By Arshad Abbasi

Pakistan continues to bleed and Pakistanis’ woes from terrorism and militancy remain fresh. The recent horrendous terrorist attack on the Shrine of Sakhi Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan killing almost 100 pilgrims and injuring more than 200 sent shock waves all

Devotees are offering prayers at Jalaluddin Bukhari shrine in Uch Sharif. Photo Credit: Hasan Khan

across.

The apparently mindless violence targeting and victimizing unarmed innocent civilians has definitely the method in madness. This mindset of terrorists and militants is aptly described by a terrorism expert Brian Jenkins as he writes that in 1970s and 80s terrorists wanted a lot of people watching, but today they want a lot of people watching as well as a lot of people dying.

This is what explains the attacks on shrines in Pakistan by those who in their killing spree spare no one. The suicidal nature of these attacks makes the perpetrators even more lethal and hard to detect and result in greater loss of life and limb.

The issue at hand is that what motives drive the militant outfits to target the shrines which happen to be repository of love, harmony, simplicity, generosity, egalitarianism and expression of culture in various parts of Pakistan.

Incidentally, the number of shrines in Pakistan is higher in South Punjab and Sindh so accordingly the concomitant social, economic and political role of these holy and sacred places is felt tangibly and visibly in these parts of the country.

Sectarian and sub-sectarian differences with transnational character and linkages are the primary motive to unleash this violent streak targeting indiscriminately the poverty-ridden votaries of shrines and the followers of the well-known Soofis-mystic personalities of the past.

It is the Deobandi interpretation of Islam which is opposed to the construction of shrines and their sanctity as held by their proponents namely Barailwis. These two different and competing sects of Islam developed in the Indian Subcontinent and had been coexisting peacefully with each other.

However, their differences took a sharp turn in 1980s when the militant wave began to sweep across Pakistan. The sectarian genie which came out of the bottle generated violence even at sub-sectarian level putting Deobandi and Barailwi denominations against each other.

In turn, the differences between Deobandi and Barailwis were infested with violence in last decade when the war against terrorism lost track thus generating more terrorism whose brunt is being born by Pakistan. The remnants of Taliban in Afghanistan cobbled together an alliance with militants in Pakistan. This deadly mix has been made more violent and fatal when previously Al-Qaida and now ISIS provide men and motivation to spill blood at the places which by their very nature spread the message of peace, tolerance and love.

As a matter of fact, the trend is that the overwhelming number of visitors to shrines comes from the lower stratum of society. People from marginalized segments of society flock to shrines to seek comfort of heart, solace and in some cases bread and butter.

Shrines thus offer sanctuary to those who are searching for peace of mind being draped in the love of sufis. But then look at those who are the cannon fodder for the attacks on places of worship be they mosques, Imam Bargahs, Churches, Mandirs/Temples and shrines.

In this case, victims and victimisers happen to be predominantly from the down-trodden sections of population. The terror outfits pay handsome amounts to the facilitators, handlers and above all to the actual perpetrators of such bloody attacks.

It was in 2005 when the extremists turned their eyes and ammunition towards shrines. The first such attack occurred at the shrine of Pir Rakhel Shah in Jhal Magsi-a district in Baluchistan killing 35 pilgrims. The shrine of Bari Imam situated in the heart of Islamabad was targeted by terrorists killing 18 people the same year. After a lull of five years in

After a lull of five years in 2010 the famous shrine of Hazrat Data GanjBaksh in Lahore (cultural capital of Pakistan) was targeted by a suicide bomber killing 40 devotees. In the same year the shrines of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi “the commercial capital of Pakistan” and Baba Farad Ganjshakar in Pakpatan witnessed the militant attacks.

The next year (2011) shrine of Hazrat Sakhi Sarvar in DG Khan was targeted resulting in 50 casualties. 65 people were killed in a blast at the shrine of Shah Nurani in Khuzdar district in Baluchistan in November 2016.

In the above enumerated terrorist attacks, all were suicide ones except that of the shrine of Baba Farid Ganjbaksh in Pakpatan which was a planted bomb. Previously various stripes of militants espousing rigid interpretation of Islam fueled with militant passion blew themselves up at these places.

However, in the recent two incidents in Khuzdar and Sehwan ISIS took responsibility which fits in the pattern as the militant organization has been targeting shrines in Iraq and Syria.

Issues of governance are deeply linked with violence at shrines as provision of security to them and other places of worship is often taken for granted. Subsequent to the Sehwan tragedy in a high-level meeting chaired by the Chief Minister Sindh it was revealed that there was no electricity in the premises of the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar when the blast occurred.

Furthermore, it came to the light that the electricity connection was to the shrine was cut by Hyderabad Electricity Supply Company-HESCO on account of nonpayment of dues. It was revealed in the same moot that out of almost 1 thousand shrines in Sindh only 80 are under the department of Auqaf which is responsible for taking care of all such places.

The rest are privately or voluntarily run and managed. Hence there is no regular overseeing government mechanism which could ensure security at these places. Therefore in the given circumstances, it has to be a well-thought-out scheme involving government institutions and voluntary community affiliations to ensure safety and security of places of worship particularly shrines.

The resilience of the devotees of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is manifest as just after few hours of the blast at 3:30 AM on Friday morning the caretaker of the shrine rang its bell to start the day in the traditional way.

The message was clear that if militants continue to spill blood, the shrines will be even more vocal to sing the songs of love and spread the message of peace and humanity.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are solely of the writer.

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