By K S Venkatachalam
The suicide attack on the Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar appears to be a part of a larger conspiracy to destabilize Pakistan. The dastardly attack one of the most revered shrine in Pakistan has taken a heavy toll of human lives. Over 80 devotees who had gathered for Urs festival died in the attack and more than 200 sustained serious injuries. The suicide attack seems to be the handiwork of the Islamic State, which is trying to establish its presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Ever since the former Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif launched “Zarb-e-Azb,” successfully launched an operation in 2014 to flush out militants operating from North Waziristan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the militants belonging to Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP), an umbrella organization of Sunni militant groups, whose main objectives are destabilizing Pakistan and enforce Sharia law. The TTP, to avenge the hundreds of their cadres being eliminated in the military offensive have been deliberately picking soft targets like schools, shrines Shiite mosques and other places of worship frequented by people belonging to non-Sunni Muslim denominations. In December 2014, TTP attacked an Army Public School in Peshawar where more than 132 students and around 10 teachers were killed. The attack received worldwide condemnation. The death toll in the Sufi Shrine is the second largest attack. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. In a swift reprisal launched by the army, over 100 militants have been killed in the Afghan border.
It would be wrong to singularly blame the Pakistan establishment for not able to prevent attacks at public places, after all we are not fighting against the militants but their ideology. It is for this reason, in spite of all out attacks on ISIS, they are able to launch attacks in several countries in Europe. It is here one feels that the Muslim scholars, Mullahs, Qazis and religious leaders have failed to condemn these attacks. If they had openly attacked these terror outfits, they could have prevented hundreds of impressionable minds joining their fold. They have singularly been responsible for doing great disservice to a religion that symbolizes love and peace.
One question that begs an answer is how these suicide bombers managed to sneak into the country, when there is a heavy military presence at the Pak–Afghan border. In all probability, the attackers may have entered Pakistan unarmed and could have been provided weapons by their sympathisers in Pakistan. Lately, Pakistan has seen a wave of attacks mostly directed at civilian targets. In 2016 alone, Pakistan witnessed over 16 attacks claiming the lives of 300 innocent persons. It is estimated that over 50,000 people (including military personnel) have lost their lives over the past 10 years.
It is now quite clear that the Islam, as practiced by the followers of ISIS, Pak Taliban and other outfits, are far removed from the Islam practiced by Sufis. Sufis, through the practice of meditating seek to achieve self knowledge, and through this self knowledge, gain knowledge of God. Sufism, therefore, differs from what is followed by the Islamic theologians and the Mullahs, who assert that God is unique, and that such unity of existence is unthinkable. Sufism also differs from other forms of Islam in the belief that a human soul could achieve union with God (unity of existence).This doctrine often brought Sufis in conflict with the Ulema. The attack on the Sufi shrine is being seen as attempt to silence all those who interpret Islam that is not in sync with Salafism. In fact Syed Muhammed Usman Marwandi, also known as Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a Sufi philosopher and poet, is respected both by the Muslims and Hindus. In fact, the Sindhi Hindus and Muslims refer him as Jhulelal, an incarnation of a Hindu deity. In fact a song “Lal Meri Pat Rakhiyo” composed by Amir Khusro in his honour has become popular in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Jhulelal was a scholar of Sanskrit, Turkish, Arabic and other languages. His message of compassion and brotherhood appealed to Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Moreover, Sufism is close to the Hinduism’s Advaidic philosophy, where atman (human soul) and Parmatma (God) are one, as there is no distinction of duality between the God and the soul, except in our perception. Jhulelal continues to be the unifying force and the centre of all cultural activities of the Sindhi community. It is against this backdrop, one should not be surprised why the IS specifically chose to target the Holy Shrine, as Sufism preaches love and tolerance. It is because of their syncretism, many non-Muslims got drawn towards their philosophy.
It is time Pakistan realizes that by being selective in launching on those terrorist organizations that have become a security threat to them and, at the same time, being complicit in arming, funding organizations for launching attacks across the border, such an approach is not only short sighted, but would come to haunt them one day, as we have seen in the latest suicide attack on the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine. It is also incumbent on Pakistan to enlist the support of India and Afghanistan and launch a joint operation against the militant groups operating from Afghanistan. They also need to go after various groups like Jamat-ul dawa and other groups who have been training and arming terrorists, with the support of the army, to launch attacks in India and Afghanistan.
It is hoped that Pakistan learns a lesson from the recent attack, and goes after all the terror groups, irrespective of their allegiance, to completely eliminate the scourge of terrorism. If Pakistan fails to seize the moment; the people may end up losing faith in their government and the military, which may not augur well for the peace and stability of the country.
K S Venkatachalam is an Independent Columnist and Political Commentator