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Friday, October 7, 2011

Lawless Pakistan

REVIEW & OUTLOOK ASIAOCTOBER 7, 2011

Sunni radicals are attacking Shiites, and could provoke a civil war.

Sunni extremists stopped a bus full of Shiites belonging to the Hazara ethnic group who were headed to work in southwestern Pakistan Tuesday. The gunmen forced everybody off the bus, stood them in a line and sprayed them with bullets, killing 13. This was the second attack in just a month against the Hazaras, the last claiming the lives of 26 pilgrims.

More than 2,200 Pakistani civilians have died so far this year in terrorist attacks. It is especially deadly for journalists, who are subject to threats and intimidation. Small minority groups like Christians and Ahmadis, a heterodox Muslim sect, find themselves routinely under attack.

The brazen strikes against the Hazara follow on the heels of the bombing of a Shiite mosque and a suicide attack on a Shiite procession in recent months. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni sectarian group allied with the Taliban, is thought to be involved in some of them.

Though the rivalry between Sunni and Shiites rests on a centuries-old theological debate within Islam, the Sunni majority has historically lived in peace with Pakistan's 30 million Shiites. As columnist Sadanand Dhume wrote on these pages last month, some of the country's most prominent leaders since 1947 have hailed from Shiite communities. Yet Sunni fundamentalists who find Shiite practices and observances heretical have these communities suddenly scared.

Pakistan's Sunni radicals are the real minority in Pakistan. But they have managed to terrorize the rest of the country because of the culture of lawlessness and impunity. Police promised a crackdown on Sunni militants Wednesday. But with the writ of the state eroding, Pakistanis are skeptical. This week, the judge who passed a death sentence on the assassin of liberal politician Salman Taseer went on an indefinite leave. He reportedly received death threats.

Unless Pakistan's government takes stronger steps to protect its Shiite citizens, they'll have little choice but to try to defend themselves. Pakistan's existing insurgency could descend into a civil war.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

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