By Kamila Hyat
The blasts at Data Darbar have forced people to think. Many with ambiguous feelings about the militants are now clearer in their ideas about extremism and what it intends to achieve.
The bombings were not only an attempt to spread panic and create fear – the main purpose of terrorism of every kind — but also to stifle thoughts, ideas and schools of belief. The series of attacks since 2008 on Sufi shrines in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa forms a part of the pattern.
The militants wish to impose a uniform manner of thinking and replace the relaxed system of religious practice which has existed in the region for centuries with a far more orthodox creed. The attempt has been on since the early 1980s, when the late General Ziaul Haq encouraged groups following hard-line ideologies to set up seminaries and other centres across the country.
The rather naïve report from the Washington-based Brookings Institute think tank that madressahs that promote militancy are limited in number and as such not a “main problem” ignores the fact that even the institutes that do not preach violence encourage a mindset that builds support for the Taliban and other groups. Such views have permeated mainstream education too and seeped into many other places, changing quite markedly the nature of society.
The obsession with religion has grown rapidly as has the hypocrisy that often surrounds it. An astonishing number of people seem to believe it is somehow important to thrust belief on others or to challenge views that vary from their own.
This appears to have been a factor in the illogical conspiracy theories we continue to hear everywhere. Leaders who should know better, such as those associated with the Jamaat-e-Islami, hold the Data Darbar bombings were carried out by ‘anti-Islam’ forces, an attempt to point the finger towards the US, its allies or India.
People whose names are followed by a string of letters marking their educational qualifications hold that the 9/11 attacks may have been perpetuated by Washington and its agencies, using ground-based technology that forced planes to crash into buildings. Some still insist, presumably out of habit, that ‘no Muslim’ would have targeted the Darbar.
Most people now appear convinced that the militants we have encouraged to grow in our own backyard are indeed responsible and that it is senseless to deny this. The strikes and closure of shops in Lahore following the bombings signalled a true sense of horror and dismay over what had happened.
The Darbar, regarded as the most important of the Sufi shrines dotted across the country, holds a special place in the hearts of many – even those who do not regularly visit it. Many who have turned up at the venue following the blasts say they wish also to apologise to Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh, who died nearly a century ago, for the outrage that led to so many deaths at a place of peace where many seek solace from their woes.
In some ways at least the blasts have acted as a wake-up call. They have exposed the militants for what they are. They may also have helped to build realisation that we need to combat terrorism far more forcefully if it is to be defeated. It is now obvious the militants wish to eradicate the message of tolerance and acceptance that marked Sufism. The attempts to reclaim the philosophy as one integral to religious practice in the Subcontinent need to be stepped-up.
Doing so is vital to the effort to re-establish harmony that has been lost in our society creating fissures that play a part in promoting extremism and targeted killings of Shias which continue in Karachi. The sectarianism and violence we see has made almost all our major cities far more dangerous places to live in than at any previous time in history.
The unprecedented reaction to the bombings should also prompt the Punjab government to re-think its strategy. Visiting bereaved families, cuddling orphaned children on laps or handing out compensatory cheques as the chief minister has been doing is largely pointless. It has become essential to go after militant forces in the province.
The unfortunate battle that has been opened up on this front, with the central government and its allies quick to direct blame towards the set-up in Lahore after every act of terrorism, simply detracts from this effort.
We need unity, and an exhibition of maturity, to go after the militants, not the childish displays of petulance and ego we have so far been seeing from leaders.
A great deal of planning and resolve is needed to win the war. The significance of Pakistan’s failures on so many fronts should not be downplayed. The country’s literacy rate of 56 per cent is now the lowest outside sub-Saharan Africa and on tables that list other development attainments even the famine-ravaged states of Africa have fared better. These are statistics that must be considered carefully.
The lack of education and with it the lack of opportunity have played a big part in the growth of militancy and the desperation that drive young men into the hands of militants. Reports now emerging from Swat emphasise the extent to which the rise of militants in the area was fuelled by resentment against the rich and a deep sense of social injustice. Such feelings exist everywhere in the country and are already taking us steadily closer to chaos.
But even though we live in a kind of nightmare world, in which no life is safe and where death lurks everywhere, our political leaders continue to smile and offer up meaningless platitudes. The pretence that all is well, that we are in fact making progress and that the government is striving for the betterment of people is in its own way sickening. Few are taken in.
Most people recognise we are in a state of crisis and that a wide-ranging plan of action is needed to resolve it, so we can retrieve the society that has been lost beneath the debris left behind by bomb blasts.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor