By Zia Ur Rehman
After the latest suicide attacks on the famed Sufi shrine in Karachi, the people and civil society of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa fear that militants may launch more attacks on the shrines of Sufi saints spread across the province and tribal areas.
A tale of two orthodoxies
A religious Ireland that evolved into a liberal and secular state resembles Pakistan which is still struggling against religious extremism
By Adnan Rehmat
Imagine a former British colony where most citizens practice a religion that has become tightly knit with both national identity and bitter anti-British feeling. After a violent war for independence, the new country's earliest leaders align themselves with religion through law and start to exercise censorship of any narrative or discourse that upsets its hierarchy. Egged on by clerics, the religion is officially ordained as divine and by law all are made subservient to God's will -- and even manage to win a special position for religion in the new constitution.
Sounds like Pakistan? It's in fact a description of early Ireland -- in the very heart of the liberal Western world and secular Europe. Today as Ireland ranks among the top 10 countries from a list of 200 that consistently score the highest rankings in UN defined development indicators -- from equality of the sexes to freedom of religious practice -- one could be forgiven for forgetting that the country has for decades been hostage to religious dogma as state policy before becoming a secular state where no one is threatened by or with religion.
It makes for a fascinating contrast the study of the evolution of Pakistan and Ireland and to see who started with a dream and ended with a nightmare and who plunged into darkness but rose to illumination of a promise realised. Political scientist Shane Leavy while documenting the Catholic clout that has haunted Ireland points out that after centuries of religious persecution from Protestant British rulers, Catholicism had become deeply connected with Irish national identity. After independence in 1922, Ireland emerged as a barely secular state, with the Catholic Church holding vast cultural and even political clout.
Mind your language
Such was the control of citizen's life by the state that the new country immediately started censoring foreign films on religious moral grounds, banning over 2,500 and cutting 11,000 over the first few decades. The first Chief Censor Officer James Montgomery announced that the Ten Commandments were the guiding code, and started a crackdown on screen against kissing -- an 'unsanitary salute,' as he called it. Divorce, birth control, dancing, bad language (including any mention of the scandalous word 'virgin') and images of Christ were hastily suppressed to keep the meek and godly people of Ireland, well, meek and godly. In Pakistan, the censor in the late 1970s and 80s went lengths to enforce a moral code that frowned upon husbands and wives portrayed seated on the same bed or the same sofa on film, or even a screen mother hugging her male child.
Even literature was kosher when it came to declaring haram what is part of people's daily lives. In Pakistan Saadat Hasan Manto was dragged into courts for writing about repressed sexual lives of ordinary people stifling away under a nosy moral code. The fact that courts even entertained petitions from the orthodoxy that claimed violation of their modesty underwrote an intolerance of social interpretation by harmless wordsmiths. It is this intolerance that in due course would merit whiplashes for girls who ventured out of their homes without 'legal male chaperones and stringing up dancing girls in Swat. Whether it be poets who wax lyrical on love and longing like Faraz or on people and politics like Faiz, the religious-minded Establishment of Pakistan has always sought to adversely influence the grassroots narrative.
Poetry of poverty
Ditto for Ireland where even poetry faced the religious censor. Patrick Kavanagh, one of the greatest Irish poets, taunted this Catholic prudery in his 1942 epic 'The Great Hunger', about a sexually repressed Catholic farmer who ages in bachelorhood without having the courage or wit to look for a wife within the stifling religious moral code. Nothing like a poem causing an outrage at the pain of state denouncement that takes its inspiration from a non-secular milieu. Kavanagh's flat was raided by police after the poem, which showed the farmer resorting to 'interfering with himself' after failing to find a wife, was published -- the magazine edition it was published in was promptly banned.
Extramarital sex during this period was absolutely taboo, and women who became pregnant outside marriage were sometimes forced into Magdalene laundries where they worked under Catholic nuns as drudges, in strictly enforced silence, to purify them of their state-defined 'sins.' Thus Ireland developed a self-image of being a godly, conservative country content with spiritual things, particularly compared with the apparent lustful energy of the US. Indeed, recounts Leavy, Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera said in a 1943 speech that "the Ireland which we would desire of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as the basis of a right living, of a people who were satisfied with only frugal comfort and devoted their leisure to the things of the soul."
Secularism not secure
In Pakistan, the Establishment started asserting itself forcefully to the only overt bout of socialism the country has tried under a ringing public endorsement. The secular dispensation of the country's first elected government got so tangled up shaking off the pressure from the right that it sowed the seeds of a sustainable rise of the state orthodoxy by its appeasement to the clergy -- it sponsored a constitutional amendment that institutionalised discrimination on the grounds of faith: the Pakistani Ahmedis simply woke up one morning to find themselves a new religion by executive fiat. A whole sect that was hitherto part of a larger whole was excommunicated from its fold while the rest was, by implication, accorded official sanctity of faith-based superiority.
Strange that a secularist like Mohammad Ali Jinnah was the founder of what has become a constitutional religious and orthodox state that declares non-Muslims non-equal citizens and denies them aspirations to the highest two public offices. Perhaps the only undisputed leader of Pakistan, Jinnah is best known for his emphasis on a secular future for the newfound Pakistan by declaring in his first speech in the constituent legislature that the state will have nothing to do with the business of an individual's faith.
And yet, even when now the judiciary is arguably the freest it has ever been in the country's chequered history (the past courts sanctifying dictators and legitimising hangings and exiles of elected democrats), it is ironical that the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice professedly lose sleep over the "dreaded" prospect of the parliament declaring Pakistan a secular state.
All while a frozen Jinnah watches from his frame lovingly perched over both the court and the parliament. The irony is clearly lost on both the judges and the legislators.
Jihad against pluralisms
Like in Pakistan, so in Ireland. Pakistan today struggles with the way its official religion has morphed into a default definition of violence -- what with the Pakistan Army with its official motto of "Jihad Fi Sabil Allah" ("Jihad in the Way of Allah") fighting hitherto state-supported groups that preach and practice horrific violence in the same name of Allah and the same concept of Jihad. Pakistan is the irony paradise. This is not far removed from when Ireland developed a reputation for terrorism because of militant groups like the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who fought both London and Belfast. Parallels with Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) -- and its extremist sectarian allies like Laskhar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Muhammad, as they battle Islamabad and Rawalpindi -- are not too hard to discern.
The radical cleric leader who tried to make Catholicism Ireland's state religion was Father Denis Fahey, who saw Rome-dominated Western Europe of the 13th century as an ideal golden age of Christianity before the emergence of European secularism. "Since then, there has been steady decay, and that decay has been accelerated since the French Revolution," he wrote. How eerily reminiscent this is of parties like Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema Islam -- both with considerable electoral following in Pakistan -- that seek a rejection of procedural modernity and a return to the Muhammadan period and the era of the caliphate thereafter.
Strange are the exhortations among Pakistani Muslim religious groups against secularist parties like Pakistan People's Party, Awami National Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement about their soft corner for 'Western' liberalism, as though secular liberalism is an inevitable part of Western civilization. Says Leavy: "Even when I was growing up in the 1980s, I had a vague sense that we Irish were the religious, conservative ones, compared with the godless American hedonists we saw on television!" That's how Pakistani religious groups seeking to enforce Sharia see the Americans!
The Garden of Eden
The collapse of state-patronised Catholic domination in Ireland was unpredicted and it happened quickly. The constitutional reference to the "special position" of Catholicism was removed in 1973, the sale of condoms without prescription was legalised in 1985 and divorce in 1995. Today, Ireland is about as liberal and secular as any other country on the planet. Yet when sex stopped being a taboo subject, people began to finally report widespread sexual and physical abuse happening in Catholic institutions. In Pakistan we see a parallel movement of orthodoxy and liberalism. The violence unleashed by militant groups in the name of Allah forced the citizenry to vote out the Islamists and bank on the secularists. Divorce laws have become rationalised in favour of women and there is even a law against sexual harassment of women at the workplace and violence against women inside homes.
While there's a mighty long way to go before the Pakistani state (as opposed to political parties that openly profess egalitarianism and equality) stops discriminating among its citizens on the basis of faith and allows equal freedom of religious thought and practice to all without patronising a single one, at least it's a good beginning that the clergy is removed from the seat of power that doesn't assume a critical mass of irrevocable influence. This should theoretically stop further codification into law of faith-based prejudices. From here there's still a long haul to functional secularism, but at least a majority seems to march forward.
This is the fifth article as a followup to our Special Report "Case for a secular Pakistan". All those who wish to contribute to this debate can send their submissions at firstname.lastname@example.org
Milk, fruits, eggs, meat and fish are vanishing from the diet of people faced with worst kind of food inflation
By Aoun Sahi
Passing through Lahore's Abbot Road at noon, one cannot ignore the long queue of people. They all gather here to get a free meal from a food charity. Among them are people belonging to the lower-middle class, who couldn't imagine coming to this place a few months ago. "As the prices of food commodities are increasing, the number of individuals availing this facility is increasing," says one of the organisers.
Mohammad Ali (not his real name), 45, and a father of five came to the charity to get food for the first time two months ago. "It was the most difficult decision of my life, but I had no other option available," says Ali, a mason who originally hails from the Bahawalpur district. "I have never seen the price of food items going so high. Today, one needs at least Rs50-70 to eat a very simple meal. In 1990s, I used to earn Rs200 per day when I could easily get a meal for Rs10. Now, I earn Rs500 per day which means my earning has almost doubled while the prices of food have increased six-fold."
He visits this place regularly for the evening meals. "It takes at least one and a half hour to get my turn. It saves me at least Rs50."
Ali is not alone. Many sail with him in the same boat; for whom earning two square meals for their families is a gigantic task. Milk, fruits, eggs, meat, and fish are vanishing from their diet. People are eating less and low-quality food.
The prices of vegetables, pulses, fruits, flour and rice are on the increase. "Onions were available for Rs20-25 per kg in the wholesale market two days ago. Today the price has climbed to Rs45-50 per kg," Chaudhry Mustansir Billu, a wholesale dealer of vegetables in Sabzi Mandi Lahore tells TNS. "The recent floods have badly disturbed the supply chain of vegetables which has resulted in price hike to the tune of 25 percent."
Experts say the hurdle in supply chain of food items results in panic buying. Dr Abid Qayyum Suleri, Executive Director Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and an expert in food security, says presently there is a hike in prices of food commodities the world over. The situation in Pakistan has particularly aggravated by the floods. "There are two major sources of food; crop-based and animal-based. Both have been badly affected by the floods. Floods have also destroyed logistics and transportation systems that supply food to markets. Additionally, much of the stored wheat has rotted due to floods," he explains.
The effect of food inflation has mostly impacted the lower-middle and salaried or fixed income groups. For them, more spending on food implies less spending on health and education.
The Monthly Review on Price Indices of the Federal Bureau of Statistics is the main indicator to gauge inflation in the country. The September 2010 review shows that Pakistan's annual consumer price inflation accelerated to a 17-month high in September after food prices surged as the recent devastating floods destroyed farmlands and disrupted supply chain. The annual inflation rose to 15.71 percent from 13.23 percent in August. The prices of food and beverages increased by 21.24 percent compared to the same period last year, while prices of perishable food items surged by 53.86 percent. During the last three months, consumer prices rose by 13.77 percent compared to the same period last year and the wholesale prices grew by 19.83 percent. The wholesale price index climbed by 21.5 percent in September.
Officials in the Finance Ministry link the hike in food commodities with the devastating floods, continued pressure on food prices, fiscal pressure due to security situation, adjustment in utility prices, increase in transport charges and continued depreciation of rupee.
Some experts do not think that only floods are responsible for recent food inflation. Even before the floods, prices of food items were high. About 45 million out of a total population of around 180 million people were malnourished and 36 percent of the population was living below the poverty line. "Floods are responsible for the situation to some extent, but bad governance and cartelisation are main reasons for the present food inflation," says Sarwar Bari, Executive Council Member of Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) that also works on the issue of food inflation in Pakistan. He sees no mechanism in place to control the pricing of food commodities.
S A Hameed, ex-Chairman Punjab Chief Minister's Task Force on Price Control, seconds Bari's argument. "Price control is not on the priority of any government in Pakistan. There are many cartels and influential individuals in the government who do not like such ideas because they make huge profits owing to lack of pricing mechanism of food commodities."
Mohammad Ali Khan, Communication and Reporting Specialist with Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, says floods have multiplied food inflation in Pakistan. "The country can face a severe crisis of food shortage and prices can increase manyfolds if the government does not concentrate on the cultivation of next crop. If this season is missed, the next harvest for wheat will not be possible until spring 2012," he says, adding dependency on imported food items will worsen the situation in coming months.
"About 60-70 percent cultivable area of Sindh and one district of Punjab -- Muzaffargargh -- is still under water which means it is going to be tough to cultivate wheat here for the next season. The government needs to act proactively to facilitate farmers in cultivating the next crop. Over 2.4 million hectare of standing crop, including vegetables and fruit orchards, has been affected by floods. FAO has already started providing agriculture support to 0.533 million family units, while the governments has made a lot of announcements but provided no farm inputs to the flood-affected people," Khan says.
China's Liu Xiaobo is awarded 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for carrying a human rights agenda that the west approves of
By Ammara Ahmed
The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, has caused more frenzy than the winners usually do.
The Peace Prize is given by Oslo, Norway and not Stockholm, Sweden. The nominees come through politicians, heads of states, parliamentarians, former winners, advisors and academics etc. Awards are persistently presented to people promoting the western and particularly American foreign objectives like Yasser Arafat (initially labelled terrorist, but awarded after supporting the US-backed Oslo Accords), Shimon Peres (who developed Israel's nuclear arsenal) and Yitzhak Rabin (expelled Arabs and violently fractured the first Intifada). Organisations and protestors who voiced against the Afghan invasions, Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Vietnam wars (which saw mass peaceful protests in the West) never won. Unlike the "non-violent" Liu, many non-violent activists like Mahatma Gandhi were "regretfully" omitted.
Prizes had been presented to Menachem Begin, the former prime minister of Israel, for his role in the Camp David Accords. His record of supporting Zionist group Irgun was ignored. The 1945 winner, Cordell Hull, was a former American Senator who had demanded President Roosevelt's rejection of several German asylum seekers. Al Gore's Global Warming awareness spree, despite doubts about his contribution and nine factual errors, was rewarded nevertheless.
However, the worst was when Henry Kissinger was finally presented the peace torch to enlighten the world. The accusations of bombing North Vietnamese Army in Cambodia, involvement in Operation Condor -- crusades that included abduction and assassination by the secret and security agencies in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay -- did not do much to tick Oslo off.
Last year's winner, Barrack Obama, had only been in office for a year when the committee decided to bestow some pocket money on him. Few commentators, like the former winner Al Gore, thought it is "very well deserved", while US politician Gresham Barrett, questioned Obama's victory: "I'm not sure what the international community loved best; his waffling on Afghanistan, pulling defense missiles out of Eastern Europe, turning his back on freedom fighters in Honduras, coddling Castro, siding with Palestinians against Israel, or almost getting tough on Iran."
China has had a dreary human rights record. According to the Amnesty International, some 500,000 detainees lack any charge or trial, and millions cannot access the legal system. Persecution and different types of censorship keep increasing. Repression of minorities, including Tibetans and Mongolians, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians continues. The Chinese government has itself recognised that the legal system lacks laws, due processes and civil liberties. China's demand of a definition of human rights that includes social and economic rights along with political rights, in relation to the national culture and development rates, isn't approved internationally.
China's human rights disorder has a deep dilemma. It is either identified by foreign organisations like the US State Department, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International or else remains unreported due to the strict government suppression. So either you buy what might be western political propaganda or else you don't buy anything.
Countries like India, Latin American states and Israel, with equally stained human rights and corruption records, are never put on the international activism centre-stage. This probably has a connection with the West-Chinese economic rivalry. And economics is precisely where the Chinese government finds justifications for its current totalitarian communistic regime.
"The Chinese position is simple that development comes first ahead of individual human rights," says Professor Ian Taylor, an expert on China-Africa relations at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. "The Chinese authorities would argue that in providing infrastructure, you lay the groundwork for development. So the Chinese position is not coherent because they argue that they are involved in development, but they are also involved with some authorities with anti-development policies. China does, however, have a different approach to human rights of the West and this has to be understood."
However, an editorial from the Guardian newspaper stated the same fact differently: "to many Western ears, the clamour of China's markets is louder than the pleas of its dissidents. Its most coveted prize can now amplify Mr Liu's voice."
Liu's activism obviously has enormous value. It is worth celebrating that amidst a sea of oppression, one beam of resistance exists.
Liu, a human rights and political activist, has demanded democratic elections, liberty, separation of powers and political accountability. Since 1989, he has been in and out of prison, under spells of strict monitoring, document confiscation, phone tapping/internet tapping and house arrest.
In 1996, he served three years in prison on counts of "disturbing public order" by criticising the Communist Party of China. Following the death of former Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang in 2005, Liu was immediately put under house arrest.
In 2008, Liu actively participated in the writing of Charter 08 -- a manifesto released on the 60th birthday of the adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was styled after the Czech Charter 77, and asked for human rights, democracy and freedom of speech. Initially some 400 Chinese intellectuals and activists signed it, but eventually more then 10,000 people from all across the world signed it.
Liu has been decorated by organisations like the PEN and Amnesty International, supported by authors like Rushdie, Atwood, Ha Jin and heads of states like Angela Merkel and Ma Ying-jiu. But the Nobel Peace Prize committee isn't a charity organisation awarding goodwill and amnesty. The winners are chosen with care.
But Liu is carrying a human rights agenda that the West approves of i.e. democracy and freedom of speech etc. Western patronage will probably increase the Chinese legal onslaught on him. It would be too optimistic to believe that supporting one figure would bring China out of this socio-economic trap. Liu's peace prize was denounced as "blasphemous", censored by the print and electronic media -- China Central Television's prime-time evening news broadcast didn't mention him. Anyone attempting to celebrate was arrested. Historically, peace and prosperity is best when it arises within a state, instead of external benefactions, which often come with implicit vested interests and strings.
There is no jubilation within China or even in Asian countries like Myanmar, Vietnam, Japan or India. African and Latin American states are also mum (and politically correct due to the Chinese influence). However, Liu, of course, has become a powerful international celebrity and networking abroad might help in his release. Countries like Taiwan, US, France, Canada, Australia, Germany and even the European Parliament have asked for his release. However, Liu's victory has not made the prize any less controversial or suspicious.
The radical and militant organisations rant against the US support to shrines in their publications
By Waqar Gillani
Publications of militant organisations see a conspiracy in increased US 'interest' in the Sufi/Barelvi school of thought. Talking about the caretakers of mazars, Ummat, a publication that is believed to promote radical thoughts, says "Americans are visiting their shrines and donating dollars to them. Americans are also training them for countering "extremism" and they want to prepare a militia of such people that can counter jihadis." This news item was quoted by other similar publications.
Jaish-e-Muhammad's widely-circulated weekly al Qalam calls this warming up of the Americans to shrines as "a conspiracy to wage civil war in Pakistan". It highlights visits made by Richard Holbrooke to the shrine in Multan and by Israeli Ambassador to India Mark Sofer to Khawaja Moeenudin Chishti's shrine in Ajmer as part of a "conspiracy" to counter jihadis in the Muslim countries.
"They (US) want to use the successors of shrines as their partners to counter the jihadis… This is an attempt to destabilise Pakistan as Americans are holding secret meetings with the gaddi nasheens (successors). This is not a conspiracy against the mujahideen but also Pakistan…" reads the editorial of al Qalam (September 24-30 issue).
The editorial further warns the gaddi nasheens collaborating with the Americans to not defame Sufism -- "otherwise people of this country know their responsibility". Similarly, the Lashkar-e-Taiba publication Jarrar also condemns American funding to shrines -- "the pirs (caretakers) are selling the peoples' faith for US dollars."
Shrines are under threat in Pakistan. The most recent example: twin suicide attacks on Abdullah Shah Ghazi's mazaar in Karachi on October 7 that killed at least eight and injured more than 60. On August 19, unidentified men attacked the Khaki Shah Darbar in Lahore's Green Town with low intensity bombs. Earlier, at least 42 people were killed in two suicide blasts at Lahore's landmark Data Darbar (also called Syed Ali Hajvery's shrine) on July 1 this year.
Reportedly, TTP has claimed responsibility for attacks on some of these shrines whose purpose, perhaps, is to keep the devotees away and the Americans under pressure.
Though many Deoband clerics like Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi (also Chairman Pakistan Ulema Council) condemn such shrine attacks and rubbish the accusation that they are anti-shrines, yet he in particular holds the ruling pirs responsible for the attacks "by aligning with America. We denounce attacks on shrines. Such groups among us are defaming Islam and us," Ashrafi tells TNS. "These are elements that believe others are kafir (infidels). It's a warped philosophy. We disown it."
Ashrafi views attacks on shrines is a way the people of Fata are trying to avenge deaths of their people by armed forces and drone attacks in the tribal areas.
Further he adds: "Shrines are easy and soft targets. We believe no saint is greater than Allah and hence must not be worshipped but respected. We condemn attacks on both mosques and shrines. Actually, the government has failed to enforce the writ."
American aid and its sympathy to "Sufism" seems a catalyst in this multi pronged al-Qaeda-led strategy to hit shrines in Pakistan on a pattern being followed in Iraq.
Former Senator Abbas Komeli, a Shia scholar who is heading the Jafaria Alliance Pakistan, points out that this pattern of attacking shrines is the same being followed in Iraq. "We believe that targeting shrines is targeting humanity. They think people will get scared and stop visiting shrines. But, believe me, their dream will never come true. Has the number of pilgrims decreased in Iraq shrine?"
Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, Chief of Sunni Tehreek, a school of thought close to Sufism, says America used jihadis in 1980s and now it is trying to use the slogan of "Sufism". "This is time when all clerics belonging to different sects should sit together and find a way out of this crisis."
Attacks on Sufi shrines are aimed at parting ways with established cultural norms and constructing a new identity born out of extremism
By Zia Ur Rehman
After the latest suicide attacks on the famed Sufi shrine in Karachi, the people and civil society of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa fear that militants may launch more attacks on the shrines of Sufi saints spread across the province and tribal areas.
Twin suicide attacks were carried out at the crowded shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi on October 7. About 50 people were killed in a similar attack at Data Darbar, another major Sufi Shrine, in Lahore on June 1 this year. Outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had claimed responsibility for the attack on Ghazi's shrine.
Pakistani Sufi shrines have frequently been the target of militant groups whose hard-line interpretation of the Islamic conjunctions is forcibly stopping the spiritual Sufi practices that are common across the country. In the last three years, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata has witnessed attacks on different Sufi shrines by militants; while a number of faith healers and caretakers (pirs) have also been targeted.
The first-ever-attack on a shrine in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa took place on December 18, 2007 when militants blew up the shrine of Abdul Shakoor Malang Baba on GT Road, Peshawar. On March 3, 2008, armed militants belonging to the Khyber Agency-based Laskhar-e-Islam (LeI) attacked the shrine of Hazrat Abu Saeed Baba in Shaikhan village in the outskirts of Peshawar, killing at least 10 local people and injuring several others.
Militants in Swat and Buner locked the Shrine of Hazrat Sayyad Ali Tirmizi, commonly known as Pir Baba in April 2008. The militants also captured the shrine of prominent freedom fighter Haji Sahib Tarangzai in Mohmand Agency and converted it into their headquarters.
The tomb of Rehman Baba, a famed Sufi and famous Pashto poet of the 17th century, was blown up by militants on March 5, 2009. A day after the attack on the Rehman Baba's shrine, militants struck the shrine of Bahadur Baba in district Nowshera on March 6.
On June 22, 2010, Taliban militants blew up the shrine of Mian Umer Baba in the Chamkani area of Peshawar, while in another incident, a faith healer, Mushtaq Hussain, was killed in an attack on the shrine of Malang Baba in Sheikh Muhammadi in Peshawar on May 16.
Experts view such attacks on Sufi shrines and other cultural symbols as an attempt on the part of militants aimed at parting ways with established norms and values and constructing a new identity. They say Sufism has been targeted by Talibanisation, a new faith embedded in anti-mystic Wahabi-Saudi Islam.
Idress Kamal, Convenor of Aman Tehreek, a civil society alliance in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, tells TNS Sufism has made a deep impact on Pasthun society and Sufi shrines dot the landscape of Pasthuns. "Attacking shrines and Sufi practices is part of the Taliban strategy to polarise the Pashtun society," he believes.
Muhammad Fayyaz Khan, Secretary-General of Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP), a pro-Sufism religious party, expressing disappointment on security situation at shrines, tells TNS that even after attacks on shrines in Karachi and Lahore, the provincial government has made no proper security arrangement at shrines. "Devotees are reluctant to visit shrines while pirs and people associated with shrines are still receiving threats from militants," the JUP leader added.
Talking to TNS, Provincial Auqaf Minister Namroz Khan claims the government has directed the district administrations to make foolproof security arrangements at Sufi shrines across the province. Khan feels that after a successful military offensive against militants, there is no fear of such attacks on shrines now. "Sufficient police personnel have been deployed at shrines round the clock," says Saeed Khan, Deputy Director Provincial Auqaf Department.
"Sufi saints like Rehman Baba are the reflections and symbols of humanity, pluralism and collective aesthetics of the Pashtun society," Khadim Hussain, a political expert and head of Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation (BKTEF), tells TNS. "Militants are making consistent efforts to bring about a shift in religious authority by imposing their interpretation of Islam on the whole Muslim world."
(The writer is a journalist and researcher and works on militancy, development and human rights. Email: email@example.com )