By Zia Ur Rehman
Monday, October 26, 2015
A recent suicide attack on a Shia procession in Jacobabad shows that banned religious outfits are making inroads into northern Sindh, a region historically known for its diversity, tolerance, Sufism, and progressive politics.
A suicide bomber blew up himself in Lashari Mohallah neighbourhood of Jacobabad, killing at least 26 mourners, including children.
Home minister Sohail Anwer Siyal said the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a banned sectarian group, had claimed responsibility for the attack.
The law enforcement agencies claim that after a similar attack on an imambargah in Shikarpur, a district adjacent to Jacobabad, in January this year that killed over 57 people, they have weakened the militant groups operating in the northern parts of Sindh and their adjacent districts in Balochistan after launching an operation against them.
However, the Jacobabad attack has belied their claim.
Political analysts, who extensively study the province’s security issues, say that an increase in the activities of banned outfits has been seen in northern Sindh.
While militancy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA continues to attract media coverage, the presence of banned groups in the Sindh province in recent years remains underreported and the region is quietly becoming a recruiting ground for terrorists.
Besides the attacks on the Shia community in Jacobabad and Shikarpur, torching Afghanistan-bound NATO fuel supply trucks and attacks on former National People’s Party chief Ibrahim Jatoi, Sufi spiritual leaders including Pir Syed Hajjan Shah and Syed Hussian Shah Qambar, and the Inter-Service Intelligence’s Sukkur office are some prominent incidents that indicate the growing strength of militant groups in northern Sindh.
Riaz Sohail, a veteran journalist, said terrorist activities had been witnessed in Kashmore, Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Sukkur and Qambar Shahdadkot districts.
“These groups have native Sindhi leaders and sympathisers and they mainly draw their support from the local population, especially those who are part of the religious circles of their schools of thought,” Sohail told The News.
Balochistan and southern Punjab
Police officials and security analysts say that militant groups operating in the bordering districts of Balochistan and southern Punjab have recently formed nexuses with those in Sindh.
Mazhar Mashwani, an officer at the police’s counter-terrorism department, said there was a nexus between the militant groups operating in Balochistan, in the northern districts of Sindh, and in Karachi.
After the Shikarpur attack, Mashwani, along with other officers, Saqib Ismail Memon and Raja Umar Khattab, participated in a crackdown on militant groups in the Sindh-Balochistan bordering districts including Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Khuzdar, Jhal Magsi Mastung and also in Karachi.
CTD officers in Karachi have been assigned the task of probing into the Jacobabad attack.
Mashwani had told The News in an earlier interview that a group led by militant commander, Chacha Sindhi of Sukkur, was active in the region and its members were trained in South Waziristan’s Ustad Aslam camp.
The militant groups active in Sindh and Balochistan have been supporting each other in carrying out their subversive activities.
Muhammad Ilyas Brohi and Abdul Rasheed Khoso, who carried out the attacks on the Shikarpur imambargah and Jatoi, had arrived from Balochistan’s Quetta and Jhat Phat towns respectively.
Police officers say that they were associated with the LeJ Balochistan chapter and the Jaish-e-Islam, a little-known sectarian group involved in many attacks on the Shia community in Balochistan.
Besides, jihadist groups based in southern Punjab are also active in northern Sindh. The United States Institute for Peace, a Washington-DC based think tank, said in its report in January that sectarian militant groups and the anti-state Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan were consolidating their presence in Sindh’s northern areas.
“Ensuring stability in Sindh is the key to tackling the security situation in Karachi and in preventing the spread of violent extremist and sectarian groups based in southern Punjab into the province,” it commented in the report.
Sohail said after the recent crackdown on the LeJ in Balochistan and southern Punjab, many of their militants had taken refuge in the bordering districts of Sindh including Qambar Shahdadkot, Shikarpur and Jacobabad, the region that is strategically ideal for militant groups.
Geographically, the districts of northern Sindh border Balochistan on the west and are connected to southern Punjab through Kashmore in the north.
Political analysts say that the ruling Pakistan People’s Party poor governance, lack of an alternative political force, the mushroom growth of madrasas, and tribal clashes are the key factors behind the strengthening of the religious extremist forces in the region.
“The PPP-led provincial government has failed to improve the basic infrastructure and provide jobs, creating more poverty,” said Murad Pandrani, a political commentator in Qambar Shadadkot.
“This is compelling poor people to join religious parties including the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl and the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat,” he added.
“These religious parties have been building fortified seminaries at the entry and exit points of all districts of northern Sindh where they offer free education and food to the poor in the absence of proper schools and teachers. Militant groups easily find new recruits at madrasas.”
Analysts say that madrasas are the only institutions in northern Sindh where poor people find protection from powerful tribal chieftains, most of them associated with the PPP. “I know many poor people who first joined religious parties seeking protection from tribal chieftains’ excesses and then joined banned militant outfits to avenge them,” said an elder of the Pahor tribe in Shikarpur.