By Zia Ur Rehman
January 4, 2016
The Shia groups in Karachi organised peaceful protest rallies on Sunday against the execution of prominent Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr by the Saudi authorities.
However, law enforcement officials fear the conflict in the Middle East can an outbreak of sectarian violence in the country, especially in Karachi.
They are concerned that militants affiliated with sectarian outfits might target Saudi and Iranian installations in the city.
The Majlis-e-Wahdat Muslimeen (MWM), a key Shia political party, organised protest demonstrations and rallies on Sunday in the different Shia-populated neighbourhoods, of the city including Malir, Incholi, Abbas Town, Shah Faisal Colony, Rizvia Society and Gulistan-e-Jauhar to condemn al-Nimr’s execution.
Holding placards and banners and shouting slogans, the protesters at Numaish Chorangi described the execution as a “brutal” act carried out by Saudi rulers.
On the other hand, Deobandi and Ahle Hadith groups are planning to organise rallies in the city to express their support for the Saudi rulers.
However, their leaders have not announced the dates for their rallies.
Pro- and anti-Saudi rallies
This is not for the first time that rallies in favour of and opposing the Saudi and Iranian governments are being staged in Karachi.
The deployment of Saudi troops in Bahrain in 2011 and the turmoil in Yemen in 2015 had angered Pakistan’s Shia community and caused protests, mainly in Karachi.
Responding to Shia groups’ protests, the Deobandi and Ahle Hadith groups had organised pro-Saudi rallies in the city.
“The day Shia groups organise rallies against the Saudi rulers, the next day Deobandi and Ahle Hadith groups stage pro-Saudi and anti-Iran rallies,” said a journalist who has covered these protests in the past.
Security analysts and police officials fear that the current turmoil in Yemen will exacerbate the existing sectarian strife in the country, particularly in Karachi.
They also fear that militants of banned outfits belonging to both sects could target Saudi and Iranian interests, especially its diplomatic staff in the city.
When Saudi Arabia had deployed troops in Bahrain in 2011, an employee of its consulate in Karachi, Hassan al-Qahtani, was gunned down on May 16 that year. A few days before that, the consulate was attacked with grenades. Following the attacks, the Saudi government had recalled its essential duty staff and the families of diplomats stationed at its Karachi office for a while.
On December 30, a Karachi court had sentenced Zaki Kazmi , a militant belonging to the Mehdi Force, a little-known Shia militant group, to 14 years in prison for hurling a grenade on the Saudi consulate.
According to the prosecution, Kazmi, along with his accomplice Tabish Hussain alias Asif Mamu, had lobbed grenades at the consulate.
In November, police had killed Hussain in a shootout in Gulistan-e-Jauhar.
On Sunday, the security of Saudi and Iranian consulates in Karachi was beefed up.
“After the execution of Sheikh al-Nimr and the torching of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, the authorities have decided to increase for the consulates,” said a senior police official in the South Zone.
Karachi is among the four hotspots for sectarian violence in the country and the current situation in the Middle East is likely to increase sectarian killings in the city, security experts believe.
Muhammad Amir Rana, the director of the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), said sectarian groups had been weakened because of the ongoing crackdown on them. However, he said, protest rallies by sect-based religious parties against or in favour of Saudi rulers could become violent and worsen the situation.
Apart from the killing of top leaders of violent sectarian groups at the hand of law enforcement agencies since the announcement of the National Action Plan, the ongoing Rangers’ operation too has weakened Sunni and Shia groups in Karachi, it was observed in a recent PIPS’ Conflict and Peace Studies journal.
Police officials have similar views. “Karachi is a key battleground for a decades-long proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia,” said a police officer conducting an operation against sectarian outfits in the city. “Their recent war will obviously affect the security situation in the city,” he added.