Thursday morning’s brutal sectarian massacre of 22 passengers travelling through the Babusar Top area of Mansehra district was a bloody iteration of a chilling pattern of attacks against religious minorities, including members of Muslim minority sects. In the early hours of the morning, terrorists ambushed four buses, hauled off passengers, checked their national identity cards and summarily executed the Shias. A spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the killings. While there was legitimate outrage across the country over Thursday’s Kamra airbase attack and the subsequent loss of lives and damage to national assets, the slaughter of innocent civilians belonging to the Shia community was not met with quite the same amount of indignation. In fact, if the past is a benchmark, the 22 victims of Babusar Top will have died as insignificantly as they had lived, with no one held responsible or answerable for their deaths. In a state where the concept of national security does not yet incorporate the crucial element of human security, the symbols of state authority seem to matter more than the citizens whose protection and well-being constitutes the very raison d’être of the state. Thus, while the airbase attack unleashed a debate about the militants’ determination to target Pakistan’s most sensitive installations and raised questions about their safety, the more elemental questions were lost in the cacophony: are Pakistan’s citizens safe? Can Pakistan protect its minorities? Is any part of Pakistan free from the scourge of sectarian terror?
As things stand, this is the third attack this year that has specifically targeted Shias on buses. Meanwhile, Hazara Shias are routinely murdered in Balochistan, including the three more killed on Thursday, while sectarian violence has become a regular feature of life in Mansehra District, Kurram Agency, Dera Ismail Khan as well as south and central Punjab. The country’s financial hub of Karachi too has witnessed more than its fair share of sectarian attacks in recent days, with a blast near a bus carrying Shias to a rally on Friday killing at least one. The thick sectarian tide in the overall wave of militancy sweeping Pakistan can be explained by the fact that sectarian groups here have linked up ideologically with global jihadism. Overtly sectarian and jihadi elements are also increasingly seen occupying the same stage as mainstream religious parties. Meanwhile, those behind repeated acts of violence - such as the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi - are rarely caught or punished. Indeed, killing minorities in Pakistan seems to have become fair game while those responsible for securing citizens remain helpless, leaving minority communities to believe the security establishment is protecting the perpetrators. The mysterious escape of the local head of the LeJ, Usman Saifullah, and a key leader, Shafiq Rind, from a very well guarded Anti-Terrorist Force jail in Quetta Cantonment, is a case in point. A deadly pattern is emerging: terrorists are on a murderous rampage against Pakistan’s minority sects while the authorities have failed to prove themselves capable of taking them on. Virtually all terrorist outfits operating in Pakistan have donned the religious cloak. It is this criminal abuse of religion that the state must check against. And yet, the state is doing nothing to identify, capture, prosecute and punish those involved in sectarian terrorism. Thus, the scandal here is not just that Shia after Shia is being killed; it is that the state has become a silent onlooker in the massacre. Flaccid behaviour is too often empowering for a cunning enemy. Today, this logic is creating a dangerous moment in Pakistan where those on a killing spree are asserting themselves for little reason beyond the conviction that they can, while those who can stop them do nothing. In Pakistan, the triumph of evil may have become more and more possible under a silent, impotent state emasculated by religious extremists.