SHRINES & VI­O­LENCE

Re­li­gious shrines are be­ing in­creas­ingly tar­geted in Afghanistan and Pak­istan.

Southasia - - Contents - By So­nia Jawaid Shaikh

On De­cem­ber 06, 2011, the cities of Kabul and Mazar-iSharif were rocked by pow­er­ful ex­plo­sions that left 58 peo­ple dead and sev­eral in­jured. The first blast ripped across the packed Abul Fazal Shrine where Shia mourn­ers gath­ered for Muhar­ram rit­u­als. A few min­utes later, an­other bomb, tied to a bi­cy­cle, ex­ploded in a mosque in Mazar-iSharif as a chant­ing Shia pro­ces­sion passed by, leav­ing four peo­ple dead.

Com­men­ta­tors all over the world viewed the at­tacks as signs of an evolv­ing sec­tar­ian cri­sis in Afghanistan. Although Shia lead­ers in the coun­try la­beled the in­ci­dents as a strat­egy to deepen the rift be­tween Sun­nis and the Shias, the at­tacks in Afghanistan beg for at­ten­tion be­cause of their rar­ity. Pak­istan, on the other hand has wit­nessed nu­mer­ous bomb blasts tar­get­ing shrines and places of worship, caus­ing many ca­su­al­ties and losses.

In 2010, a sui­cide at­tack on Data Dar­bar in Lahore left more than 40 peo­ple dead and caused the shrines to be closed to the public for the first time in cen­turies due to se­cu­rity rea- sons. In De­cem­ber 2011, a Muhar­ram pro­ces­sion was tar­geted in Karachi, which left some scouts dead. In April of the same year, an at­tack dur­ing the fes­ti­val at Sakhi Sar­war Shrine in Pun­jab left 41 peo­ple dead in April.

Mod­ern con­flicts have taken new strate­gies and eth­nic ten­sions read­ily mix with anti-state rebel forces. War­ring groups in­creas­ingly use psy­cho­log­i­cal tech­niques to pres­sur­ize gov­ern­ments and the pop­u­lace while at the same time con­tinue vy­ing for the top slot amongst the same groups. At­tacks on shrines are a state­ment against a par­tic­u­lar group of peo­ple un­like at­tacks on mar­ket places or in schools. Any group when hit at a place of worship will take the sen­ti­ment to the core con­sid­er­ing the role re­li­gion plays in the lives of peo­ple. His­tor­i­cally speak­ing, in­vad­ing armies would at­tack holy places of the con­quered as a sym­bol of vic­tory. Swiss psy­chol­o­gist, Carl Jung, de­scribes the cur­rent trend of at­tack­ing shrines as some­thing in­scribed in our un­con­scious; the re­li­gious idea of vic­tory of good against evil.

While the Tal­iban have not claimed any re­spon­si­bil­ity of the at­tacks in Afghanistan, it is the Pak­istan-based ex­trem­ist group Lashkar-e-jhangvi, which has claimed to be be­hind the blasts stok­ing new ten­sions be­tween dis­trust­ing neigh­bors. Afghanistan has al­ways be­lieved that ter­ror­ists from across the bor­der have cre­ated prob­lems and desta­bi­lized the peace process in the war-torn coun­try. The Muhar­ram at­tacks in Afghanistan have once again pro­voked in­ter­na­tional pow­ers to de­mand Pak­istan to ‘do more’ in curb­ing ter­ror­ist and mil­i­tant out­fits that thrive within the state.

It is in­ter­est­ing to note that in re­cent times banned mil­i­tant or­ga­ni­za­tions, re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions, drug car­tels, ter­ror­ist out­fits or other rebel groups have changed in­ter­state dy­nam­ics and will con­tinue to do so in the fu­ture… if states fail to con­tain them. Only last year, Nicaragua’s navy chief claimed that drug car­tel “la Fa­milia” in Mex­ico was run­ning most of the drug busi­ness in Cen­tral Amer­ica. Sim­i­larly, Sri Lanka blamed In­dia for help­ing Tamil rebel groups. Af­ter

9/11, US waged a war not against Afghanistan per se, but against Al-qaeda and Tal­iban who rep­re­sent groups and ide­olo­gies rather than states and boundaries. The Amer­i­can mis­sion in their words was more of lib­er­a­tion of the Afghan peo­ple and aveng­ing 9/11. The ex­cuse to ‘re­new’ diplo­matic ties or re­view re­la­tion­ships be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan, Afghanistan and Pak­istan, US and Pak­istan is based more on how groups and or­ga­ni­za­tions be­have rather than how states be­have in them­selves.

Fol­low­ing any at­tack, es­pe­cially in Pak­istan, a syn­chro­nized rit­ual al­ways fol­lows with­out any change. Gov­ern­ment ma­chin­ery comes out in the open to ‘con­demn’ and pledges ‘to teach the per­pe­tra­tors a les­son.’ Clichéd speeches are made and more than of­ten lit­tle or no fol­low-ups are con­ducted. The ne­glect in pur­su­ing those re­spon­si­ble gives ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions space to spread their net­works deeper within the state. Sooner or later, they emerge stronger than state ac­tors in cer­tain ar­eas. The in­tri­ca­cies of mod­ern in­tra state power grab­bing have taken new and com­plex routes. How­ever com­plex it might be, or­ga­ni­za­tions of ter­ror­ist na­ture and am­bi­tions can only be con­trolled by state mech­a­nisms ow­ing to the re­sources avail­able to them.

Pak­istan has long pur­sued ter­ror­ists. From launch­ing an army of­fen­sive against the Tal­iban to beef­ing up re­la­tions with the US, the gov­ern­ment claims to be against the war mon­ger­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions. How­ever, re­la­tions be­tween Pak­istan and Afghanistan have of­ten been strained and fol­low­ing the De­cem­ber at­tacks and Pak­istan’s re­fusal to at­tend the Bonn Con­fer­ence, things ap­pear to be gloomier than ever. Ten­sions es­ca­lated to new lev­els when Pak­istan’s For­eign Min­is­ter Hina Rab­bani Khar blamed refugees from Afghanistan for dis­rupt­ing peace in the coun­try spark­ing an all new de­bate on the sta­tus of refugees.

At­tacks on re­li­gious venues weaken the state since they bring to the fore­front the grow­ing power of anti-state ac­tors and their ex­ten­sive net­works and ma­chin­ery. How­ever, it also re­mains true that these at­tacks and those be­hind it can be con­tained only through state in­ter­ven­tion given the re­sources at their dis­posal. We may write down ar­ti­cles af­ter ar­ti­cles on ‘why’ and ‘how’ but the es­sen­tial ques­tion for states like Afghanistan and Pak­istan starts with ‘when.’ Only if states de­cide to fight against the men­ace that has struck them from within, peace can re­turn to their coun­try, their shrines and their peo­ple.

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