Understanding the Sipah-e-Sahaba

Understanding the Sipah-e-Sahaba

Members of the SSP operated freely during much of the 90s. The financing for this campaign of hate of course came out of Saudi coffers. Shias were labeled Kafirs (non-Muslims), and violence against them was deemed permissible, and in many cases obligatory. Attacks on Shia mosques and religious gatherings began to occur, disturbing peace in the nation and affecting economic and government stability. The organization also carried out targeted killings of Shia academics, professionals, and religious scholars, the purpose being to intellectually and financially cripple the Shia community of Pakistan. Members of the SSP operated  freely during much of the 90s.Relatively unknown to the West until recently, the Sipah-e-Sahaba is infamous for well-calculated acts of terrorism and intimidation targeted at the Shia population of Pakistan. As Muslims living in the West, it is imperative for us to understand the history and background of this organization and how it sowed the seeds for the genocide currently unfolding against Shias in Parachinar and other parts of Pakistan.

The group came into recognition in 1985 with the help of certain extremist Wahhabi clerics in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Backed by President Zia ul-Haq, the SSP came into existence as a reaction to the Islamic Revolution of Iran and the growing presence of Shias in the Pakistani political and economic scene. As a result of sectarian incitement by the likes of Azam Tariq, Israr Ahmed, and other extremist preachers, the organization grew tremendously and acquired its peak membership during the mid-1990s. The ultimate goal of the organization was to create a Wahhabi state in Pakistan, with its radical interpretation of Sharia law as the basis of the constitution.

As part of its political activities, the organization published a plethora of sectarian literature and used its radical speakers to poison the minds of moderate Sunnis nationwide, who had hitherto lived quite amicably with the Shia population of Pakistan. The financing for this campaign of hate of course came out of Saudi coffers. Shias were labeled Kafirs (non-Muslims), and violence against them was deemed permissible, and in many cases obligatory. Attacks on Shia mosques and religious gatherings began to occur, disturbing peace in the nation and affecting economic and government stability. The organization also carried out targeted killings of Shia academics, professionals, and religious scholars, the purpose being to intellectually and financially cripple the Shia community of Pakistan.

Most of this violence was ignored by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which counted on Sunni extremist organizations for political support. The building chaos led to intervention by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who gave a harsh warning to the group in January 2001. The leader of the SSP called for negotiations between Shias and Sunnis soon after, but that hardly affected the escalating Shia bloodshed. Pressure mounted on the Pakistani government to crack down on such terrorist groups after the 9/11 attacks, and that is when the situation seemed to take a turn.

After President Musharraf’s crackdown on radical extremists, many members of the SSP went into hiding. The organization was declared illegal by the government, but its leaders have since resurfaced in other, equally violent, extremist organizations, such as Lashkar-e-Jhangwi and Jaish Muhammad. The SSP seems to be quieter, but it still exists as a political group.

The SSP is a terrorist group that used means of violence and terror to intimidate the minority Shias of Pakistan. It was created with the support of former Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq, extensively trained by the Taliban, and intensively funded by the Saudi government. Though its activities seemed to have dwindled per se, it set the foundation for much more violent and extremist organizations that are still carrying out unmentionable atrocities against the Shia population of Pakistan.

Please recite a Sura Fatiha for Allama Arif Hussain al-Hussaini, Allama Hasan Turabi, the believers of Parachinar, and all those who have fallen victim to the senseless violence perpetrated by the Sipah-e-Sahaba.

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Huda Jawad

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1 Comment

  1. Ali A.
    April 20, 18:06
    A useful article. But misses a few nuances. For example, the local histories of sectarian conflict in each region: Jhang (feudal-peasant connection, where SSP actually originated, as many would argue), Parachinar (tribal), LoloKhet-C1 area in Karachi (ethnic). Another is the utility of such extremist groups for the powers-that-be and the connection these groups had with the notorious, Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI. It is well known that many such groups proliferated during General Musharraf's time as he claimed to clamp down on them to the West, extracting more than 10 billion dollars in the eight years. SSP re-surfaced last May-June when Musharraf was still in power, although weaker than ever before. Critiques also alleged a connection between that coming back and the specter of Talibanisation created by MQM. See Ayesha Siddiqa's column in Dawn on Aug 15, 2008. <br /><br />But you are very right in stressing the central role that the Zia regime played, with the support of international backers, to escalate the local into national scale conflicts. However, the role of international powers needs to be expanded to not only Saudi, but also Iraq of that time, as well as the American interest in curbing the Iranian revolution. It is also well known that the US supported various Sunni groups during the 1980s. See Mamadani's Good Muslim, Bad Muslim. <br /><br />What it actually comes down to is the question of power, more so than the question of sectarian difference, as has become very clear in the recent developments since the Summer of 2006. You see the status quo regimes (Saudi, Jordan, Egypt) and the US and Israel on one side and the masses (Sunni and Shias) to a much extent in those status quo regimes and other countries on the other side. It's not the question of sectarian differences, it's the question of power where some find it useful to promote sectarian hatred. This is becoming more and more evident after the tragic episode in Gaza recently.

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