In early July, Shi'ite scholars from across the country held a conference in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest commercial city. The conference dealt with the recent wave of violence against Shi'ite Muslims in the town of Parachinar, which is the administrative center of the federally administered tribal district of Kurram Agency, and in several other Pakistani towns.
Shi'ites form about 20% of Pakistan's Muslim population. Militant Sunni groups have been demanding for many years to be declared a "minority," a label already applied to the Ahmadis in Pakistan and in effect designates them as non-Muslims. The Shi'ite-Sunni conflict in Pakistan can be traced back to the 1980s, when, following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iran began financing Shi'ite groups in Pakistan, while Saudi Arabia began financing Sunni groups.
In Parachinar, Shi'ite Muslims form a substantial majority, since most Sunni families left the city in the wake of the recent clashes. The recent spate of violence, directed mainly against Shi'ites, began in April 2007, when a mosque was attacked, and was renewed in November 2007, when more than 130 people were killed in Parachinar and in nearby villages.
Clashes between Shi'ites and Sunnis in the area go back several decades, but recently the presence of the Taliban has become a factor in the conflict. A November 2007 editorial in the Lahore-based newspaper Daily Times noted that Shi'ite leaders were disappearing in the tribal districts, and that the Shi'ite community suspected the "Sunni Taliban forces" of having a hand in their disappearance.
Though past spates of violence against Shi'ites in Pakistan have lasted no longer than a few weeks, the current wave of violence has not abated since November 2007. Respected senator and Shi'ite leader Allama Abbas Kumeli noted in June that some 20 to 30 Shi'ite Muslims were being killed every day in Parachinar and its environs. Kumeli, who is president of the Shi'ite group Jafferia Alliance of Pakistan, said: "Leaving... the Shi'ites [of Parachinar] at the mercy of the Taliban is a conspiracy against the country. If the government, the army, and political and religious parties do not stop the Taliban, we will have a situation on our hands worse than [the one in] Afghanistan."
Shi'ite Scholars: No One Will Be Safe Unless the Taliban Is Stopped
The conference of Shi'ite scholars in Karachi was organized by the All Pakistan Shi'ite Action Committee. Among the Shi'ite leaders and scholars who attended were Syed Ali Hussain, son of Parachinar’s late Shi'ite scholar Shaheed Arif Hussain Husseini, who was close to Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini; Mirza Yousuf Hussain of the Shi'ite Action Committee; former senator Allama Syed Jawwad Hadi; Shafiq Bangash of the Imamia Students Federation; prominent scholar Allama Khurshid Jawwadi; and parliamentarian Haider Abbas Rizvi. Among the speakers were prominent cleric Allama Juma Asadi; Allama Ghulam Akbar Saqi; scholar Muhammad Ali Abidi; Allama Shah Alam Mousavi; Allama Aun Muhammad Naqvi; and Allama Alam Shah.
According to the Urdu-language daily Roznama Jang, the conference participants called on the Pakistani government to stop the Taliban in order to end the violence against Shi'ite Muslims in Parachinar and surrounding areas.
Syed Ali Hussain accused the local administration of Kurram Agency, which is governed through a federal representative (whose official title is Political Agent), of acting in a partisan manner against the Shi'ites. He said: "The government must stop supporting the Taliban, [so that] we can defend ourselves." Hussain also accused the Taliban of committing barbarous acts in Parachinar and in the nearby areas of Peshawar, Hangu, Darra Adam Khel, and Dera Ismail Khan.
"It Is the Shi'ite Muslims Who Have Stemmed the Taliban Tide [Threatening Pakistan]"
The Shi'ite leaders are also angry over the decision of the local authorities to close the Parachinar-Thal road in response to the riots. This road has been closed for the past 15 months, preventing aid from reaching people in need. With this road blocked, the Shi'ites of Parachinar are effectively blockaded by the Sunni tribes in the surrounding areas. Syed Ali Hussain asked the government to open the road so that the Shi'ite community of Pakistan could deliver aid to Parachinar, stressing that there is an urgent need for food and medicines. Hussain also warned that, if not stopped, the Taliban movement will spread far beyond Parachinar. He stated: "If the Taliban and their agents succeed in their objectives [against the Shi'ites in Parachinar], there will be no peace in Karachi either."
Parliamentarian Haider Abbas Rizvi of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a political party of immigrants from India that controls the municipality of Karachi, said that those who are stirring up terror in Parachinar will not be allowed to carry out terrorist acts in Karachi.
Former senator Allama Syed Jawwad Hadi said at conference that if the tribal district of Kurram Agency is not safe from the Taliban, no place in Pakistan will be safe, and added: "We, the Shi'ites and the Sunnis, are not in favor of war. We [Shi'ites] want to live with the Sunnis in peace. It is the Shi'ites who have stemmed the Taliban tide, and if this wall is breached, no one will be safe."
Hussain also said, "The [military] operation [against the Taliban] in the North West Frontier Province is a sham."
Shi'ite Scholars: Pakistani Intelligence, U.S. Are Part of an International Plot to Help the Taliban Kill Shi'ite Muslims
Most of the speakers at the conference blamed the conflict in Parachinar on an international conspiracy involving both the Pakistani intelligence agency and the U.S. Allama Syed Jawwad Hadi said: "Since 9/11, the U.S. has hatched conspiracies and has targeted the tribal districts of Pakistan... Some [Pakistani intelligence] agencies are being used to further American objectives [and] are supporting the [Taliban] terrorists… [The conflict in Parachinar] is not a Shi'ite-Sunni conflict. The Shi'ites and the Sunnis are [both] being used [as part of an international plot]." The former senator added that the common enemy of the Shi'ites and the Sunnis was the U.S., and said, "If the Taliban is the enemy of the U.S., then it should use its force against the U.S."
Shafiq Bangash of the Imamia Students Federation, an organization of Shi'ite youths, said that the conflict in Parachinar is not between Shi'ites and Sunnis but "between Islam and the infidels," and prominent scholar Allama Khurshid Jawwadi called on the people to "rise up against the forces that have arrived... [to further] the agenda of U.S. and Israel [i.e., the Taliban]."
* Tufail Ahmad is the director of MEMRI's Urdu-Pashtu Media Project.
 Roznama Jang, Pakistan, July 6, 2008.
 Daily Times, Pakistan, November 26, 2007.
 Daily Times, Pakistan, November 19, 2007.
 Daily Times, Pakistan, June 28, 2008.
 Roznama Jang, Pakistan, July 6, 2008.