Editorial : Another shrine attack - Monday, April 04, 2011

The deadly suicide attacks on a shrine in southern Punjab have sent a wave of shock and grief running through a country already reeling from a string of similar incidents. In the latest attack, two powerful blasts shook the remote Sakhi Sarwar shrine in Dera Ghazi Khan district on Sunday, killing at least 36 devotees including women and children. With the number of critically injured estimated at over 100, it is feared that the death toll may rise further. The attack took place just outside the shrine during the annual Urs of a most venerated local saint, when the area was packed with thousands of devotees and a festive atmosphere prevailed. Initial reports claimed that the blasts were the result of two suicide attacks. Police sources claim that they have also succeeded in capturing at least two alleged bombers from the scene of the crime who have been handed over to the agencies for interrogation.

The shrine is located in a sparsely populated, hilly, semi-tribal part of Punjab, bordering Balochistan and not too far from the southern tip of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Road links in the area are primitive and medical facilities virtually non-existent, severely hampering rescue operations. Ambulances had to be deployed from adjoining districts and most of the injured were taken to the government hospital in Dera Ghazi Khan, some 40 kilometers from the site of the attacks. The more seriously injured were taken to Nishtar Hospital in Multan. When news of the tragedy broke, reports say that many of the young doctors on strike in the area abandoned their protest and reported to work in order to tend to the victims.

The attack was the latest in a string of similar incidents at some of the most venerated shrines across the country. Starting from the attack on Rehman Babaís shrine near Peshawar in 2010, extremists have targeted the Data Darbar in Lahore, Abdullah Shah Ghaziís mausoleum in Karachi, the Baba Fareed Shakarganj shrine in Pakpattan among many others. The targets chosen are not only ësoftí, involving some of the most poor and defenceless people in the country. They also cast light on a certain abhorrent mindset that is bent on imposing its narrow interpretation of Islam on a population that has traditionally found solace and spiritual peace at the Sufi shrines dotted across the length and breadth of the country. One bitter fallout of the latest shrine blast will be to further sharpen the divide between sects and among them. The attacks will incense followers of the Barelvi sect who in general venerate shrines and saints as opposed to adherents of more puritanical strains of the faith who view the activities at such places of worship with some suspicion. The attack is also bound to reopen the already bitter debate between the federal and provincial governments about the spread of extremism in southern Punjab. 

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=39814&Cat=8

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