By Zia Ur Rehman

March 7, 2013

KARACHI – After continual attacks on Sufi spiritual leaders and shrines, the Sindh government devised a strategy to provide security to the shrines and spiritual leaders across the province.

On February 25, a blast tore through the Ghulam Shah Ghazi shrine in Marri village in Shikarpur District, killing four people on the scene and wounding more than 27 others. Pir Syed Hajan Shah – a spiritual leader and Gaddin Nasheen (spiritual descendant) of the saint honoured at the shrine – later succumbed to his wounds March 4.

Members of Sufi groups, religious groups and civil society outside the Karachi Press Club February 26 protest against recent attacks on Sufi shrines and spiritual leaders in Sindh. The Sindh government has devised a strategy to protect Sufi shrines and spiritual leaders across the province. [Zia Ur Rehman]
After news spread of Shah’s death, markets, businesses and trade centres across Sindh closed down March 5 voluntarily to honour him, media reported.

Militants also attacked the convoy of spiritual leader Syed Hussain Shah – popularly known as Saeen Hussain Shah Qambar – February 20 with a remote-controlled bomb in the Ahmed Deen Brohi area of Jacobabad District. He escaped unharmed, but the bomb killed his grandson Shafiq Shafi Shah and injured eight others.

Besides prompting more aggressive security measures, the attacks have elicited broad condemnation.

Government security measures

In a February 28 press release, Sindh police chief Fayyaz Ahmed Leghari called for reinforced security at the Sufi shrines, dargahs (a Sufi shrine built over a religious figure’s grave), mosques and imambargahs (Shia congregation halls) in the province.

“[Cell phone] jammers, walk-through gates and security barriers have been installed in all shrines, while officers in charge of all police stations have been directed to increase police patrolling in the areas where Sufi shrines are situated,” Pir Muhammad Shah, a senior police officer in Sukkar, told Central Asia Online.

Authorities also arranged meetings with caretakers of various shrines and spiritual leaders to work out security strategies, he said.

Leghari also ordered deployment of plainclothes police to be deployed and for security upgrades for spiritual leaders.

Police raids resulted in the arrests of six militant suspects in connection with both attacks, Sindh media reported. Officials are interrogating the suspects, said Parvaiz Chandio, a police official in Shikarpur.

Intelligence agencies have declared 15 Sufi shrines of Sindh “sensitive” and asked the provincial government to provide them with fool-proof security, said Nasir Shaikh, a Hyderabad-based journalist, citing some official reports.

Shrines honouring Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (Bhit Shah), Laal Shahbaz Qalandar (Sehwan), Sakhi Abdul Wahab Shah (Hyderabad), and Baba Salauddin (Kotri) are among those declared sensitive, he said.

Attacks draw broad condemnation

Additionally, the Sindh Assembly February 27 passed a resolution condemning attacks on religious scholars and shrines.

“The recent attacks on spiritual leaders in Sindh were carried out by banned organisations and were a continuation of the vicious campaign against the Hazara community in Balochistan,” said Imran Zafar Leghari, a parliamentarian belonging to the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), who presented the resolution in the assembly.

“Sindh is the land of Sufis and saints who preached peace and love,” he told Central Asia Online, adding that the provincial government is devising a strategy to protect Sufi shrines and religious scholars from banned extremist outfits.

Sindh’s civil society and progressive political parties also denounced the attacks and have started a joint campaign against militancy in the province. Even before the Ghulam Shah Ghazi shrine bombing, they were reacting with outrage.

Nine progressive political parties of Sindh and civil society organisations February 24 conducted province-wide protests.

The people of Sindh typically reject aggression, militancy and extremism, said Ilahi Buksh Bikak, a leader of the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz political party who attended a protest that day held outside the Karachi Press Club.

“Islam spread in the Sindh region thanks to great Sufi preachers, not because of Arab fighters,” Bikak told Central Asia Online, adding that Sufis spread a message of love, peace and interfaith harmony.

Militants target Sufi shrines

Taliban militants have frequently targeted Sufi shrines in Pakistan, especially in the Pashtun regions, and have now started targeting them in Punjab and Sindh, Sufi leaders say.

The militants justify their attacks on shrines and other cultural symbols as attempts at constructing a new culture and identity, said Abdul Majid Baqi, a Lahore-based Sufi researcher, adding that such extremists often follow a philosophy that conflicts with Sufi Islam.