Ismaili Muslims massacred in Pakistan

Gunmen on motorcycles stopped a commuter bus carrying Ismaili Muslims in Karachi May 13, boarded it and opened fire on the passengers, killing at least 45. Outside the hospital where some dozen wounded survivors were taken, and where the bus was parked, scores of grim-faced young Ismali men formed a human chain to block everyone but families and doctors—apparently fearing a follow-up attack. English leaflets left in the bus were headlined "Advent of the Islamic State!" The leaflet used derogatory Arabic words, blaming the Ismali community for "barbaric the Levant, Iraq and Yemen." Pakistani media said the attack was claimed by the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan, the Jundullah network, and militants claiming to represent ISIS. (AFP, BBC News, May 13)

Ismailis in the Great Game

The Ismailis occupy a precarious and paradoxical place in the Great Game being played out in the Subcontinent and Greater Middle East. They are "Sevener Shi'ites"—recognizing seven imams, or successors to the Prophet, rather than the 12 recognized by orthodox Shia. As such, they are considered heretical by orthodox Sunnis and orthodox Shi'ites alike—although certainly more so by the former. Many of the Hazara Shi'ites of Baluchistan are Ismailis, and have been repeatedly massacred by Sunni militants of the Jundullah network in recent years. Long facing persecution under Pakistani rule, some Ismailis in the far north of Kashmir have been agitating for independence—and have won paradoxical encouragement from Hindu nationalists in India, eager to see any resistance on Islamabad's side of the Line of Control.

The wackiness of blaming the Pakistani Ismailis for "barbaric the Levant, Iraq and Yemen" would seem to be based on nothing more than blaming all Shi'ites for the actions of Iran and Assad and their regional allies like Hezbollah and Yemen's Houthi rebels. This despite the fact that these are mere alliances of convenience. Assad's closest followers are Alawites, who, with their mystical tendencies, are ultimately considered heretical by Iran's "Twelver" establishment. So too are the Houthis, followers of the Zaidi sect—"Fiver" Shi'ites, now being aided by Iran on the basis of mutual enemies.

Nor does this have anything to do with the Ismailis of Pakistan. As we've noted, Iran backed the Hazara militia in Afghanistan, the Hizb-i-Wahdat, when the Taliban were waging a genocidal campaign against the Hazaras in the '90s. But the Hizb-i-Wahdat laid down arms after the Taliban fell, and has since become both moribund and fragmented.

In a sign of hope, Syria's rebel coalition explicitly included the Ismailis (along with Alawites, Druze, Assyrians) in its 2012 call for a pan-ethnic nationalism that rejects sectarianism.