Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Moeed Pirzada |

A suicide bomber struck inside the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in the city of Sehwan Sharif, in Pakistani province of Sindh, in the evening of Feb 16. As of now hospital and police sources confirm more than 75 deaths – another more than 200 people are injured, many of them seriously and it is feared that death toll may steadily increase. Many women, elderly and young children are among those injured.

Asst Superintendent Police (ASP) Sehwan told media that a suicide bomber entered the shrine through the Golden gate. The attacker blew himself up after throwing a grenade, which had failed to explode. The explosion took place right at the spot where the dhamaal (Sufi ritual of ecstatic dancing) was being performed, within the premises of the shrine. Given the intensity of crowds at that place a very large number of people were directly hit by the metal pieces emanating from the suicide bomber.

Poorly developed Medical Facilities

The closest hospital to the shrine is around 70km away. And even there the facilities are not much developed. Most interior Sindh is poor in infrastructure and health facilities. Injured are mostly poor villagers; they suffer from multiple bleeding points, circulatory shock and organ damage and given poor health facilities it is feared that death toll will steadily rise within the next 24 hours – and later due to infections. Terrorist attack has again exposed the under-develpement of the province of Sindh.

 


Lal Shahbaz Shrine:An Expected Target

Given the fact that Pakistan has been under a renewed wave of terror attacks since the last 5 days, by various inter-connected groups, who seem to be looking for “impact” and “large effect” the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was an obvious choice. Thousands gather at the shrine every Thursday to pray and participate in the Sufi tradition of “dhamaal”, a form of devotional percussion and dance. And they constituted an easy target.

The 14th century shrine, built in 1356, is by the tomb of Syed Muhammad Usman Marwandi, the Sufi philosopher poet better known as Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, one of Pakistan’s most venerated saints – not only in Sindh but across Punjab. Each year, hundreds of thousands gather to celebrate “Urs”, his death anniversary. It was thus an easy and soft target; and given the new wave of terrorism across country remarkably unprotected.

Poor Security & Intelligence Failures

Traditional policing of Pakistan is best suited for showing presence and crowd control. Despite almost 15 years of continuous terrorist attacks, policing in Pakistan has failed to adopt itself to the nature and quantum of challenge. Police is tyrannical in serving the needs of political masters and ruling elites but has limited capacity to defend public or itself against specifically trained terrorists.

Traditional policing of Pakistan is best suited for showing presence and crowd control. Despite almost 15 years of continuous terrorist attacks, policing in Pakistan has failed to adopt itself to the nature and quantum of challenge.

In case of terrorist  attacks, the kind of which are agains taking place, police is often the sitting duck. Police officers and force under them lacks specialization. Pakistani police officers are highly educated, many have studied abroad and tried specialization in different fields of criminology however police organizations suffer from endemic inertia; so transfer posting and placements of officers have no relation to their skills or education, and police officers even when they desire are unable to contribute professionally in improving performance. Police is deeply politicized and lacks spine as a public institution. There is no concept of carrier or professional development. In front of modern day terrorists, Pakistani Police is therefore merely a sitting duck.

Intelligence Failures

Pakistani Intelligence agencies, their officers and top management, though far better organized as compared to Police suffer from several incompetencies but they don’t want to hear any feedback on their performance. Any one providing a critical commentary on their professional incompetence immediately faces risk of being branded unpatriotic and can land into serious difficulties.

Read Also: Lahore Terrorism: Abject Failure of Pakistani Intelligence & Policing Institutions – GVS

However repeated terror attacks point out serious weaknesses in the working of these agencies; in their priorities, focus, skill sets and capacities – and is increasingly opening them to sharply worded criticism.

 

Pakistan has two sets of intelligence agencies: ISI and IB. ISI is linked with Pakistan Army, though DG ISI is appointed by the PM, he is almost always a senior military officer and most senior officers under him are on depurations from military. This structure provides for confidentiality, loyalty and tight hierarchal control but its high time that top management of ISI should conduct an internal review to assess how much effective it is in countering the kinds of challenges Pakistani state faces. Review might point towards the technical and professional deficits the agency faces.

 

Apparently ISI, as per rumor mills, spent past several weeks, investigating a case of blasphemy by certain bloggers – who were found mysteriously abducted and then mysteriously returned to their homes. If indeed this was the work of ISI, then it raises very disturbing questions about the priorities of country’s premier intelligence agency.

Pakistan’s civilian intelligence agency, Intelligence Bureau (IB) is a British era relic, which lost importance as ISI steadily rose to prominence in 1960’s and occupied all space. Under PM Nawaz Sharif, since 2013, it is believe that IB has seen large influx of funds and technical help from international agencies and has grown its surveillance muscle.

Apparently ISI, as per rumor mills, spent past several weeks, investigating a case of blasphemy by certain bloggers – who were found mysteriously abducted and then mysteriously returned to their homes. If indeed this was the work of ISI, then it raises very disturbing questions about the priorities of country’s premier intelligence agency.

According to sources, IB now has sophisticated abilities of monitoring cellular data, email communications, can now even penetrate Apps like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp; however within Pakistan it seldom figures as a counter-terorism agency; it is mostly seen as loyal “eyes and ears” for the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and keeps monitoring opposition politicians, top army officers, civil servants, media tycoons and working journalists. So its more of a political asset for the regime than something professional to rely upon countering the kind of terrorism directed at Pakistani public or state.

ISIL Claims responsibility?

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack in Sehwan via its Amaq website. In November 2016, at least 52 people were killed in a suicide attack on a shrine to Sufi saint Shah Noorani in Balochistan province, and that attack was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

However sources in the law enforcement agencies, during recent attacks in Baluchistan, had intercepted WhatsApp communications that revealed that one local group was sending messages to another group that responsibility for this act – which has just happened – should be taken by a group based in middle east on its website.

So the perpetrators of the terrorist acts, and those who claim responsibility are not necessarily the same. Apparently, an effort is being done to establish the narrative of ISIS/ISIl in Pakistan. And any critical questioning by Pakistani government agencies, police or media are then condemned as “in denial”

Read Also: Kabul blames Russia for “playing with fire” New Scapegoat? – GVS

But Pakistani experts observe that pre-existing groups inside Pakistan are adopting the name of ISIS/ISIL and some entity is willing to finance this transformation. For all practical purposes the center of gravity of these groups and this transformation is based inside Afghanistan. Pakistani agencies therefore suspect a nexus of Indian agency RAW and Afghan Intelligence, NDS, to be behind the brand development of ISIS.

Pakistani agencies therefore suspect a nexus of Indian agency RAW and Afghan Intelligence, NDS, to be behind the brand development of ISIS.

However Russian and Chinese diplomats, based in Islamabad, when speak in confidence, often suspect other international forces behind this unnatural advent of ISIS in the region. Russian interest in engaging Afghan Taliban into a solution stems from these concerns. Putin who took lead in weakening ISIS, in the Syrian theatre has always openly expressed his doubts about the “unnatural origins” of ISIS.

Read Also: Will Pakistan Muddle through or will CPEC allow it to control its destiny? GVS

Several Attacks, different targets, different claimants? 

Attack in Sehwan Sharif, on Thursday, was almost seventh terrorist attack in Pakistan in the last 4-5 days. But claimants of responsibility are continuously changing.

The sudden outburst of these attacks, against targets very different from each other and intercepted communications in recent past – while being claimed by different groups – gives credence to the suspicions of Pakistan’s security apparatus and media that these groups are basically connected at the back end.

Lahore attack was claimed by Al-Ahrar; an offshoot of TTP, which is supposed to be based in Afghanistan. And whereas PM of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif was quick to condemn the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar attack as an attack against the Sufi Islam, the attack in Lahore took place against chemists and drug associations who were protesting against a law. Lahore attack was followed on Wednesday by a suicide bombing at a government office in the Mohmand tribal area, close to KP, and a suicide attack on government employees in Peshawar, killing six people. And two police officers were killed on Tuesday while trying to defuse a bomb in the Balochistan provincial capital of Quetta.

The sudden outburst of these attacks, against targets very different from each other and intercepted communications in recent past – while being claimed by different groups – gives credence to the suspicions of Pakistan’s security apparatus and media that these groups are basically connected at the back end.

Different groups, different targets help create the idea of a country torn by religious and sectarian strife for instance the attack at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine can be interpreted as an attack by ultra-conservative Salafis or Sunni orthodox against the sufi Muslims. This is precisely how the western media and think tanks look at it from a distance. But when you connect the dots – different attacks, different targets, different claimants, 4-5 days and all acting almost in synergy for multiplication of effect – it becomes obvious that the the power that stands behind these various groups, and finances them and coordinates them, is principally interested in creating impact.

Hostile Powers:Sanctuaries in Afghanistan? 

Gen. Asif Ghafoor, spokesman for Pakistan’s army, blamed recent attacks on “hostile powers”.

Read more: Lahore Bleeds: Is India Taking Revenge?

Moeed Pirzada is prominent TV Anchor & commentator; he studied international relations at Columbia Univ, New York and Law at London School of Economics. Twitter: MoeedNj

Moeed Hasan Pirzada is a Pakistani political commentator, geostrategic analyst, and a television news journalist. He is an anchor at Dunya News and hosts TV programs. He has interviewed many politicians around the world. Moeed Hassan Pirzada has also been a Director World Affairs and Content Head of PTV News and hosted the famous talk show Sochta Pakistan, a program that discussed national, regional, strategic, social and educational issues with politicians, analysts and policy makers. He has worked with Dunya News-TV channel as a Director World Affairs and hosted the current affairs talk show Dunya Today. He has written for Dubai-based regional paper Khaleej Times. His columns have appeared in major Pakistani papers such as Dawn, The News International, Daily Times, Friday Times and blogs. He has attended national and international conferences, seminars and policy workshops and had been a member of the Prime Minister's Education Task Force that collaborated with the British Council to produce the Next Generation Report. He has contributed policy papers to Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) and also written several policy pieces for Pique Magazine. He is an Executive Director of Governance & Policy Advisors (GAPA) that provides consultancy services to the government institutions, development organizations and corporate bodies on issues related to media, governance, health policy, and regional peace.

Comments & Discussion