Dangerous game

Dangerous game

The conflict in Afghanistan has acquired a complicating new dimension with the outbreak of sectarian violence. At least 63 Shias have been killed in a string of near simultaneous attacks in Kabul, Kandahar and Mazhar-e-Sharif on Tuesday. The attacks were timed to coincide with Moharram, one of the holiest days in the Shia calendar, a day when tens of thousands of worshippers had come together in mosques and public places. Shias are mainly Hazaras and Tajiks.

During Taliban rule, they were mercilessly targeted. That changed post-2001. In the decade since, Shias have enjoyed considerable space and have been able to practice their faith freely and in public. Tuesday’s attack will have shattered the confidence of the community again. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Pakistani sectarian terror group that has killed hundreds of Shias in Pakistan has taken responsibility for the attacks in Afghanistan. Some have interpreted the outbreak of sectarian violence in Afghanistan as a spillover of sectarian hatred in Pakistan. On the face of it, internal bloodletting is tearing Afghanistan apart. But from all available evidence, it is part of a strategy crafted in Pakistan to turn Shias against Sunnis and Afghans against Afghans.

This is Pakistan’s way of announcing to the world that no peace will be possible in Afghanistan unless Islamabad wants it and more specifically unless the ISI wills it. Only a day earlier, Pakistan signalled its capacity to render irrelevant international efforts at negotiating peace in Afghanistan. The Bonn Conference to discuss Afghanistan was a non-starter with neither the Taliban nor Pakistan showing up. With the key players absent, the meet was an exercise in futility.

Afghanistan is already riven with rivalries along tribal and ethnic lines. It is in danger of a new front along sectarian lines opening up. Angry Shias will be looking for revenge. They will form militias to avenge the death of their people. This is how sectarian violence took birth in Pakistan. Afghan Shias must avoid going down that perilous path. An eye-for-an-eye approach will find them caught in a cycle of spiralling violence. Afghans across the sectarian divide must close ranks; else the country is in danger of going the Pakistan way. There is a danger of Iran fuelling Shia extremism. Afghans must stay clear of that incitement too. 

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