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Islam at war: Pakistan, Iraq attacks failure to resolve internal political contestations
Updated:Mar 1, 2017
 
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By C Uday Bhaskar
 
An attack on a major Sufi shrine in Sehwan in  the Sind province of Pakistan  on Thursday (Feb 16) resulted in the death of  76 innocent people and more than 200 have been injured.  The death toll is expected to rise. The Islamic State (IS)  and its ideological affiliates  in Pakistan have claimed responsibility for this attack and threatened that this is only the beginning of such an anti-Sufi /Shia  campaign to exterminate the apostate – or ‘non-believer’.
 
On the same day (Feb 16) a car bomb killed 55  people and injured scores more in the Shia dominated area of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.  The attack was  claimed by the IS and this was the third attack in the week.
 
In Pakistan the Sind  suicide bomber attack was preceded by a major terror attack in Lahore, Punjab  on Monday (Feb 13) and this was followed by similar attacks in the other two provinces  of Pakistan  on Tuesday and Wednesday.  In both cases, the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) , an anti-Shia terror group has claimed responsibility.
 
It may be recalled that the same group had carried out the attack on an army  school in Peshawar in December 2014 that resulted in the death of more than 140 innocents -  of whom 132 were children.  At the time  it was believed that Peshawar represented a tipping point in the Pakistani domestic resolve to eliminate terror groups  and  the radical ideology that  enabled such violence.
 
The root of the current pattern of terror-related bloodshed in Pakistan can be traced to the cynical political manipulation of intra-Islamic sectarian identity and related  practice that prioritizes the dominant Sunni faction at the expense  of the other sects. This political ploy goes back to the early 1950s  and has been exacerbated by the special status accorded to the Saudi form of  puritanical, misogynistic Wahabbi-Salafi Islam.
 
The IS and the virulent anti-Shia ideology associated with it is currently  under increasing military pressure in West Asia (Syria-Iraq)  and  being forced to re-group and assert its appeal and credibility.
 
The  current  pattern of   intense terror-triggered violence  targeting the Sufi-Shia combine  in Pakistan and Iraq is a manifestation of this undercurrent.  Alas, this is not the end of this internal contestation and Pakistan in particular has to objectively and courageously   resolve its  internal  political contradictions of stoking hatred and selectively  supporting  the ‘good’ terrorist and targeting the non-Sunni innocent.
 
This seems unlikely – unless the mass appeal of  Lal Qalandar (the  Sufi saint who is venerated in Sehwan) -   can bring about a change of mindset  in Pakistan that  the enormity of  Peshawar could not.
 
 (The author is Director, Society for Policy Studies,  New Delhi. He can be contacted at  cudaybhaskar@spsindia.in)
 
 
 
 
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