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Sectarian violence in Pakistan spark up occasionally between the predominant Sunnis and minority Shias.[1] According to Library of Congress, Pew Research Center, Oxford University, the CIA Factbook and other experts, Shi'a Islam in Pakistan make up 5-20%[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] of the total Muslim population, while the remaining 75-95%[1][2][3] is Sunni Islam.

In the last two decades, as many as 4,000 people are estimated to have died in sectarian fighting in Pakistan, with 300 in 2006 alone.[8] Among those blamed for the sectarian violence in the country are mainly Sunni militants such as Sipah-e-Sahaba and members of al Qaeda who are supported by the Arab World[9] and Iranian-backed[9] Shia militant groups such as Tehrik-e-Jafria and others.[10] However, predominant Sunni terrorist groups are often blamed for frequent attacks on minority Shiites and their religious gatherings resulting in reprisal attacks by them.[11][12]


Although Shias are a minority in the country, Pakistan holds the second largest Shia community after Iran in terms of numbers. The total Shia population in Pakistan is approximately 17 million[2] to as high as 30 million according to Vali Nasr.[13] Globally, Shia Islam is represented by 10-20%[2][3][14][7][15] of the total Muslims, while the remaining 90% or nine-tenths practice Sunni Islam.[16]

Some see a precursor of Pakistani Shia-Sunni strife in the April 1979 execution of deposed President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on questionable charges by Islamic fundamentalist General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. According to Vali Nasr, Ali Bhutto was Shia and Zia ul-Haq a Sunni.[17]

Zia ul-Haq

The "Islamization of General Zia ul-Haq" that followed was resisted by Shia who saw it as "Sunnification" as the laws and regulations were based on Sunni Fiqh, or Jurisprudence. In July 1980, 25,000 Shia protested the Islamization laws in the capital Islamabad. Further exacerbating the situation was the dislike between Shia leader Khomeini and General ul-Haq.[18]

In the early years of sectarian conflict, extremist Sunnis clashed with Ahmadis, until they were declared non-Muslims in 1974 by judges on Pakistan's supreme court. Under continuing rule of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, sectarianism in Pakistan, especially in Karachi and South Punjab, became quite violent as the process of Islamization began in the Pakistani judicial system.

Social laws, which had been tolerant of the open-sale of alcohol, intermingling of the sexes, etc. were severely curtailed by Zia's laws, although hardliners in both the Shia and Sunni camps were largely in favor of his restrictions. The process eventually came upon issues in which Sunni and Shia viewpoints differed. In such instances Zia favored the Sunni interpretation of Islam over the Shia one, causing a rift between the two communities.

Iranian and Arab states funding

Exacerbating tensions is Iranian funding of Shia extremists and Arab states especially Saudi Arabia and GCC states funding radical extremist Sunnis in Pakistan, resulting in tit for tat attacks on each other.[9]

Shias formed student associations and a Shia party with the fundings from Shia Iran[citation needed]. Radical Shia militant groups such as Tehrik-e-Jafria and others are believed to be closely associated with Iran's Shia regime.

The following year, a prominent Shia leader, Arif Hussaini, was murdered in Peshawar. He had spent time in Iran and was believed to have been closely associated with Iran's Islamic regime.[9]
The Shiite Iranian revolution had drawn Pakistani Shias into politics in a big way. Leaders of Teherik-i-Jafariya Pakistan (TJP) an organisation of Pakistani Shias formed in 1979 had received training in Iran.[19]

Some Sunnis began to form groups recruited from anti-Shia Pakistanis. Muhammad Manzour Numani, a senior Indian cleric with close ties to Saudi Arabia published a book entitled Iranian Revolution: Imam Khomeini and Shiism. The book, which "became the gospel of Deobandi militants" in the 1980s, attacked Ruhollah Khomeini and argued the excesses of the Islamic revolution were proof that Shiism was not the doctrine of misguided brothers, but beyond the Islamic pale.[20]

Pakistan is the only Sunni majority country where Shias have been elected to top offices and played an important part in the country's history and nation building. Although disputes exist over this, some believe that the founder of Pakistan Muhammed Ali Jinnah and Muhammad Ali Bogra were Shia Muslims. So are the Bhuttos, Asif Ali Zardari, Syeda Abida Hussain, Faisal Saleh Hayat, Fahmida Mirza, Zulfiqar Mirza and several other top ranking Pakistani Politicians and Generals such as Musa Khan, Yahya Khan, Mushaf Ali Mir and Iskander Mirza.



An example of an early Shia-Sunni fitna shootout occurred in Kurram Agency of northwestern Pakistan, where the Bangash Pashtun tribe was split between Sunnis and Shias. In September 1996 more than 200 people were killed when a gun battle between teenage Shia and Sunni escalated into a communal war that lasted five days. Woman and children were kidnapped and gunmen even executed out-of-towners who were staying at a local hotel.[21]


The violence worsened immediately after September 11 and the expulsion of the Taliban from Afghanistan.[22] In 2002, 12 Shia Hazara olice cadets were gun downed in Quetta. In 2003, the main Shia Friday Mosque was attacked in Quetta, killing 53 worshippers. March 2, 2004, at least 42 persons were killed and more than 100 wounded when a procession of the Shia Muslims was attacked by rival Sunni extremists at Liaquat Bazaar in Quetta.[23] Separately, on October 7, 2004, a car bomb killed 40 members of an extremist Sunni organization in Multan. 300 people died during 2006.[8]

However, since September 11, there has been an overall decline in violence, as Saudi sources are more reluctant to fund Sunni extremists in the wake of increased scrutiny of Saudi ties to hardline extremists.

On December 28, 2009, as many as 40 Shias were killed in an apparent suicide bombing in Karachi. The bomber attacked a Shia procession which was held to mark Ashoura.[24] Since June 2010 in Karachi, Sipah-e-Sahaba is involved in the target killing of seven innocent bystanders and intellectuals; in particularly all were from the Twelver Shia Muslim community. Sectarian riots as well as target killing of doctors in the provincial capital have been sending alarm bells to the present democratic system. Karachi had witnessed similar sectarian tension in the early 1980s when then President Zia-ul-Haq was in power. The military regime of those years had been backing certain groups to strengthen its rule and Karachi underwent worst situation after the sectarian riots. The Shia-Sunni clashes had started from the same section of the city (i.e. Godra Colony in New Karachi) after a small incident, and subsequently the clashes gripped the entire city, that hasn't stopped yet and continues.

In early September 2010, three separate attacks were reported in different parts of Pakistan. The first one took place on September 1 in Lahore where at least 35 Shias were killed and 160 unknown people injured during a procession. The second one was reported to have taken place in Mardan on Ahmadiyyas in which at least one person was killed. The third attack also occurred on September 3 but in the city of Quetta which killed around 56 people during another procession calling for solidarity with Palestinians.[25]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Country Profile: Pakistan". Library of Congress Country Studies on Pakistan. Library of Congress. February 2005. Retrieved 2010-09-01. "Religion: The overwhelming majority of the population (96.3 percent) is Muslim, of whom approximately 95 percent are Sunni and 5 percent Shia."
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population". Pew Research Center. October 7, 2009. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Tracy Miller, ed. (2009) (PDF). Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Muslim Population. Pew Research Center. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
  4. "Pakistan, Islam in". Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2010-08-29. "Approximately 97 percent of Pakistanis are Muslim. The majority are Sunnis following the Hanafi school of Islamic law. Between 10 and 15 percent are Shiis, mostly Twelvers."
  5. "Religions: Muslim 95% (Sunni 75%, Shia 20%), other (includes Christian and Hindu) 5%". Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook on Pakistan. 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  6. "Pakistan - International Religious Freedom Report 2008". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2010-08-28. "The majority of Muslims in the country are Sunni, with a Shi'a minority ranging between 10 to 20 percent."
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Pilgrimage to Karbala - Sunni and Shia: The Worlds of Islam". PBS. March 26, 2007. Retrieved 2010-09-01.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Shiite-Sunni conflict rises in Pakistan". David Montero. February 2, 2007. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Hussain, Zahid (2008). Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle With Militant Islam. Columbia University Press. p. 93. ISBN 0231142250, 9780231142250. Retrieved 2010-09-18.
  10. "Pakistan's militant Islamic groups". BBC News. January 13, 2002. Retrieved 2010-08-28. "Sipah-e-Sahaba or the Army of Prophet Mohammad's companions is a radical group from the majority Sunni sect of Islam. Tehrik-e-Jafria or the Movement of Followers of Shia Sect was founded in 1979."
  11. "Pakistan's militant Islamic groups". BBC News. 13 January 2002.
  13. "The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future". Vali Nasr, Joanne J. Myers. October 18, 2006. Archived from the original on 2006-10-26. Retrieved 2010-08-24. "Iran always had been a Shia country, the largest one, with about 60 million population. Pakistan is the second-largest Shia country in the world, with about 30 million population."
  14. "Shīʿite". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-25. "Shīʿites have come to account for roughly one-tenth of the Muslim population worldwide."
  15. "Religions". CIA. The World Factbook. 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-29. "Shia Islam represents 10-20% of Muslims worldwide..."
  16. "Sunnite". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-24. "They numbered about 900 million in the late 20th century and constituted nine-tenths of all the adherents of Islām."
  17. Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, (2006), p.89
  18. Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, (2006), p.161-2
  19. Tikekar, Maneesha (2004). Across the Wagah: an Indian's sojourn in Pakistan. Bibliophile South Asia. p. 221. ISBN 8185002347, 9788185002347. Retrieved 2010-09-18.
  20. Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, (2006), p.164
  21. Kaplan, Robert, Soldiers of God : With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan, New York : Vintage Departures, 2001, p.242
  22. "Pakistan's Shia-Sunni divide". BBC News. June 1, 2004. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  23. "Carnage in Pakistan Shia attack". BBC News. March 2, 2004. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  24. "Karachi in grip of grief and anger as blast toll rises to 43". S. Raza Hassan. Dawn News. December 30, 2009. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  25. Police say attacks on Pakistani minorities kill 44
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