By Manesh Kumar
March 1, 2017
Sufis so far have worked to peacefully introduce Sindh to the world. They have protected its religious tolerance and interfaith harmony for centuries, but their own shrines, places where Ayaz and Mehmood stand in the same row, are under attack from terrorists.
The suicide attack on Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine, which left 90 dead on February 16, and more than 250 people injured, is not the first incident that has left us aghast; the fact is, Sindh has witnessed many big and small terrorist attacks in recent years.
Sindh was shocked when an unknown psychiatric patient was bludgeoned to death by a mob on Seeta road in Dadu because he had allegedly burnt copies of a holy book. (Later a video on YouTube showed that some nationalist party flags were flying in the crowd). That wave of extremism did not spare even Sayed Hussain Shah, a religious leader; he was attacked in Jacobabad, and his nephew was killed. Numerous temples have been set upon by extremists across the province. The body of Bhooro Bheel, a Hindu folk singer, was taken from his grave. Similarly, the ISI offices in Sukkur were attacked on July 24, 2013. Eight people were killed and several others were injured. Subsequently, JUI leader Khalid Mehmood Soomro was assassinated by some extremists in November 2014.
Their last target was a Shikarpur Imambargah, in which more than 70 people lost their lives. This was the last warning for our leaders to get cracking. But not only have they sat idle, they have just kept using the slogan “Sindh is the soil of Sufis; therefore, nothing is going to happen to it”. The reality is that things are not what they used to be.
With Sehwan, we have just seen silence from our leaders. They should know that has not come out of the blue.
If one wants to know how Sindh became a hotbed of extremism, one doesn’t have to go far back in time. After the 2010 floods, which caused major devastation to the countryside, the government failed to rescue people, let alone do relief work and rehabilitation. While ministers and bureaucrats were busy siphoning off funds allocated for rehabilitation, some organizations created a huge space for themselves in society by doing relief work. Whatever they gave people, they asked nothing in return. As a result, people who had no trust in politicians anyway, quickly gravitated towards them.
Now these organizations are working from Kashmore to Tharparkar; Shikarpur, Sukkur and Jacobabad and the whole of upper Sindh is considered their stronghold. With their relief work, these networks have taken roots locally.
What our leaders have done to curb extremism so far is just lip service. Some of them condemn each attack by issuing press releases, and some protest in front of press clubs to obtain some airtime. That’s all they do.
A clear policy is required to curb extremism. But the fact is, no political party, including the Pakistan People’s Party, which has governed the province for nearly nine years, has a clear strategy – or even stance – on extremism. Criticism or condemnation is not a solution..
Here is what the government and political leaders can do:
Keep an Eye On Outlawed Outfits
For many years our media and some politicians have been crying about the existence of extremists in upper Sindh but the government has been silent; instead it has been ruling out the existence of organizations such as the TTP and ISIS. Now the attack on Sehwan has proved them wrong. Following the Peshawar APS attack our national security policy made a clear statement about extremism; some organizations have been banned. In Sindh, some outfits, whose mother wings are banned, are still working in some areas. They should not be allowed to work.
A report was presented in the Senate that 26 madrasas, some of them in Sindh, have been involved in accepting foreign funding. These funds should be stopped. Simultaneously; a system of local funding has equal importance. The government needs to keep a check on this.
Sindh has always had madrasas so there is no need to launch any operation but they should be regulated. No one, even the government, knows what is being taught in these seminaries. They ought to be provided with state-prepared syllabus.
Strengthen Social Welfare Programs
It is the responsibility of any government to provide people their basic rights. When the government fails them, they start to look towards organizations that do. Only good governance can solve this problem; the government should provide people at least water, education, health care, shelter.
Sindhi nationalist parties have no relief program in their strategy; they can also start welfare programs.
A Powerful Narrative against Extremism
In addition to the things mentioned above, there must be a powerful narrative against religious extremism in the province. The government can take a baby step; it should invite all political, social and religious leaders to discuss the issue and draw up a policy to curb the terror threat in Sindh.