Hindu male, before a live television audience. Ironically, this persecution is perpetrated in Sind primarily by supporters of the avowedly secular Peoples’ Party.

The fate of Christians in Punjab is no better, especially when they are falsely accused of “blasphemy” (which carries a death penalty). Those who challenge the draconian blasphemy laws meet the fate of former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who was assassinated, or Sherry Rehman, now Ambassador to the US, who requires high security.

The CIA report, Global Trends 2015, noted even in January 2001: “Pakistan will not recover easily from decades of economic mismanagement, divisive politics and ethnic feuds. In a climate of continuing domestic turmoil, the Central Government’s control will probably be reduced to the Punjab heartland and the economic hub of Karachi.”

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan)

Published on October 10, 2012
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