On the evening of March 3, as Shiite worshipers filed out of mosques in Karachi's Abbas Town, twin explosions devastated their neighborhood -- and struck another blow against the country's social fabric. One of the giant blasts sheared the fronts of two four-story buildings. "It's like doomsday to me," said one witness. "I saw children lying in pools of their own blood and women running around shouting for their children and loved ones." Sixty-five people were killed -- including women, children, and as many as 18 Sunnis -- and over 100 were injured.
So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack. But Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ), an anti-Shiite terrorist group with links to both al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, has boasted of its role in a series of horrific bombings in the city of Quetta earlier this year, which killed over 220 people in total and explicitly targeted Hazaras, a small ethnic group of Shia Muslims. Many suspect that LeJ is also behind the Karachi attack.
Regardless, here is the good news: There are very few takers in Pakistan for the kind of permissive, undiscriminating anti-Shia violence taking shape in the country. In fact, there seems to be an unprecedented degree of revulsion at these attacks.
"Otherizing" Shia is not impossible, but it is certainly among the more complex tasks that Pakistan's radical Sunni terrorists have attempted. The Shia are not considered heretics by mainstream Sunnis, nor are they powerless or sprinkled across only some parts of the country. Estimates of the size of the Shia population in Pakistan range from 25 million to as many as 40 million -- even in a country whose population is approaching 200 million, this is no small number. Moreover, Shia traditions are part of the core of Pakistani culture, and Shia icons, including the country's founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, are not easy to shun -- even among radicalized petro-emigrants returning home after years of anti-Shia indoctrination in Saudi Arabia.
In the wake of this string of attacks, a wide spectrum of Pakistani political, economic, and religious groups has been vocal in its expression of sympathy for Shiites. Even the right-wing Jamaat e Islami and the more hardcore Jamiat e Ulema e Islam have issued occasional condemnations of the attacks.
The Pakistani mainstream is even more emphatic in its condemnations and expressions of solidarity. Immediately following the attack in Karachi, the chief minister of Sindh province, where the city is located, announced a day of mourning. Unions quickly joined in: The Transporters' Association announced all public transport would be suspended and the Traders and Merchants' Union announced all shops would be closed. One of the opposition parties' provincial wings also announced a day of mourning.
This degree of compassion is admirable. But all Pakistan seems to be capable of doing lately is announcing days of mourning, expressing condemnation, and occasionally mobilizing a protest -- often joined by members of the government, including senior members of the cabinet. If this is the only response to the killing of innocent people because of their religion, it probably makes sense for the killers to carry on with the carnage. And that's exactly what has been happening.