They’re targeted because they are ethnic Hazaras. No, they’re killed because they’re Shi’ites. No, Hazaras.

No, Shi’ites. This is an actual debate going on between those who wish to whitewash the sectarian hatred long brewing in Pakistan, and those who are cognizant of anti-Shi’ite hatred pervading among militant Sunni terrorist groups.

Intolerant ideologies like Wahhabism and Deobandism flourish in Pakistan, and Sunni extremists do not hesitate to manifest their hatred and blood lust for the Shi’ite minority.

In recent months massacres of Shi’ites have taken place with horrendous death tolls including children and women.

The maimed and injured are countless.

Activists are calling this the “Shia Genocide,” and repeatedly the Pakistani government has failed to prevent bombings and attacks against them. Moreover, the government is coming under intense pressure to proactively protect the country’s Shi’ites, and bring terrorists to justice.

Fingers immediately point to Lashkare Janghvi (LeJ), an outlawed Sunni-militant organization that usually claims responsibility after each massacre in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The New York Times (January 2012) mentions former US secretary of state Colin Powell as designating LeJ a terrorist organization, and said “the group’s involvement in the kidnapping and killing of Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal correspondent, in 2002 ‘has been confirmed.’” In recent years, LeJ has allied itself with the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida.

On February 19, the Asian Human Rights Commission stated: “This recent blast on February 17 is the second one.

The first one took place on January 10, and killed 90 persons. Then in the short space of just one month and seven days, another blast occurred which cost the lives of 107 persons. In both incidents more than 500 persons were injured.

The second bombing took place despite the presence of the army and one of its units, the Frontier Corp (FC) which was assisted by more than three intelligence agencies working under the military command.”

The Commission’s report emphasized the Pakistani government’s heavy investments in recent years in intelligence agencies, both civilian and military.

Yet, suicide attacks and other kinds of violence occur on nearly a daily basis. The armed forces in particular are secretive and keep civilians at a distance when it comes to “national security affairs,” which include terrorism.

The Commission’s report contends that the Pakistani military “treat the terrorists as friends-in-arms, hoping for their assistance in the event of trouble after the withdrawal of the allied forces from Afghanistan. It is evident that retired army officers are providing training to the terrorists.”

NOW, WITH the steady rise in ruthless attacks targeting Shi’ites, the media and government are compelled to address the issue. There is even mention of hard-line Saudi Sunni influence in Pakistan’s ideological and national security matrix, often fueling the anti-Shi’ite sentiments.

Saudi ideological inspiration, institutional support through building madrassas, and financial support to various militant groups dates back to the General Zia ul-Haq era, around the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979), when he implemented an ultraorthodox Islamization of Pakistan.

LeJ operates openly in Pakistan, running hundreds of mosques, promoting its venomous anti-Shi’ite ideology, referring to them as infidels and authorizing them to be fair game as targets. Operating in Punjab province, LeJ officials solicit funds unhindered, and according to the Commission’s report, “the law minister of the Punjab government is notorious for providing protection to the militants of banned organizations and these groups support him in the elections.”

Until recently, LeJ’s leader Malik Ishaq, roamed freely in Pakistan, despite boasting about killing Shi’ites, and he visited Saudi Arabia often, “where he gets VIP treatment and [is] given huge rewards for his ‘the service to Islam.’” Following the last two recent attacks, Pakistani Shi’ites staged protests demanding government action, while refusing to bury their dead. The February 17 remote-controlled bombing in a busy Quetta market caused nearly 90 deaths and 200 injuries.

While many Pakistanis are sympathetic to Shi’ite victimization, still many others wallow in denial. The utility of denial and argumentative attitudes is beyond comprehension. The polemics of ethnic Hazara identity versus sectarian Shi’ite identity are also ludicrous.

What’s the point? Innocent children, women, and men are dead and maimed.

The Pakistani government showers the Shi’ites with many promises, but with each new bombing, the promises ring hollow.

The writer, a PhD, is an associate professor in the National Security Affairs Department at the US Naval War College. The views expressed are her own.

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