A few months ago I had the opportunity to work with Shamim Zaidi, a lawyer in Punjab, Pakistan and the legal representative for Rizwan Haider. I contacted Mr. Zaidi through social media, and it is there that our correspondence began regarding the Rizwan Haider case. It was not until our first week of communication had ended that Mr. Zaidi began asking questions. 

"My question is, who told you about me? Where are you from? What is the organization you work for?" 

Having spoken to Mr. Zaidi for nearly seven days, and having introduced myself thoroughly at the beginning of our conversation, I was confused by his curiosity. I introduced myself again, offering more information this time (my age, the name of my university, the name of my co-writer on the article) in hopes that my openness would be comforting. When offered this information, Mr. Zaidi explained he needed to know these things for his own safety. "You know, there have been attempts on my life." Even though I had been confronted with the reality of such assassinations in my own community, Mr. Zaidi's words were still jarring to hear. 

The target killing of Shia muslim professionals in Pakistan is an oft-occurring, yet rarely talked about phenomenon by mainstream media in the country. 

May 7th, 2016 saw the assassination of Khurram Zaki; an outspoken Pakistani civil rights activist, journalist, and Shia Muslim. The assassination occurred in a strong hold of the ASWJ in north Karachi; a political organization responsible for supporting and orchestrating attacks on Shia Muslims and other minority sect Muslims in Pakistan. 

On April 25th of this year, Dr. Zainab of Peshawar and her father in law, Shabeer Hussain, were shot and killed outside of her practice by anti-Shia terrorists. 

On April 8th of this year father and son, Shahid Hussain and Ali Sajjad were shot and killed during their trip home after prayer. Acclaimed physics student Hashim Rizvi was also wounded during the incident and died shortly after. 

On March 22nd of this year, Syed Razi ul Hassan Shah was shot and killed on his way to work. 

On February 8th of this year Iftikhar Hussain was shot and killed in the same place his brother was shot and killed 3 years prior. 

Exactly one month prior, Mukhtar Zaidi of Karachi is shot and killed on his way home from work. 

All of these aforementioned victims are Pakistani Shia Muslims and all were targeted and killed by anti-Shia outfits. 

What exactly is target killing in the context of anti-Shiism in Pakistan?

Target killing can be described as the orchestrated assassination of Shia Muslims which occurs primarily at the individual level. Patterns of assassinations target professional Shia Muslims foremost; the majority of victims of target killings hold integral jobs within society, such as those of doctors. The assassinations occur primarily near the home of the victim or within or near their place of work. The majority of assassinations occur in public proximity, and often in daylight. The direct perpetrators of these assassinations are virtually never captured. 

Who is responsible for the orchestration of target killing?

Anti-Shia outfits in Pakistan have laid the groundwork for regular and common target killing; multiple anti-Shia organizations exist across Pakistan which have taken responsibility for individual assassinations of Shia Muslims. Groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, Lakshar-e-Jhangvi, Jundullah have directly orchestrated the mass murder of Shia civilians as well as their individual assassinations. 

Lakshar-e-Janghvi declared war on muslims belonging to the minority sect in an open letter which promised to make Pakistan “a graveyard for Shias”: 

“All Shias are wajib-ul-qatl (worthy of killing). We will rid Pakistan of [this] unclean people. Pakistan means land of the pure, and the Shias have no right to be here. We have the fatwa and signatures of the revered ulema in which the Shias have been declared kaafir [infidel]*. Just as our fighters have waged a successful jihad against the Shia-Hazaras in Afghanistan, our mission [in Pakistan] is the abolition of this impure sect and people, the Shias and the Shia-Hazaras, from every city, every village, every nook and corner of Pakistan. Like in the past, [our] successful Jihad against the Hazaras in Pakistan and, in particular, in Quetta is ongoing and will continue [in the future]. We will make Pakistan their graveyard — their houses will be destroyed by bombs and suicide bombers. We will only rest when we fly the flag of true Islam on this land. Our fighters and suicide bombers have [already] successfully operated in Parachinar**, and are awaiting orders to operate across Pakistan. Jihad against the Shia-Hazaras has now become our duty. Our suicide bombers have successfully operated in Hazara Town on May 6, and now our next target is your houses in Alamdar Road***. As long as our innocent friends aren’t freed [from incarceration], we will continue our operations.” 

Why is target killing significant in the grander scheme of anti-Shiism in Pakistan?

The call for cleansing of Shias from the Pakistani Muslim population is one that has resulted in the murder of tens of thousands of Shias since 2001. Target killing instills a legacy of weakening and attempting to unravel the fabric of Shia neighbourhoods and families. 

The death of breadwinners effectively induces financial insecurities, initiating a cascade of adverse events for the victims of the families. 

The impact of regularized target killing instills not only fear amongst the Shia population, but the initiation of a social drift, amongst which the loss of Shia family members and community members weakens their infrastructure and the ability to thrive. 

This, along with the collusion of members of the Pakistani state with members of known anti-Shia outfits poses the grounds for early signs of genocide

1. The ultimately state-sponsored murder of Shia professionals via support for anti-Shia outfits

2. The immunity afforded to anti-Shia terrorists by state police, the greater justice system and the government 

3. The regression of Shias in their ability to thrive and maintain strong and safe financial, emotional, and spiritual connections. 

All of these constitute early signs of genocide in which the state, by supporting or directly colluding with anti-Shia outfits, aids in the decimation of Shia Muslims by literal assassination, and by causing mental and emotional harm to the larger Shia community. 

The names listed here represent only a fraction of the number of Shia Muslims that have been killed in 2016. The first half of 2015 saw the targeted/mass killing of 122 Shia Muslims. Since 2012, 1900 Shia Muslims have been slain at the hands of anti-Shia outfits. An estimated 23 000 Shias have been killed since 1963. 

For inquiries regarding this article, tweet Zanab J.S. @zanabism