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Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 10:13 GMT 11:13 UK
Analysis: Pakistan's religious rift

A seemingly endless cycle of violence
By South Asia analyst Alastair Lawson

The attack by gunmen on a prayer meeting in Pakistan is one of the first serious outbreaks of sectarian violence since the military government of General Pervez Musharraf came to power in October.

It is not yet clear who carried out the attack.

But similar attacks over the last few years have been blamed on the hatred that exists between hardline Sunni and Shia groups.

Pakistan has never been able to fulfil the dream of its founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, of a country in complete religious harmony.

He stressed that Pakistan should be secular and tolerant of religious differences.


General Zia encouraged Islamic militancy
Over the last five decades Mr Jinnah's dream has been consigned to history.

The outbreak of sectarian violence dates back to the end of the 1970s.

At that time the country's military ruler, General Zia-ul-Haq, wanted to make Pakistan - which is overwhelmingly populated by Sunni Muslims - into a more conservative Islamic country.

Islamic groups

General Zia actively encouraged Islamic militancy, with the backing of the West, to fight a holy war in Afghanistan against communism.

Pakistan became home to a number of predominantly Sunni groups that were funded, armed, and trained by his regime.


Police on guard after a recent attack
At the same time, the climate created by the Iranian revolution encouraged the backing by Iran of a small number of Shia groups in Pakistan.

Before long, hardliners on both sides acquired arms which have always been easily available and plentiful.

Two rival militant groups emerged - the Shia Tehreek-i-Jaffria, and the Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba.

A seemingly endless cycle of tit-for tat violence began.

Attacks

Both Sunni and Shia mosques have over the last ten years been attacked by gunmen, and the victims are invariably innocent by-standers or worshippers.

When General Musharraf came to power, much of this violence abated.

But now his government must act quickly to stop possible retaliation attacks.

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07 Apr 00 | South Asia
Pakistan Shia leader shot dead
01 Oct 99 | South Asia
Massacre at Karachi mosque
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