America gets blamed for Pakistan’s sectarian ricochet

The United States must seek answers from its ally

Six Pakistani staff of KFC fast-food restaurant were burnt alive by a rioting sectarian mob in Karachi. Interestingly, the mob was protesting the suicide bombing of Shia places of worship in Karachi, and earlier in Islamabad. In the perverse calculations that drive Pakistan’s sectarian violence, the perpetrators of these acts of violence are the Sunni jihadi groups. The Jaish-e-Mohammed, supposedly closed down by Gen Musharraf two years ago, is believed to be responsible.

Yet the shapers of popular opinion have already laid the blame on America’s door. The connection, apparently, is Iraq — where Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani blamed American troops for the killing of Shia Muslims. This was all too convenient for Pakistan’s own fundamentalists. Gen Hamid Gul, that famous former ISI chief, told Iranian radio, that the clashes are a handiwork of the United States and Israel, who cannot ‘tolerate Muslim unity’. Another columnist blamed India.

The roots of institutionalised sectarian terrorism were laid by Gen Zia ul Haq’s military dictatorship in the 1980s. Sectarian violence is still a tool used by the Pakistani military establishment to assert control over Gilgit, a Shia-majority region and that part of the Jammu & Kashmir state that has been annexed by Pakistan. The Jaish-e-Mohammed is defunct only in theory. Despite its involvement in some of the worst acts of terrorism in Pakistan, Gen Musharraf’s regime continues to handle Masood Azhar with kid gloves. In reality, Gen Musharraf has no incentive to put an end to the sectarian terrorism. Blaming the United States works to his advantage, for it only bolsters claims of his own indispensability and his image as a bold but vulnerable standard bearer of (pro-American) enlightened moderation. Now that the United States has been dragged into the blame game, it would perhaps want to ask its ally why he has so spectacularly failed to act against his domestic terrorists.

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