Hassan Abbas: Sectarian Violence in Pakistan Result of 'Bigotry, Ignorance'

Pakistani Shiite Muslims carry a coffin during the funeral procession of bomb blast victims in Karachi on March 4, 2013. (Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images)

The bomb blast that killed at least 45 people in Karachi, Pakistan on Sunday was a result of "religious bigotry, ignorance, ethnic tensions and regional tensions" that have led to a rise in ethnic and sectarian violence in the country, according to Asia Society Senior Advisor Hassan Abbas in a recent interview with World Politics Review.

The explosion, which occurred outside a Shiite mosque, is suspected to have been committed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group that has claimed responsibility for several other recent attacks against Shiites. "Many religious institutions with political agendas are teaching lessons of hatred while sectarian tensions in [the] Middle East are also having an impact," said Abbas via email. "In both Quetta and Karachi, where recent terrorist attacks happened, ethnic rivalries were also at play."

Describing the context of the recent wave of anti-Shiite violence, Abbas stated that although "Shiites are very well represented in Pakistani politics, military and media," the situation for them deteriorated in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, when "religious radicals from around the world moved to the region and influenced religious discourse in problematic ways." This led to the rise of anti-Shiite groups in 1990, which were met in turn by a wave of Shiite militant groups, according to the article. The most recent wave of violence is the result of a new anti-Shiite campaign caused by "Pakistan's involvement in the ill-defined and poorly waged 'war on terror,'" according to Abbas.

Abbas argues that "only a national effort for reconciliation can usher in peace." However, he believes that the government of Pakistan has been slow in recognizing sectarianism as "the core of the security challenges" faced by the country. In order to respond to the crisis, the state needs "more investment in civilian law enforcement infrastructure and the criminal justice system," but "there is a history of mismanagement on the part of Pakistan's security establishment when it comes to dealing with militancy inside the country."

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Liz Flora is a contributor to Asia Blog. She has a master's degree in East Asian Languages and Cultures from Columbia University.