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-Sunni 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 firstname.lastname@example.org)