Peace sacrificed in shrine attack
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD - The twin suicide attacks on Thursday on the shrine of a Sufi saint
in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore in which more than 40 people were
killed and nearly 200 injured will most likely force the government to
reluctantly take action against Punjabi militants while also derailing
Washington's efforts to open dialogue with the Taliban through Pakistan.
The attacks in the capital of Punjab province - also known as the country's
cultural capital - took place in the late evening, with the first bombing in
the basement reserved for ablutions followed a few minutes later by one in the
major prayer area. The shrine is dedicated to 11-century Persian Sufi saint
Syed Ali Hajweri, also known as Data Gunj Baksh, who significantly contributed
to the spread of Islam.
The attackers managed to penetrate a highly secured area to sow
their destruction in the crowded shrine. Sufism, a mystical movement that
relies on music, poetry and dancing to spread the word of Islam, includes
Shi'ites and Sunnis. Radical groups consider it to be un-Islamic.
Asia Times Online earlier warned that in the wake of recent overtures between
the Pakistani military establishment and Washington to initiate a dialogue
process with the Taliban, al-Qaeda-led militants were desperate to attack
Lahore, where recently police recovered a record 28,000 kilograms of
explosives. (See Explosive
mood in Pakistan June 30, 2010.)
Operation in Punjab looms
The attack on the very soul of Lahore leaves the military establishment and the
government of Punjab, which have steadfastly refused to act, little option but
to crack down on al-Qaeda-linked Punjabi militants
Their inaction, despite international pressure and calls from secular political
parties, stems from fears of causing chaos in the country, which might create
the grounds for foreign forces to intervene.
Now the masses are enraged against militants, and operations against their
hideouts in southern Punjab along the Indian border can be expected. These
militants are considered the most dangerous of all, with most of them having
been trained by the Inter-Services Intelligence's India Cell to fight Indian
forces in Indian-administered Kashmir.
After action in this disputed region was scaled back, the militants turned to
al-Qaeda and now they are the main strength behind the Taliban-led resistance
against foreign occupation forces in Afghanistan, where they have changed the
dynamics of the war by adding a high level of sophistication.
Thursday's attack comes close on the heels of talks between former US commander
in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal, Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq
Parvez Kiani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The main topic was to get some Taliban leaders taken off a US terror list so
they could set the ball rolling for talks in Pakistan and Afghanistan on a
reconciliation process. This initiative would be complemented with increased
action against al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
If indeed strong action does now take place against Punjabi militants, the
resultant crisis in the country would stall any serious dialogue process with
the Afghan Taliban.
Asia Times Online has learned from high-level security contacts that private US
defense contractors want to operate in Punjab to trace militant networks and
then make recommendations for penetrating them.
Despite intense opposition from the military establishment, a few days before
the shrine attack over 50 foreign nationals, including officials of a private
American defense contracting firm, arrived in Pakistan - even though they did
not have security clearance from Pakistani intelligence agencies.
According to the contacts, these nationals had earlier been denied visas by the
Pakistani embassies they first approached, including in the US, Britain and
India. However, they were apparently subsequently given visas by the embassy in
Abu Dhabi and the consulate in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This was done
without the prerequisite clearance from the Pakistani Ministry of Interior, the
Defense Ministry and the security agencies.
"These included over a dozen US nationals who had already been denied visas by
our embassy in Washington on suspicion of them having links to Blackwater [Xe
Services]," a source told Asia Times Online, adding that the visas had been
issued for periods of six months to two years, although usually visas are only
give for 90 days.
Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit could not be reached for comment despite
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org