by Zia Ur Rehman

August 2-8, 2013

The July 24 suicide attack on the local headquarters of ISI in the highly secured Barrage Colony area of Sukkur has renewed the fears among the Sindhi civil society and political groups that the influence of Taliban and other militant groups is spreading in interior Sindh. The raid involved two suicide attackers. One blew himself up outside a police station, and another outside of the ISI headquarters, according to local media reports. Nine people, including five attackers and four police and intelligence officials, were killed in the attacks. Ahmed Marwat, who introduced himself as the spokesman for the Jundullah faction of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), called reporters to claim responsibility for the attack. He said the attack was to avenge the death of TTP central leader Waliur Rehman Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan region in May. Marwat said Pakistan Army and the ISI were cooperating with the US. It was the first such attack in Sukkur. The Sindh province, famous for its progressive politics, vibrant civil society and Sufi traditions, has been facing threats of militancy for the last few years, political and civil society activists say. While violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA continues to get media coverage, the underdeveloped areas Sindh are quietly becoming recruiting grounds for militancy, they say. “Militancy is Sindh’s future. It will slowly wipe out its pluralism,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, a prominent security analyst. “A rise in the incidents of the forced conversion of Hindus to Islam and killings of Hindus, attacks on Afghanistan-bound convoys of NATO fuel supply trucks, targeting of Shia and Barelvi Sufi personalities, murders of people over allegations of blasphemy, and other such incidents indicate that militancy and religious intolerance are gaining grounds in Sindh especially in its northern part,” said Riaz Sohail, a BBC journalist who covers Sindh’s affairs extensively. On May 1, National People’s Party candidate Mohammad Ibrahim Jatoi escaped unharmed in a suicide attack in Shikarpur district which left two people wounded. On February 25, a blast tore through the Ghulam Shah Ghazi shrine in Shikarpur, killing four people on the scene and wounding more than 27 others. Pir Syed Hajan Shah – a spiritual leader – succumbed to his wounds on March 4. Militants also attacked the covey of spiritual leader Syed Hussain Shah, popularly known as Syed Hussain Shah Qambar, with a remote-controlled bomb in the Ahmed Deen Brohi area of Jacobabad district on February 20. He escaped unharmed, but the bomb killed his grandson and injured eight others. New madrassas and increased activities of banned Jihadi outfits are affecting the traditional progressive Sufi landscape of the province, analysts say. “Most of the new madrassas in the province are linked to and funded by outlawed militants organizations, and are posing a threat to Sindh’s non-violent traditions,” said Fazal Shiekh, a political activist associated with a Sindhi nationalist party. There are over 600 madrassas in Sindh that are deemed dangerous, according to a recent TFT report titled ‘The Madrassa Networks of Sindh’ (July 12-18) citing sources in the provincial home ministry. “The threat of militancy to Sindh is a combination of mushroom growth of madrassas and activities of banned outfits and more importantly, it is happening under the umbrella of the JUI-F and other political parties,” said Ayesha Siddiqa. Almost all banned jihadi groups, operating with new names, are running their networks in interior Sindh, an intelligence official said, adding that charity organizations affiliated with banned groups have been active in relief work after the recent floods in Sindh and had strengthened their organizations. He also said banned sectarian groups were organizing public gatherings in which many of the participants were young madrassa students. Attacks on Hindus and forced conversions to Islam were once rare in Sindh, but in recent years, hundreds of Hindu girls have been forcibly converted. It forced many families to abandon their homes and move to India and other countries. In the recent elections, pamphlets issued by religious extremists in the Thar Desert, a Hindu-majority area, warned locals to refrain from electing women or “infidels”. Sindh’s liberal civil society and political parties are expressing concerns about the growing influence of militant groups in the province, but analysts say they are not trying seriously to counter it. During the Afghan war and the Islamisation of the society by late military dictator Ziaul Haq, Sindh’s progressive nationalist forces didn’t allow militancy to affect the secular color of Sindhi politics, analysts say. “But now, the situation has changed completely,” said Riaz Sohail. “The PPP does not have a strategy to prevent militancy in Sindh, and Sindhi nationalist groups are passing through their own ideological and organizational crises.” In the recent elections, Sindhi nationalist forces allied with religious parties like the JUI-F and Jamaat-e-Islami, he said. “By making such alliances, Sindhi progressive forces have abandoned their resistance against the influence of religious groups,” he said. “Mian Mithu, a key leader who encouraged forced conversion of Hindu girls to Islam, was elected to the parliament from Ghotki in 2008 on a PPP ticket.” “Sindh has failed to produce an alternative narrative to feudalism, and so radicalism has grown,” said Ayesha Siddiqa. “The pirs, waderasdakus and mullahs in Sindh are now partners.”.