Hard-line militants now targeting Pak’s most popular brand of Islam- Sufism

Friday, January 7, 2011

KASUR - Pakistan’s most popular brand of Islam, Sufism, has been condemned as un-Islamic by fundamentalist groups and has repeatedly come under extremists’ attacks, as in 2010 alone, minority hard-line militants took responsibility for five shrine attacks that killed 64 people.

While attacks in previous years occurred in the middle of the night or when worshipers were not present, apparently in an effort to avoid causalities, in 2010, terrorists carried out suicide bombings when thousands of worshipers were present, and in the nation’s largest cities, like Karachi and Lahore.

The increase in attacks, and a direct effort to kill those who practice a more mystical brand of Islam, has torn the fabric of mainstream worship in Pakistan, The New York Times reported.

But as worshipers continue to visit the Sufi shrines and many Sufi festivals continue in the face of threats, it also evidences the perseverance of Pakistan’s more moderate brand of Islam, it added.

“It’s a very disturbing picture that militants have extended their targets to shrines, which are symbols of popular Islam in Pakistan and are widely visited,” Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences, was quoted as saying.

“However, I don’t think the militants are succeeding - thousands of people still visit the shrines despite these attacks,” he added.

Amir Rana, the director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, a think tank that analyzes religious conflict, said there were several reasons for the recent spike in attacks on Sufi shrines.

Groups within Al Qaeda, which have increased their strategic operations in Pakistan since 2007, have expanded their ideological war on the sectarian divide, the report said.

Rana said that militants suddenly changed their strategy in 2009, when they started targeting soft targets, or popular and less secure venues, such as the Meena Bazaar in Peshawar, as a way to retain their radical sympathisers.

Other experts say that fragmented militant groups in Pakistan have fully spun out control, and the shrine attacks fit a larger pattern that finds extremist groups, who in the past have focused on Kashmir and Afghanistan, now turning inward to assert their power and ideology within Pakistan’s borders. (ANI)

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