Pakistan has always had a history of sectarian violence against its minorities like Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Shia Muslims in a Sunni Muslim majority country. But now a new kind of sectarianism has reared its head in the country which is threatening its very existence.
This new sectarianism comes from the rise of Islamic State in Pakistan and increasing influence of a violent movement called Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan or 'Labaik'. The Labaik draws its cadre from the majority community of Barelvis. This is different from the Deobandis who had earlier driven sectarianist violence in Pakistan.
Between the Labaiks and the Deobandis, sectarian violence has now spread to every group in Pakistan including the majority. Especially vulnerable of course are the minorities who are consistently targeted for assault and murder by vigilante groups.
Often these mobs who attack minorities use the fake pretense of 'blasphemy'. This is particularly used with deadly impact by the Labaik mobs including in a horrific incident of a lynching of a Sri Lankan factory manager falsely accused of blasphemy in December 2021.
Ever since General Zia ul-Haq's military government started an overt Islamisation of Pakistan, and the anti-Soviet jihad began in Afghanistan, radical Sunni groups affiliated to Deobandis like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and its offshoot Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have been spreading violence in Pakistan especially targetting minorities and determined with to target Shias. But many of these operated through underground sleeper cells.
The new sectarian groups like the Labaik are different because they operate openly and have wide support from a majority group of Pakistanis. The Labaik also have their own political party and therefore they are not only a violent sectarian force but also a political force.
Alongside the Labaik, there is also the relatively new local branch of the Islamic State called the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) which has consistently taken on Pakistani security forces. The Pakistani security forces and its political apparatus has consistently struggled to control these groups. The Labaik especially is able to regularly gather enough mobs to bring major cities including Lahore and the capital Islamabad to a standstill with their violent protests.
These sectarian groups are spreading unprecedented violence in Pakistani society and their growing political influence and public support is further destabilizing the country.