The barbarians have attacked another shrine – no respite for Karachi

Karachi’s famous shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi was attacked a while ago. Over 60 people are injured and 12 are dead. After Lahore’s Data Darbar attacks, this is a trend that is gaining an ugly momentum. We condemn this act and mourn the deaths of innocent people who were visiting to perhaps allay their stress and seek some peace from the place. Shrines are not just religious – these are public spaces and also cultural markers. What a shame that terrorists are trying to destroy our culture and turning us into a bunch of afraid people living in a fractured and violent society.

Thursdays are special for shrine-goers. And this is what suits the terrorists’ agenda. This is not the first time that such a heinous tragedy has occurred. We are living amid barbarians who have no tolerance for people with inclusive and plural Sufi thought. Karachi has suffered such an attack for the first time. Reports of the city having turned into a hub of Al-Qaeda and faith-based militants are all too well known. A new phase of terror may have bgun for the city that has already been suffering ethnic, sectarian and other forms of violence. This does not augur well for the port city, its centrality to our economy, trade and prospects.

The majority of Pakistani (and South Asian) Muslims follow the Barelvi school of thought which has historically been inclusive, and with few exceptions non-violent. In pre-1947 subcontinent such a local variant could easily co-exist with other religions and faiths.The tradition continued until the rise of petrodollars enabled many Sunni-ideological states to invest heavy money into the propagation of a particular brand of Islam that is exclusive and in many ways anti-minorities and anti-women. Hence the unprecedented growth of madrassas in Pakistan during the 1980s (which coincided with the Afghan jihad project).

What is the agenda of those attacking Pakistan now. Well they want a single or a cluster of Emirates to be formed in Pakistan where the inherent pluralism of Pakistan is eliminated. Shias and other minorities should either be killed or live in fear (the way they do in a friendly Islamic country); Sufi Islam is declared as biddat or even better ‘shirk’, Wahabi practices are introduced and women are rendered invisible from public life. This agenda is domestic and the gloabal one is anti-US, anti-West and anti-modernity. Sufi Mohammad’s statements after Nizam e Adl may be noted (he rejected the Constitution, democracy and the system of governance).

Our encouragement to such trends by a state that adopted jihad as a policy and foreign funds have brought us to this pass that we have militants and suicide bombers everywhere. Nevertheless, the state has since 2004 gradually reversed its policy and last year’s military operations show that the establishment is serious about it. Widespread public support to the operations last year were also encouraging.

Having said that before the military operation, we had a whole section of media industry drumming up support for Taliban by saying those who were attacking civilians and our cities were actually Hindu Taliban or US mercenaries. A large section of urban middle classes (who matter in this country) also bought into this argument. This is why our knee-jerk reactions still remain the same: “No Muslim can ever do it” or Indians and Blackwater are attacking us.

Even the head of Punjab’s judiciary had indicated in his remarks that the role of Blackwater in Lahore’s Data Darbar attacks should be investigated. Earlier the honourable judge said that “Hindus” were responsible for the blasts all over Pakistan. His views have not come in isolation – there is a wider belief in urban areas that our external ‘enemies’ are creating havoc in this country.

If this is the level of our denial then God save Pakistan.

One thing is clear. Intelligence apparatus is not working (evidently); the Police are scared or lack resources/cooperation; the prosecution is dysfunctional; and the courts unwilling to sentence terrorists. With our non-performing criminal justice system, there is not much that we can hope in terms of law enforcement. Without a major overhaul of the system, Pakistan will continue to be a playground for terrorists.

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