'Extremist Deobandis of the Sipah-e-Sahaba have once again attacked the Data Di Nagri (Data's city), Lahore. This time their target was the sacred shrine of Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh Ali Hajveri, a Persian Sufi and scholar during the 11th century who significantly contributed to the spreading of Islam in South Asia. According to puritanical beliefs of extremist Deobandis and Wahhabis of the Sipah-e-Sahaba and Taliban, ordinary Sunni Muslims of the Barelvi belief are considered as polytheists (mushrik) because of their devotion to a peace-loving Sufi (mystic) tradition of Islam. Therefore, narrow-minded supporters of the Taliban and Sipah-e-Sahaba consider Barelvi/Sufi Muslims as grave worshippers and inferior Muslims.
'In the past, the Taliban/Sipah-e-Sahaba alliance have attacked a number of shrines in various parts of Pakistan, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally-Administered Tribal Areas. In March 2009, the Taliban/Sipah-e-Sahaba militants detonated the shrine of Rehman Baba, a 17th century Sufi poet of the Pashtun language. In March 2010, terrorists of Sipah-e-Sahaba attacked Eid Milad-un-Nabi processions in Faisalabad and D I Khan, killing at least seven people. Only last week, in June 2010, the Deobandi terrorists of the Taliban/Sipah-e-Sahaba attacked and blew up the shrine of Mian Umar Baba in the jurisdiction of Chamkani police station.'
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has strongly denied any responsibility for the attack on the Sufi shrine which has caused considerable anger among the common people of Pakistan. In the past, anger over terrorist attacks used to be largely confined to the urban elite. For the first time, there is now widespread anger among large sections of the common people in Pakistan. In view of this, no organisation in Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the suicide blasts. On the contrary, the TTP and the various jihadi organisations of Punjab, which are often referred to as the Punjabi Taliban, have taken care to deny responsibility.
Among the organisations which have maintained silence are the Sunni extremist Sipah-e-Sahaba and its offshoot, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, both of which closely collaborate with the TTP, the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda and have hideouts in South and North Waziristan. It is generally believed by Pakistani police officers that Qari Hussain Mehsud, who runs the TTP's suicide bomber training school, started his career as a jihadi in the SeS and now trains volunteers for suicide missions belonging to the LeJ too, in addition to training those of the TTP. The TTP projects the LeJ volunteers who die in suicide missions or in encounters with the security forces as its own 'martyrs'.
Qari Mohammad Zafar, described as the LeJ head, was reported to have been killed by a US drone air strike in North Waziristan on February 24 last. He was reportedly succeeded by one Mufti Abuzar Khanjari.Zafar wanted by the US and Pakistani authorities over a March 2006 attack near the US consulate in Karachi shortly before the visit of then US president George Bush to Pakistan from India. The US had offered a $5m (£3.3m) reward for information leading to his arrest or capture. It was reported that he had been given shelter in South Waziristan by the TTP.
Even though the US authorities did not issue a statement authenticating reports of his death in a drone attack, a statement attributed to the TTP on this subject was disseminated in the tribal areas of Pakistan in March. The statement described him as a 'martyr' of the TTP without mentioning his LeJ origin, and threatened that the TTP 'will soon take revenge for his killing from the government of Pakistan anywhere in the country'. The warning added: 'The government of Pakistan is responsible for the killing (of militant commanders) in drone strikes and the arrest of Afghan Taliban leaders Mullah Baradar, Mullah Kabir, Mullah Abdul Salam, (Iran Jundullah chief) Abdul Malik Rigi and Afia Siddiqi, a Pakistani doctor now in the custody of the US.'
Despite the TTP's denial of responsibility for the attacks on the Sufi shrine, reliable Barelvi sources are convinced that the LeJ carried out the recent mass casualty attacks in Lahore on Ahmediyya worshippers as well as on the followers of the Sufi saint in Data Darbar, and that the LeJ must have carried out the attacks with the prior knowledge and approval of the TTP.
There are two Deobandi-Wahabi terrorist combines operating in Pakistan -- the first consisting largely of Pashtuns belonging to the TTP and the so-called Ghazi force made up of surviving ex-students and teachers of the two madrasas attached to the Lal Masjid in Islamabad which was raided by the Special Services Group of the Pakistan Army in July 2007; and the second consisting largely of Punjabi recruits belonging to the SeS, the LeJ, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and the 313 Brigade of Ilyas Kashmiri of HuJI origin, who are referred to as the Punjabi Taliban.
The leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif are not prepared to admit the presence and activities of the second combine in Punjab. In the past, many PML-N leaders have had contacts with the SeS and the LeJ and had taken the help of their cadres during election campaigns. They also hesitate to come out strongly against the two Wahhabi-Deobandi combines in order to placate Saudi princes and charity organisations, which have been the main sources of funding for the Punjabi Taliban. The result has been a lack of effective action against the hideouts of the jihadi organisations in Punjab -- particularly in southern Punjab -- by the Punjab police.
After the suicide blasts of July 1, there has been a slanging match between Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik, of Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan People's Party, who accuses the Punjabi Taliban of being responsible for the terrorism in Punjab, and Shabaz Sharif, brother of Nawaz, who is the chief minister of Punjab. Shabaz denies that there is any Punjabi Taliban operating from sanctuaries in southern Punjab and accuses Malik of not cooperating with the Punjab police and of withholding intelligence from the Punjab government.
The army has maintained a studied silence on this subject and has refrained from involvement in operations in southern Punjab -- particularly against the SeS and the LeJ. There have been instances in the past of deserters from the army and paramilitary forces joining the TTP, the SSP and the LeJ, but there have been no confirmed instances of the Deobandi-Wahhabi vs Barelvi and the Deobandi-Wahhabi vs Shias virus affecting serving personnel of the armed forces. The army wants to keep the serving soldiers immunised against these sectarian viruses. It fears that its active involvement in operations against sectarian terrorists could damage the unity of the armed forces.
The writer is additional secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com