The current spate of violence by the Deobandis against the Barelvis began after the 1990 formation of Sunni Tehreek (ST) by Mohammad Salim Qadri. The organisation was believed to be an offshoot of Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam. The first battles were about the control of the mosques in Sindh and Punjab.
But the internecine conflict amongst the Sunnis climaxed on 11 April 2006, when a congregation of the ST was attacked at Nishtar Park in Karachi by a suicide bomber. It killed the entire leadership of the ST, with 57 dead and 200 injured. The Data Darbar attack of 1 July 2010 stood out too as a phenomenon.
Naeemis killing had instilled fear in the minds of the moderate preachers of Pakistan.
But of equal importance, if not more, was the killing of the Barelvi cleric, Sarfraz Naeemi, in Lahore on 11 June 2010. Naeemi was one of the few courageous Muslim preachers of Pakistan who had taken a position against terrorism and issued a fatwa against suicide bombing and called it to be against Islamic law. As Dawn had reported, a week after his assassination, on 19 June, his son Raghib Naeemi quoted his father, saying “My father believed that this is [sic] the last war for the survival of Pakistan.”
Naeemi’s killing had instilled fear in the minds of the moderate preachers of Pakistan. The same 19 June report of Dawn had quoted a Reuters report saying, “Naeemi’s murder has also spread fear among his moderate colleagues. ‘I myself have received threats,’ said Muneeb-ur-Rehman, a scholar who heads a Barelvi alliance of religious schools. ‘I have no security at home or at my madrasah,’ he told Reuters by telephone from Karachi . . .”
“¦with increased pressure from Pakistans law enforcement agencies following incidents like the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, they have now shifted base to the countrys lawless northwest, where the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda are active.
The government’s sense of powerlessness was evident in the report itself, as the newspaper quoted an official advising these clerics to put their heads down. “They should keep a low profile . . . restrict their movements and keep their travel plans confidential,” a security official had advised through the publication.
All this reflected the changing dynamics of militant jihadi politics of Pakistan, which was hitherto being fostered by state agencies as an asymmetric tool to deal with India militarily. The increased American presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan had turned the attention of these organisations more inward. And with increased pressure from Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies following incidents like the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, they have now shifted base to the country’s lawless northwest, where the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda are active. This has helped the organisations to unify their actions, blurring lines of demarcation.
The International Crisis Group, in its study of 13 March 2009 titled “Pakistan: The militant Jihadi challenge,” stated, “The interdependence between Punjab-based militant jihadi organisations and al-Qaeda deepened in 2001-2002, when many militants fleeing international forces in Afghanistan relied on radical Sunni extremist networks to relocate to parts of Punjab. Today, the LJ is the lynchpin of the alignment between al-Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and sectarian groups.”
The politicians do not have a solution to the problem as they are complicit in the misjudgment of giving primacy to the Deobandi ideologues in the past.
This nexus is now endangering Pakistan itself. The Barelvi–Deobandi battles threaten to tear the society asunder. The general population in the rural areas is now seeing the hitherto distant militancy and terrorism getting to grip their lives. Even the religious leaders are worried that this could trigger a sectarian bloodbath of larger proportions, threatening the very national integrity of the country.
The politicians do not have a solution to the problem as they are complicit in the misjudgment of giving primacy to the Deobandi ideologues in the past. Even if they try to reverse the trend now, the frenetic pace of developments is often leaving them behind. The Daily Times of Pakistan wrote an editorial on 18 August 2010, in which it quoted thus: “The most significant statement . . . has come from our Foreign Minister Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi who is also the spiritual custodian of one of the country’s most important ‘mazar’ (Sufi) shrines, that of Shah Rukn-e-Alam in Multan, where he recently addressed the devotees of the mystic saint on his 695th anniversary.
“Breaking with the custom of not emphasising the Deobandi-Barelvi schism, Mr Qureshi said on Sunday: ‘The Sunni Tehreek has decided to activate itself against Talibanisation in the country. A national consensus against terrorism is emerging across the country.’”
The largely Punjabi army seems ranged against all those terrorists and militants who are of different ethnicities excepting those from the Punjab itself.
Differing from Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision of a secular, multiethnic nation of Muslims that would shine as a beacon of modernity, his descendants had sought to Islamise the country to strengthen their political grasp and to give it a distinctive identity in the Hindu dominated subcontinent. Now, that Talibanesque agenda has created what the Americans call a “blowback,” which threatens the very social fabric of the country. The supposedly all-powerful Pakistan army appears incapable of stemming this tide as it itself is enmeshed in a policy crisis of a great magnitude. The largely Punjabi army seems ranged against all those terrorists and militants who are of different ethnicities excepting those from the Punjab itself. This is raising questions within the country, and outside. Its vaunted professionalism is in doubt.