The deadly attack on the famous Sufi shrine Data Darbar in Lahore on the second day of the holy month of Ramadan that killed 10 and injured more than 25 people is yet another ghastly reminder that Pakistan still shelters terrorist groups that have now come to haunt its own State. The suicide bombing was apparently targeted towards the elite security force that was assigned to guard the Shrine as the inflow of devotees increase during Ramadan.
This is not the first time a Sufi Shrine was targeted by terrorists in Pakistan. Many Shrines like Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Baba Farid in Pakpattan and Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi were attacked in the past. The Sufi nature of these shrines has made them an easy target of the terrorist groups that consider Sufis to be heretics. The terror organisations within Pakistan such as the Pakistan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Hizbul Ahrar (said to be a splinter faction of the local Taliban) that took responsibility for the latest bombings in Data Darbar, all accuse Sufis of being polytheistic and therefore bear an extreme hatred towards the Sufi dargahs and regard their practices as not in consonance with their religion.
Data Darbar is the largest Sufi Shrine in South Asia and its annual Urs (celebration) during the end of the year lasts for three days during which devotees from all parts of Pakistan both Shia and Sunni throng the place to be part of the festivities. It is pertinent to mention here that due to its symbolism and widespread followers, the Data Darbar is also thronged by influential people in Pakistan, including politicians to mark a place among the masses. Nawaz Sharif who was out on bail for a week visited Data Darbar just two days before the attack. Many analysts in Pakistan view this visit as a message of comeback by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and its show of strength which otherwise was thought to be fading. In such a scenario, the security of the shrine becomes vital for the State. The security personnel and law enforcers are regarded as symbols of the State and therefore become a prime target.
Targeting the elite force guarding the famous Sufi Shrine is very significant. The suicide bombings, indicates to the Pakistani State that terrorists are still alive and kicking and they will continue to target Sufi Shrines that preaches its own form of worship. Moreover, the Data Darbar Shrine is popular for hosting colourful festivals of music and dance where devotees get immersed into the beats of music which are considered un-Islamic by most extremist groups. Moreover, this wasn’t the first time Data Darbar was targeted for its practices. In 2010, the Shrine saw one of the deadliest twin suicide attacks that killed more than 50 devotees and injured 200.
It should indeed be of great concern to Pakistan that terror groups are using its’ youth as suicide bombers to attack the Shrines. Provincial officials have revealed that the attacker of the Shrine this time was a 15-year-old boy! This indicates that the extremist groups are covertly active and puts a question mark on the claims of the counter terrorism strategy of Pakistan that it has almost eradicated the group Hizbul Ahrar.
It should be noted that for last two years there was no major terrorist attacks in Punjab province of Pakistan. The attack on Data Darbar shrine is a strong reminder to the Imran Khan government that the extremist groups have the means to make a comeback and are yet not finished. At a time when Masood Azhar has been finally designated as a global terrorist, with Pakistan shutting down terror-related organizations in a bid not to graduate to the ‘blacklist’ of Financial Action Task Force (FATF); the attack on the Data Darbar Shrine should serve as a wakeup call to Islamabad that it urgently needs to put its house in order before it’s too late.
Script: Dr. Zainab Akhter, Analyst On Pakistan