Does a 2011 Terrorist Episode Foreshadow the Talibanization of Sindh?

On November 07, 2011, in Chak town of district Shikarpur in Sindh, Pakistan, four armed men said to be religious extremists entered the Otaq (a traditional community gathering place in rural Sindh) of Dr. Satya Pal and opened fire on several Hindus, Dr. Ajeet Kumar; Ashoke Kumar (an Income Tax Officer); Naresh Kumar; and Dr. Satya Pal. Naresh Kumar and Ashok Kumar died on the spot, while Dr. Ajeet breathed his last in the Civil Hospital of Sukkur city; while Dr. Satya Paul survived, albeit with severe injuries. He was hospitalized in Agha Khan University Hospital in Karachi. According to the single witness, the attackers fled to the nearby Indus river forests. The issue created fury among residents of the area as well as across Sindh and caused public unrest. This is the first reported attack against a religious minority in Sindh since the partition of India in 1947.

Civil society activists of Hyderabad formed a fact-finding team on the direction of Mr. Amarnath Motumal, vice chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Sindh Chapter, which included this writer; however HRCP did not accept the report, and it was therefore not made public.

Socio-cultural Outlook of the Crime Scene

At least one century old, the Sindh town of Chak is situated on the western bank of the Indus River in the Shikarpur district of Sindh, Pakistan, one of the districts nearest to Pakistan’s largest military installation in Pano Aqil town. It is an economic, educational, social and transport hub for the adjoining towns and villages of the district and home to a population of more than 40,000, out of which 6,000 are Hindu, with the remainder Sunni and Shia Muslim. The Mehar and Bhaya communities of the indigenous Sindhis inhabit the town in majority.

Agriculture, retail shops, jobs in government and private organizations are the sources of livelihood for residents. The town is the nearest market for Indus forest inhabitants. Eight major primary, secondary and higher secondary boys and girls schools and three major libraries are the source of youth literacy and socio-political consciousness. A popular secular Sindhi Literary magazine, “Sindhu,” once published from here a couple of decades ago. Until the recent past, there were no traces of religious hatred or extremism. Hazrat Humbah is the shrine of the leading Sufi saint in the area. Hindus and Muslims pay homage to this Muslim Sufi saint together.

Exceptional as well as unexpected to the common Sindhi consciousness and mindset, there are at least seven madrasahs in the town, five of which belong to Jamiat-e-Ulmai-e-Islam (JUI) (three for men and two for women), one each associated with Jamiat-e-Ulmai-e-Pakistan (JUP) and Fiqa-e-Jafferia (FeJ). A couple of other unregistered madrasahs are also in operation here. Hizbul Ibrar is a 40-year-old madrasah. Locals say that a considerable number of people in the area are also associated with Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), banned religious militant outfits supported by the security establishment of Pakistan and widely believed by Pakistanis to have links with Taliban, al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT).

A majority of the Meher Muslim and Hindu communities are traditional voters for Sardar Ghouse Bux Mahar, while the second majority vote goes to the Bhaya clan’s chief, Sardar Wahid Bux Bhayo and his nephew Babul Khan Bhayo. Polling results in the last three decades show that Saradar Ghous Bux Mahar has always won the polling station here. Many political parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Jeay Sindh Qomi Mahaz (JSQM), Sindh Taraqipassand Party (STP), Pakistan Muslim League – Q (PML – Q), and some other liberal and secular parties as well have local branches.

According to local journalists, two minor incidents of Hindu victimization occurred from 1980 to 2000.

Commoners’ Opinions

According to commoners associated with the Bhaya, Mehar, Channa and other clans, Hindu and Muslims have been living in peaceful coexistence here for decades. The opening of the madrasahs in the town has torn the fabric of harmony, peace and tranquility. According to them, Qazi Ghulam Mohammad Bhayo (a Sipah-e-Sahaba associate), Molvi Ahsan Bhayo (JUI – F) and Abdul Ghani Bhayo have been the actors inciting religious hatred in the area. They also told our commission that one Seema Bhayo, who was having a love affair with the one of the murdered Hindus, was missing after the Diwali (Festival of Lights) day incident. They speculated that she most probably was illegally confined in the custody of the Mehar clan’s chieftain.

Some of the people said that two days after the murders, on the morning of November 9, 2011, Ghous Bux Mahar visited the town and inquired publicly, over the Holy Book of Quran (a normal traditional ritual), about the identity of the murderers. A person stood up and identified culprits Iqbal Bhayo and Islam Bhayo. The former was a retired Pakistan Army soldier.

Journalists Speak

The journalists of the Chak and Press Club Sukkur were of the opinion that the incident resulted from the nexus of the mullahs and the military, with support from the local feudal chief. They were of the opinion that the event was not an honor killing, but a well-planned act of terrorism serving the interests of the mullah, military and feudal nexus in northern Sindh. They were of the opinion that the weaker political players had facilitated the incident to claim their hold on votes by instigating religious conflict.

What Did the Victims’ Families Say?

The family members of the victims refused to discuss the details of the event, however, they said that Mukhi of their Panchayat would talk on their behalf. Mukhi Premchand of Chak Panchyat said that on behalf of Hindu Panchayat, he went to the elders of the various communities regarding the Diwali day issue. He said that the triple murder was an act of terrorism.

What Actually Happened?

According local journalists, after the Diwali incident, Qazi Ghulam Mohammad Bhayo, a local leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) contacted Babal Khan Bhayo to take the girl Seema away from the town. Local sources from the Bhayo community claim the guards of Babal Khan Bhayo came to Nazeer Mahar’s house to pick the girl up. Seema’s father refused them and told them that the issue had been misreported to the community chieftain. He told them that the girl was not inside the house, but was attending class at school. They dismissed the poor Nazir Mahar’s plea and kidnapped Seema and handed her over to the Babul Khan Bhayo. Since then, the girl has been missing, and her father Nazeer Mahar is not willing to speak with journalists and human rights activists.

According to the villagers, a few days before the incident, activists of the JUI and SSP also made a public funds collection drive in the area for Jihad in the district. After the incidents, local police raided the houses of various suspects, but a group of religious zealots mobbed the local police station and chanted slogans against the police and in favor of Jihad. The villagers also said that the families of the victims have been threatened not to pursue the case.

Police Version

Local police claimed that Inspectors Ghulam Nabi and Ghulam Ali received injuries from crossfire during the raid on the suspects’ homes. When asked why the Police Picket (the police post installed in the village for the security of residents) was not staffed on the day of the terrorist event – which otherwise, according to residents, used to be posted in the town – he said due to Eid-ul-Zuha holidays, the personnel were home. We asked a police official which religious organizations are active in the town. JUI and SSP, he replied. We told him that SSP is a banned outfit. He kept silent.

According to the police, they charged Ehsan Bhayo, Abdul Ghani, Abdul Lateef, Abdul Rauf and others under sections 353, 302, and 324 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Pakistan.

The deputy inspector general of Sindh Police Larkana zone, Sain Rakhyo Mirani, said in an interview by a Sindhi daily Sham (newspaper) that the incident was part of a series of harassment activities against Hindus in Sindh.

Attempting Talibanization

The incident of Chak was probably the first of its kind in Sindh after the creation of Pakistan, which is indicative of inroads by the Taliban in the province. The incident suggests that the security establishment of Pakistan wants to Talibanize Sindh. It is appropriately feared by the people that Talbanization of Sindh would further destabilize South Asia. We called for a protest against the incident that was well received and thousands took to the street in Sindh. The time has come that the international community and the world citizenry need to think about Sindh!