Pakistan…Faking Iraq-like Sectarian Tension
ISLAMABAD — Already reeling under suicide bombing, Pakistan is seeing a surge in attacks targeting mosques and religious congregations, in what analysts describe as part of a scheme to trigger Shiite-Sunni clashes and distract growing public anger over US drone attacks in the tribal belt.
“It seems to me a calculated conspiracy to trigger sectarian violence in the country in line with Iraq so that the public attention could be diverted from real issues,” Abdul Khalique Ali, a Karachi-based senior political analyst, told IslamOnline.net.
Some 26 people were killed and several injured when a man blew himself up outside a Shiite mosque in northeastern city of Chakwal, some 150 kilometers from Islamabad on Monday, April 6.
This came shortly after more than 70 people were killed in bombing of a Sunni mosque in Khyber agency, a key supply route for US troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
“The timing of attacks suggests to me that there was something wrong in the wind,” said Ali.
“This all is happening at a time when (US Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan) Richard Halbrooke and the US military leadership are in Pakistan and have made it clear that there would be no respite in drone attacks despite a growing criticism among Pakistanis.”
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Holbrooke held two days of talks with Pakistani leaders in the first such top-level visit since President Barack Obama put Pakistan at the heart of his new strategy to defeat Al-Qaeda.
“We believe that… the US and Pakistan face a common strategic threat, a common enemy and a common challenge and therefore a common task,” Holbrooke told a news conference in Islamabad Tuesday.
Halbrooke reportedly informed the Pakistani leadership that there will be an increase in drone attacks in the near future.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi warned the attacks, which killed over 360 people since August 2008, fuel extremism and deepen public resentment.
“There’s a gap. There’s a gap between us and them,” he told the news conference with Halbrooke.
“My view is that they are working to the advantage of the extremists.”
Many experts believe the recent sectarian attacks were only a smokescreen.
“I believe that bombings of mosques and religious congregations of rival sects are aimed at diverting the public attention from increasing drone attacks in line with new Afghan-Pakistan policy of the US,” says Ali.
Ansar Abbasi, an Islamabad-based political analyst, agrees that sectarian violence, uncertainty and chaos serve America’s interests in Pakistan.
“I don’t know whether America is involved in fomenting sectarian tension in Pakistan in line with Iraq but what I know is that it serves its purpose here,” he told IOL.
Abbasi says the government is aware of the involvement of different international spy agencies in Pakistan’s northern tribal belt, but keeps mum about that in public.
“We have been informed by security officials in different briefings about the involvement of MI-6, RAW, Mossad, CIA and other intelligence agencies in the tribal belt,” he claimed, naming the spy agencies of the UK, India, Israel and the US.
“But why it [government] doesn’t say this loudly, that I don’t understand.”
The expert maintains that foreign spy agencies are using different extremist elements for their own interests.
“According to my understanding, sectarian elements have been mixed up with Taliban, taking advantage of this chaos-like situation and are accomplishing their own agenda at the behest of anti-Pakistan forces.”
Abbasi says foreign intelligence agencies are exploiting the government’s policies in the tribal areas.
“This can easily be exploited in the name of revenge and sectarian differences. These sectarian groups need to be singled out and scholars have to play a role in this connection.”
Analysts believe that despite attacks on mosques and religious congregations, a large-scale Shiite-Sunni violence remains unlikely.
“I don’t think that there are any chances of clashes between common Sunnis and Shiites in Pakistan in the wake of such bombings, because there is a general realization that there is a common enemy behind these attacks,” maintains Abbasi.
Syed Shabbar Raza, a prominent Shiite leader and secretary general of the Jafria Alliance Pakistan, regrets that local extremists are serving America’s agenda of creating chaos and uncertainty in Pakistan.
“These groups need to be dealt with, with iron hands. They are killing Muslims just because they do not agree with their ideology or brand of Islam,” he told IOL.
But the Shiite leader does not expect the bombings to trigger sectarian clashes in the Asian Muslim country.
“Both Shiite and Sunnis totally understand the motive behind these gruesome incidents. This is our common enemy which wants us to fight each other, but we won’t,” he believes.
“I don’t see any possibility of street fighting between Sunnis and Shiites in the wake of these incidents. I want to tell those who are involved in these heinous acts that their conspiracy will completely be foiled.”
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