The-News-International-Logo1By Zia Ur Rehman

March 29, 2015

Although Pakistan is still mulling as to whether or not it should participate in a Saudi-led military operation against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, security experts fear that the recent conflict in the Middle East might cause an outbreak of sectarian violence in the country, especially in Karachi.

The polarisation among religious parties in Karachi is clearly visible. Shia groups are staging protests against Saudi Arabia. The Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith groups are planning to organise massive rallies in support of the Saudis and against Iran.

On March 27, two separate protest demonstrations were organised by the Shia groups, Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen and the Shia Ulema Council, in Karadhar and Nazimabad respectively.

Holding placards and banners and shouting slogans, the protesters denounced Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the Saudi rulers, the US and Israel.

“Arab monarchies have been witnessing their defeat in the popular public uprising in the Middle East and that is why the Saudi rulers are carrying out these terrorist acts in Yemen,” said Maulana Ali Anwar, an MWM leader in Karachi.

The Deobandi and Alh-e-Hadith groups have not organised rallies in Karachi so far, but the Jamaat-ud-Dawa organised two demonstrations in support of the Saudi rulers in Islamabad and Lahore on March 27.

The group has also been working on convening an all-parties conference on the issue.

Similarly, the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat has also announced its support for the Saudi attacks on Yemen. Allama Aurangzeb Farooqi, the central head of the ASWJ, said Pakistan’s decision to support the Saudis in their war in Yemen was appreciable.

“To defend the Harmain Sharifain is the duty of every Muslim country and individual,” he added.

“Iran’s Shia regime wants to capture the Harmain Sharifain and pave the way for a Khomeini revolution in the world. But the Muslim community wouldn’t allow it,”

The News has learnt that Deobandi parties are also planning to stage joint rallies across the country, including Karachi, in support of the Saudis.

Impact in Karachi

Security analysts and police officials fear that the current turmoil in Yemen will exacerbate the existing sectarian strife in the country, particularly in Karachi.

Muhammad Amir Rana, the director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, believes that Karachi is among the four hotspots for sectarian violence in the country and current situation in Yemen is likely to increase sectarian killings in the city.

He fears that al Qaeda and the Islamic State might exploit the situation.

The PIPS’ annual security report discloses that most sectarian killings in the country last year occurred in Karachi.

Around 100 people were killed and 65 injured in 84 sectarian attacks in the city in 2014.

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 operations against sectarian outfits in the city. “Their recent war will obviously affect the security situation in the city,” he added.

In the past

Rallies in favour of and against Saudi and Iranian governments are not new in Karachi.

The deployment of Saudi troops in Bahrain in 2011 had angered Pakistan’s Shia community and caused nationwide protests.

“One day Shia groups used to organise rallies against the Saudi rulers, the next day Deobandi and Al-Hadith groups staged pro-Saudi and anti-Iran rallies,” said a journalist who covered the rallies in 2011.

“The walls of the city were covered with pro-Saudi and anti-Saudi graffiti. There was so turmoil in the city at that time,” he added. “I am seeing a similar tense atmosphere in the city again.”

Attacks feared

Analysts and police officials fear that sectarian militants might target Saudi and Iranian installations in the city.

When Saudi Arabia had deployed troops in Bahrain, an employee of its consulate in Karachi, Hassan al-Qahtani, was gunned down on May 16, 2011. A few days before that, the consulate was attacked with grenades. Following the attacks, the Saudi government had recalled its on-essential staff and the families of diplomats stationed at its Karachi office. Analysts fear that Iranian diplomats might also be targeted.

However, Atiq Shaikh, a spokesperson for the Karachi police, said the security for the two countries’ consulates had always been high.

“At this stage, we cannot anticipate such attacks as the federal government has still not decided as to whether it will send its troops to Yemen or not,” he added