Pak Army must answer for Sufi shrine attacks


Manzoor Ahmed

Early this month in October, a suicide bomber set himself off outside a Sufi shrine in JhalMagsi town in Balochistan, killing 13 devouts and injuring 27 others who were offering prayers at the dargah. Earlier this year, over 80 people were killed in another suicide attack on a shrine, Lal ShahbazQalander shrine in Sindh province. These attacks form a clear and distressing pattern of targeted killings and destruction of symbols of liberal religious values and pluralism by extremist and terrorist outfits, mostly Sunni. Many of these groups enjoy the patronage of either the political parties or the army, or both.

A Sindhi newspaper, Sindh Express, commenting on the series of attacks on Sufi shrines, wrote: “The attack on Balochistan shrine was done in similar way just as it was at Noorani Shah dargah, and Lal Shahbaz calendar and other Sufi shrines in the past. these recurring attacks on shrines has some specific message in trail and these attacks are a fallout of fundamentalist mind-set and its roots are deep in Balochistan’s interiors but also are spread till Sindh’s Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Sukkur and Ghotki and go right up till Punjab’s Saraiki belt. “

The response of the state, in this case as well as in other more deadlier attacks, has been bluster and show. The political leadership made loud sounds and did nothing. There has neither been any will to take on the outfits carrying out these attacks nor any courage. In fact, most of these outfits operate, and often flourish, under the protection given by the same state. Without the state complicity, such outfits cannot function at least from major cities like Lahore and Peshawar. They do, and quite openly.

The response of the “all-weather guardian“ of Pakistan, Pakistan Army, has been more appalling. Every time there is an attack like the one on Lal ShahbazQalander shrine in February this year, the Generals come out with statements that sound like declaration of war against terrorists. Major General Asif Ghafoor, head of the military’s Inter-Services Public Relations office, declared: “We shall defend and respond. [Terrorists] will not be spared.”He then quoted his chief, General  QamarJavedBajwa as saying that Pakistan’s “security forces shall not allow hostile powers to succeed. We stand for our nation. Each drop of nation’s blood shall be revenged, and revenged immediately.No more restraint for anyone.”

After this, the next press release from the ISPR declared that the army has killed over 100 terrorists. There is no mention of where were these terrorists killed and who were they? But the clever General had already created an alibi in his reaction—“foreign hand“, in this case terrorists operating out of Afghanistan. This is how the Generals protect their agents of terror and let ordinary people suffer.

The truth was revealed by the Sindh Express in its article on the attack. It stated that these terrorists were “active these days in Sindh and Punjab“. The report quite categorically stated that “after Afghanistan, Balochistan is terror nursery; they all have one remote control. “

But isn’t it Balochistan where the army and various allied security agencies have been carrying out massive search and destroy operations targeting the Balochistan for years now? Since General Musharraf’s days, the military presence and atrocities in Balochistan have only multiplied. So how does the army, ever so vigilant and strong, miss the terrorists attacking the Sufi shrines and innocent devotees? This is a question which is rarely, if at all, raised and probed in Pakistan, either by the media or the political leadership.

This question has only one answer. It is the state’s collusion which enables terrorist outfits to target Sufi shrines and Pakistani citizens. The political leadership’s excuse that neither they have the power nor wherewithal to take on these outfits is untenable and misleading. This is so because in many cases the same outfits are used by the political parties to win elections in exchange for immunity from prosecution. There are also reported instances, the political establishment directly or indirectly supports these outfits through grants and wilful failure to prosecute them.

The army’s collusion with these outfits is more known. Although the army has often denied the support, recently Major General Ghafoor, the head of ISPR, chose to make a disingenuous distinction between “support“and “ link“ between the army and terrorists.  But it is fairly well known that the army supports and sustains many of these terrorist and extremist outfits for different tasks—from suppressing dissent within the country and to target neighbouring countries like India and Afghanistan. Almost all of these outfits play a role, significant or small, in keeping the army-sponsored jihad in Kashmir.

It has been reported on many occasions that terrorists targeting the shrines and other minorities find easy shelter in cantonments. In one reported instance, a police team gave a chase to fleeing terrorists who had targeted a group of minorities. The terrorists, on motorcycle, drove, freely, into a cantonment while the police team was stopped at the gate and asked to turn back. There are plenty of such anecdotes how the army had pro-actively blocked investigations into terrorist attacks and, by any chance if any case came up for trial, refused to either offer any testimony or offer evidence to support the prosecution case against the terrorists.

It is time the people of Pakistan realise that the continuing attacks on Sufi shrines and minorities is not the handiwork of terrorists from outside Pakistan, but from within, and mostly those who enjoy the state patronage, especially those of the Generals who claim to the guardians of Pakistan.