Kargil: Echoes of Attacks against Minorities in Pakistan

16 Mar, 2013    ·   3846

Zainab Akhter discusses the reasons behind the protests in Kargil over the recent Hazara killings in Pakistan

Zainab Akhter
Zainab Akhter
Research Officer

In Kargil, thousands of people took to the streets in February and participated in a protest rally against the killings of minorities across Pakistan (this time more specifically against the recent Hazara killings in Quetta). What are the reasons behind the sudden outburst of protests?

Why the Sudden Outbursts?
For a long time, there has been an anti-Shia campaign in Pakistan; in Afghanistan, the Taliban regime was strongly anti-Iranian and conducted programmes against the Iranian Hazara population in the country.

Kargil is the only Shia dominated district of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Despite minor communal clashes between the Muslims and Buddhists in the region, Kargil remained peaceful in terms of social relations between the communities. Kargil was better known to the rest of India due to the Indo-Pak war, rather than any negative communal relationship or violence in the region.

Recently, there has been a series of violent activities against the Shia community in Balochistan and also in Gilgit-Baltistan. The response in Kargil to the violence against the Shia community in Pakistan was a surprise. Responding to the call of the Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust Kargil, the people of the district held a massive protest against the recent Hazara killings in Pakistan. They gathered outside Jamia Masjid, shouting slogans against the targeting of a particular community in Pakistan. Earlier in 2012, they took to the streets in response to the killings of Shia-Baltis in Gilgit-Baltistan. The Kargil Students Union in Jammu and Delhi also organised similar protest rallies chanting anti-Pakistan slogans.

Being a Shia dominated community, the sectarian killings elsewhere becomes more of an emotional issue for the people of Kargil. Additionally, Iran would not like Pakistan wielding a sectarian agenda to harass Kargilis; therefore the people of Kargil, through these huge protests, intend to send a message to Iran that they strongly condemn the killings of their brothers across Pakistan. Amidst anti-Pakistan slogans and placards, the protesters requested the Government of India to pressurise Pakistan to stop such target killings, and for banning these terrorist groups.

The Iran Factor
Iran’s influence is prevalent in Kargil. Posters of Iranian leaders can be seen in most of the places, especially in the main market; and even a street in the market is named as Khomeini Chowk, after the Iranian leader. The region is forging strong bonds with Iran; besides the Shia factor, what have given an impetus to this trend are the regular visits of youth to Iran to get religious training. Unlike any other part of the State, developments in Shia dominated areas such as Iran and Iraq are keenly talked about here. Even a political novice could give a detailed analysis of the events in Iran-Iraq, and also the latest statements of Shia clerics.

Locals point out that the ‘cassette revolution’, which refers to the lectures and speeches of the Imam, changed the lives and religious standard of Kargil after the revolution of 1979. Unlike most other parts of India, in Kargil, women, almost without exception, wear head coverings; liquor is only available illegally; and there are no movie theatres.

Religion in Politics
There are two schools of thought in the region, both of which are led by religious organisations: the Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust (IKMT) and the Islamia School Kargil (ISK). The ISK is backed by the National Conference and the IKMT by the Congress, and a strong rivalry is seen between them for political gains. The differences between the two schools of religious thought have magnified with their entering the realm of politics, which is indirectly dividing the society. The IKMT believes in the Islamic revolution initiated by Imam Khomeini and deems itself as the outcome of this revolution. It works towards the dissemination of Islamic teachings and elimination of un-Islamic traditions. It also runs a school called Mutahhari Public School where, along with the regular teachings, it imparts religious knowledge and its ideology to the future generation. On the other hand, the ISK also runs a school, Islamia School, where religious education is imparted too, but is considered slightly liberal compared to the IKMT.

The religious and political divide between these two schools is taking a toll on the people of Kargil, and is leading to marked divisions in the society. The fact that one faction adheres to the IKMT, and the other to the ISK, is quite visible in the town now. In the whole process, the role, significance, and work of the Hill Development Council are overshadowed by the activities and influence of these groups. Even the divide between Leh and Kargil mostly arises due to religious differences. Although there are Muslims residing in minority in Leh and Zanskar Valley, such protests are not seen in these places. There is a negative impact of these demonstrations on the minorities of the region, as these massive protests are sometimes also used as a tool to show religious superiority.