KARACHI – The Saudi troop deployments in Bahrain to quell Shiite-led protests against the royal family are reigniting the decades-long Sunni-Shiite tension in Pakistan.
“It is evident that cause behind ongoing tension (between Sunni and Shiite groups) is Bahrain,” Abdul Khalique Ali, a Karachi-based senior political analyst, told OnIslam.net.
“It seems if the fight for Bahrain has been shifted to Pakistan.”
Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain in March to help the royal family quell pro-democracy protests in the tiny Gulf kingdom.
But the deployments have angered Shiite Pakistanis, with protests nationwide condemning the Saudi involvement.
Shiites were also angry about reports on newspaper ads to recruit hundreds of former soldiers to work for the Bahrain security forces and help with the crackdown on protestors.
Sunni groups have also jumped into the fray with demonstrations and rallies in support of Saudi Arabia.
The Sunni protestors have accused Shiite-majority Iran of being behind the unrest in Bahrain and other Gulf states.
Reports about attacks on Pakistani immigrants in Bahrain by Shiite protestors added to the anger of Sunnis in Pakistan.
In a sign of the Shiite-Sunni tension, walls across Karachi, Lahore and other Pakistani cities are littered with slogans condemning Saudi Arabia and Iran, exacerbating the already tense atmosphere between the two sects.
“This is after decades when tension between two schools of thought has reached at this level,” said Ali, referring to deadly clashes between Sunnis and Shiites in the 1970s and 1980s.
In an escalation of tension in the country, a Saudi diplomat was killed Monday after attackers opened fire at a Consulate vehicle in Karachi.
“We have reports that some disgruntled elements are trying to take advantage of tension between Shiite and Sunni group in order to trigger sectarian riots in the country,” a senior police official told OnIslam.net.
Unknown assailants also threw hand grenades and crackers on the Saudi Consulate in the city.
The Iranian Counsel General in Karachi, Ali Abbas Abdollahi, while condemning the killing of the Saudi diplomat and attack on the Consulate, said that the common enemy of Muslims wanted to create rifts among Muslims.
“This is a calculated conspiracy by our common enemy, which wants to see Muslims fighting each other,” Abdollahi said in a statement.
Sunnis make up 85 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million, while Shiites account for 10 percent.
Analysts, however, rule out that the Sunni-Shiite tension will turn into a large-scale sectarian conflict in Pakistan.
“Sectarian groups belonging to two schools of thoughts have come into the field to support Iran and Saudi Arabia respectively,” Ali told OnIslam.net.
“However, a majority of people are not taking part in demonstrations and counter demonstrations.
“But I agree that Pakistanis in general have great respect for Saudi Arabia because of Makkah and Madina, and Shiites too know this fact very well. That is why, I don’t think, they will prefer to take on people (Sunnis) on this issue in the streets.”
Imtiaz Chandio, another Karachi-based analyst, agrees.
“Shiites are in minority in Pakistan and they cannot afford rivalry with Sunni majority. The groups that have taken to streets too will go back to peace soon,” he said.
“They (Shiites) cannot risk their interests for the sake of Iran.”
Chandio believes that the Sunnis too will not go too far out of their respect for the Saudi king in his capacity as the Custodians of the Two Holy Mosques.
“A majority of the Pakistanis are already groaning from grinding poverty and other economic issues. They don’t have time to indulge themselves in sectarian or any other clashes.”
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