“Yes, we must finish them off.” This was the response when someone from one of the Gulf Arab countries (to remain nameless) was asked about going after (i.e., killing) Shias following Bashar al-Assad’s fall in Syria. I have predicted a Shia massacre, I even called it a genocide, in a post-Assad Syria. This quote only confirms my fears and suspicions.
Twenty-four hours after I heard this quote the vicious killings of mainly Hazara Shias in Pakistan took place in Quetta. Ongoing violence in Iraq continues to target Shias there, and the Sunni-Shia hatred and violence in Syria has already spilled over into Lebanon, where they tortured and slaughtered each other with relish during the civil war (1975-1990).
Ironically, it is the majority Sunnis in the Middle East, especially in the Persian Gulf region, and parts of South Asia who sing the victim songs about how Iran is trying to “spread its ideology” and subjugate them all. There is no denying that upon Ayatollah Khomeini coming to power in the 1979 revolution, one of his expressed priorities was to spread the Islamic revolution throughout the region. However, given the fact that the vast majority of the regional demographics consists of Sunnis – with exceptions in Iraq and Bahrain – the fear of the successful spread of Twelver Shia ideology is unsubstantiated and grossly overblown. And the regional actors know this. Yet, they continue to fan the flames of sectarian hatred and fear. I have come across numerous Sunnis from the Gulf region who don’t hesitate to judge Shias as “non-believers,” or “non-Muslims.” Surely they have their counterparts among Shias, but Shias are greatly outnumbered, and in fact in Sunni majority countries they face increasing discrimination, prejudice, and even violence, not unlike many Christians in the Middle East and Hindus, Bahais, Ahmadis, and a host of other minority groups in Pakistan. We must add girls and women too, but gender violence is a whole other can of worms. I predict that persistent gender violence will trigger the true downfall of these regions, if they don’t get their acts together to protect girls and women. But, that topic is for another article.
As much as we can try to attribute the recent attacks in Pakistan to what’s to come with US troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, the fact is that systematic targeting of Shias has been going on for a long time now. Many refer to it as the “Shia Genocide,” and there is basis for this term. Just look at the number of deaths and injuries, and frequency of attacks, which have been rising steadily in recent years. The Pakistani government is unable (and unwilling?) to enforce law and order in general, let alone pertaining to sectarian massacres. It seems not only helpless, but also oblivious in many ways, and that will be to Pakistan’s detriment, as if matters can get any worse. And, with Pakistan, it’s not just the internal violence that is sucking the country into its own self-constructed black hole, but it seems the military is itching for a fight with India again with the border skirmishes in Kashmir’s LOC. There is a real potential in the coming months and maybe year or so for the Pakistani military to step in completely and carry out yet another coup, especially now that the US will be less active in the region. If things get even uglier with the Indo-Pak skirmishes, the Pakistani military just might see that as an opportunity to make its move on the Zardari government. Let’s see what happens. My predictions are not always right, but who knows what’s around the corner for the Af-Pak region?
The outlook for these regions is grim, especially given that law enforcement cannot provide basic security for the general public. Plus, rule of law practically does not exist, and if it does, it’s usually in favor of the wealthy and powerful elite. Meanwhile, the bloodshed continues with impunity.
While I in no way support the brutal Iranian regime (which also viciously represses its own minority groups), as a political scientist, I can assess that, with all these targeted Shia killings proliferating in the Middle East and Pakistan, and the inevitable fall of Bashar al-Assad in Syria (Iran’s only strong ally in the region), the clerics in Tehran can only see more reason to weaponize their nuclear program. Ominously, that will result in a domino effect with the rest of the region acquiring the same nuclear status. That is for certain. Then, we will witness the Sunni-Shia rivalry armed with nuclear weapons. That is one very scary thought. But, since the regional governments do nothing to prevent the sectarian bloodshed now, that is the outlook we can expect in the future.
The governments in these regions need to wake up to these dark realities. They are so preoccupied with their own prejudices and self-interests, but this is truly at the expense of the masses. Nothing can be gained from all the violence at the hands of militants, regardless of their sectarian identities and ideological orientations.
The other open secret that everyone sees, but has not received due attention, is that most of the militants in these regions are hard-core Sunni extremists. With all the fear mongering about Iran spreading its ideology, the majority of violent acts being carried out from North Africa, in the Middle East proper, and in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Kashmir are at the hands of Sunni militants, primarily espousing some form of Salafism, and many of whom, if not most, are supported financially by the Saudis. When we peel back the layers of political, military/security, financial, and other variables in this scenario, we see that at the core of it all is the Sunni-Shia rivalry (i.e., Saudi versus Iran). These militants have many other motivations and agendas as well, but one of the main priorities they embrace is to “cleanse” their societies of Shias and other minority groups. The Taliban committed horrendous Shia massacres during their rule in Afghanistan. This is nothing new. The only thing that is new and alarming is the militant Sunni juggernaut sweeping across these regions unchallenged.
NOTE: Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views