South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Sehwan in Pakistan’s Sindh province is known as a spiritual place.  The shrine of revered Sufi Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was attacked a fortnight ago when a large numbers of devotees were performing dhamal, a devotional dance. More than 90 devotees died in a suicide bombing. Earlier too, various Sufi shrines were targeted in Pakistan. Sufis preach non-violence and peaceful co-existence. Sufism is the anti-dote to the radicalism. Obviously, religious extremists neither want peaceful co-existence nor philosophy of non-violence. Islamic State (IS) claimed the responsibility for bombing Sehwan’s shrine.

In November last year, militants attacked Dargah Shah Noorani in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province. More than 50 worshippers including women and children died when a 14-year boy carried out the suicide bombing. They were also performing dhamal. IS claimed responsibility for the blasts. The shrine is famous in Balochistan province.

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was a Sufi saint, poet of 12th or 13th Century. It is said that the 13th Century was a golden age for Sufi poetry. He preached tolerance and love for people of all religions and ethnicity. The shrine is dedicated to him. Every Thursday, people from various religions come to the shrine and participate in dhamal. The attack on the shrine is attack on pluralistic Islam. It can also be seen as an attack on South Asian Islam, which is inclusive. The Islam of Sufi saints is a threat to the IS’s worldview and their interpretation of Islam.

The attacks on these two revered Sufi shrines are near-identical. Suicide bombers attacked the shrine when devotees were performing dhamal.  Fundamentalist and militant groups like IS consider Sufis as un-Islamic because they worship sufis and perform dances and sing. Singing and dancing has no place in the dictionary of radical Islamists.  

The barbaric suicide attack on Sehwan’s shrine did not deter worshippers and other secular activists. On February 19, a noted danseuse and human rights activist Sheema Kirmani visited the shrine and performed dhamal. Karachi-based Sheema is well known even in India as she has performed in many parts of India. Clad in an orange-coloured dress she danced in the shrine’s compound while folk singers sang songs praising Qalandar. They sang ‘Oh lal meri pat rakhio bhala jhooley lalan’ and ‘tera sehwan rahe abad’.

The orange colour symbolises the attire of the Sufis. Secular and democratic activists from various parts of Pakistan had also organized a protest march against terrorists in the city on the same day. Even on the very next day of the attack devotees assembled in a big number and defied terrorism.

Militants always want people to succumb to fear and terror. They don’t want people to raise their voices against militancy. But, the devotees and others defied militancy and, in fact, performed dhamal even on the next day.

It is believed that more than 25 Sufi shrines have been attacked in Pakistan since 2005. Earlier these shrines were attacked by Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) and other militant organizations connected with them. Now, it is by Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP). IS began its militant activities from Syria and Iraq. But, now they have spread their wings. They are active on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On February 13, a suicide bomber attacked Lahore in which 13 people including two police personnel were killed. On February 15, a suicide bomber attacked Mohmand agency. The agency shares border with Afghanistan.

Following attacks on Sehwan, Pakistan immediately closed two border crossings with Afghanistan and blamed Kabul for providing a safe haven to militants. Afghanistan immediately rejected Pakistan’s claim and blamed Pakistan for sheltering militants. There is tension between the two countries.

They share a 2,430-km border known as Durand Line. The border is porous and mainly Pakhtuns live on both side of the border. There are many border crossings and people can enter into each other’s country from porous border easily. Pakistan has moved heavy artillery to the border region. Afghanistan being a land-locked country depends heavily on Pakistan. A couple of lakhs of Afghans are also living in Pakistan. Many of them are in Pakistan since 1979 when then USSR sent its troops in Afghanistan.

Various militant groups are finding safe havens on both sides of the border. Haqqani Network is operating from Pakistan’s North Waziristan Agency. There are a few others. Pakistan began Zarb-e-Azb military operation in which a few thousand terrorists were killed. But, still militants are present in these regions. Now, after the recent wave of suicide attacks Pakistan launched nationwide military operation Radd-ul-Fasaad. It is Arabic word which means elimination of discord. Already a few hundred suspected militants are eliminated. Both the operations – Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad – will continue. The Zarb-e-Azb operation is primarily in several agencies bordering Afghanistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Eadd-ul-Fasaad is a military campaign across Pakistan. It also covers major cities.

The hard reality is militants hate Sufism. They want to silence devotees of Sufism by killing or creating an atmosphere of fear. It is time for Pakistan to act decisively. At the same time, there needs to be co-operation and understanding between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is in the interest of both the countries that they accept the fact that there cannot be good militants. Enemy’s enemy cannot always be one’s friend.

Updated On:  Sunday, 5 March