By Zia Ur Rehman

January 24, 2014

KARACHI – The Taliban’s recent attacks on Sufi shrines are giving people who oppose the militancy more fuel for their cause.

Police are investigating the January 7 killing of six men who were at the Ayub Shah Bukhari shrine in the Gulshan-e-Maymar area of Karachi.

Three of the men were custodians at the shrine, popularly known as Pahari Walay Baba, while the others were visitors.

Religious groups January 8 protest outside the Karachi Press Club against the January 7 killing of six men at the Ayub Shah Bukhari shrine and denounce Taliban violence. [Zia Ur Rehman]
“It seems that all of them were slaughtered with a sharp-edged dagger that was recovered at the crime scene,” Samad Khan, in charge of the local police station, told Central Asia Online.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants left a note claiming responsibility for the massacre and warned the public against visiting Sufi shrines, he said, adding that the militants damaged the shrine’s walls and religious banner.

In another such attack this month, unidentified gunmen January 10 fatally shot two Ghazi Shah Baba shrine faith-healers in Mardan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Taliban history of targeting Sufi shrines : 

Taliban militants have frequently targeted Sufi shrines in Pakistan, especially in the Pashtun region, and now are stepping up such attacks in Sindh and Punjab, according to Sufi leaders.

This does not come as a surprise given the TTP’s history of violence toward religious followers and their sacred sites.

Militants attacked at least 28 worship places (including four Sufi shrines) in 2013, killing 136 worshippers and injuring 453 others, according to an annual security report released by the Islamabad-based think tank Pak Institute of Peace Studies. The TTP and its affiliated groups claimed responsibility for the attacks.

One of the most lethal bombings of a Sufi shrine in recent years occurred in July 2010 when two suicide bombers targeted the shrine of Sufi saint Data Ganj Baksh Hajveri in Lahore, killing about 45 devotees and injuring dozens of others.

The attacks on shrines are thought to be linked to the arrival of Arab militants in Afghanistan, Asmat Khan Wazir, director of the Islamabad-based think tank Research Advocacy and Development (RAD), said. Such militants reject Sufi Islam and visits to Sufi shrines, viewing them as incompatible with the Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalism the TTP espouses, Wazir told Central Asia Online.

Killings widely condemned : 

Protest rallies to denounce the killings took place in Karachi January 8 and in Lahore January 10.

Religious scholars in Karachi organised a protest under the banner of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) outside the Karachi Press Club. More than 50 of Pakistan’s top religious scholars associated with the SIC in July issued a fatwa against suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism.

“We condemn the gruesome killing of shrine visitors in Karachi and Mardan and denounce the Taliban’s violence,” SIC Secretary General Tariq Mehboob said, adding that Taliban militants have no legitimacy in Islam or in Sharia.

“Followers of Sufism have always condemned the Taliban’s un-Islamic acts, like beheading the innocent and bombing shrines and worship places,” Mehboob told Central Asia Online, surmising that the militants see Sufism as a threat.

The Taliban are trying to frighten the followers of Sufism, Allama Maqbool Aleemi, a Hyderabad-based religious scholar, said.

“First they attacked the shrines and killed Sufi leaders, but now they are slaughtering shrine visitors and faith healers,” Aleemi said, adding that Sufis spread a message of love, peace and inter-faith harmony that the Taliban are trying to discredit.

Sufi shrines security beefed up: 

The Sindh government, after attacks on Sufi spiritual leaders last February, devised a strategy to protect shrines and spiritual leaders across the province.

“The Sindh government installed cell phone jammers, walk-through gates and security barriers in all shrines in the province and directed district police officers to increase patrols around the shrines,” Muhammad Kaleem, an official in the provincial Awqaf (Islamic endowment) department, said.

Authorities are also protecting key Sufi shrines, including those honouring Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (in Bhit Shah), Abdullah Shah Ghazi (Karachi) and Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (Sehwan), he said, noting that intelligence agencies declared them sensitive.