Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, November 28th, 2020

Sectarian Violence Looms Large in Muharram

Sectarian violence has been stoked by terrorist networks in Afghanistan and a number of individuals are killed on the grounds of their sect and beliefs. The insurgents spill the blood of men and women to trigger sectarian sentiments and fish in troubled waters. The radical ideologues are vehicle for the masterminds, who engineer the war behind the smokescreen. Spreading hatred and sectarian tension are highly perilous for a society and will lead a nation to violence and carnage.
Traditional culture held strong sway in Afghanistan for years and the nation suffered from civil unrests which originated largely from parochial mindsets and sectarian tensions. Similarly, the ethnic minorities were discriminated on the basis of their sect and ideology within the Taliban’s regime. In a closed structure, where the individuals value stereotypical beliefs, the large-scale potential for sparking off sectarian tensions exists. 
In the evening of 11 October 2016, at least two attackers wearing police uniforms and equipped with grenades and machine guns opened fire on Muharram procession in Kabul’s Kart-e Sakhi shrine, the most popular gathering place in Kabul for mourners marking Muharram, the martyrdom of Imam Husain (A.S). The second attacker, who apparently fled the shrine after joining the first attacker in shooting, fought the security forces in a nearby mosque in Kart-e Chahar. Witnesses said the attackers in Karta-e Sakhi “indiscriminately shot everyone they faced. They wouldn’t even spare women and children.” The attacks killed 16 people and wounded 54 others including women and children. The next day, on Ashura, an explosion targeting Shia mourners in the usually relatively safe province of Balkh also killed 14 people and wounded 28. Nobody claimed responsibility for the Balkh explosion, but the Kabul attack was claimed by the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) in two separate statements.
These attacks indicate that the group has an operational presence in Kabul that is beyond the “nascent” stage. The group seems to have gained the capability of carrying out fatal attacks on an occasional basis in the capital, although not at a sophisticated level yet. Sending two bombers to blow themselves up in a crowd of civilian demonstrators, or two attackers dressed as police and equipped with hand grenades and guns, plus suicide belts, into a mourning crowd, or carrying out an attack on foreign security contractors in a minibus do not require a high level of complexity. However, the execution of such attacks does need some level of confidence and precision of planning, as well as adequate logistics and surveillance.
What has sharpened concern among Afghans is perhaps not ISKP’s capability, but its willingness to implant sectarianism into the conflict in Afghanistan. In recent decades, compared to most conflicts in the Muslim world, Afghanistan has stood out for the absence of such fratricide. ISKP, during the short period since its emergence, has, however, showed no hesitation in stepping into this un-mined area. While the Ashura and July 2016 attacks in Kabul are the most remarkable examples of sectarian violence by ISKP, the overall sectarian trend that is emerging since the group’s advent has been much wider. The ISKP group targeted Sufi, Hanafi and Shia entities. Salafis have also had their share of victims, in what appear to be revenge attacks.
Fermenting sectarian hatred would complicate the Afghan conflict with new motifs and grievances, and put it onto a more unpredictable trajectory. If a sectarian tone did become ingrained in the violence, it would be hard to easily reverse it. Any sectarian projects of the Afghan conflict would carry long-term consequences for the stability of Afghanistan. It is relatively easier to recover from political violence once there is a political settlement and reconciliation. However, it is harder to recover from sectarian strife, as it shatters the community’s social cohesion.
Fomenting sectarianism is a project being implemented by ISKP. According to public belief, abducting travelers from ethnic minority group and slaying them were carried out by the ISIL group few years back to spark off ideological conflicts and sectarianism.
Afghan nation should be cautious enough not to fall for the militants’ trickery and have to practice religious tolerance towards one another. The clergy and the Ulema Council are responsible to preach against the radical ideology and inhumane practices of the extremists – who trample upon the rights and liberty of the people on the grounds of their race, sex, sect and creed. Moreover, the media are to reflect the militants’ intentions and spread awareness regarding their schismatic projects so as to prevent from widening gaps among the nation.