Crisis called Islamic State

Crisis called Islamic State

Bombing at Sufi shrine in Pakistan carries a warning: Terror is spreading into formerly insulated areas, with a new name

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Devotees are silhouetted as they gather at the tomb of Sufi saint Syed Usman Marwandi, also known as the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine, after Thursday’s suicide blast. (Source: Reuters)

The IS has claimed a horrific bombing at the dargah of the Sufi saint Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan in Pakistan, which killed more than 70 people. The group is clearly looking for new pastures and sensational “victories” at a time when it faces big military setbacks in Iraq. What is undeniable too is that Pakistan has a ready-made ecosystem for the IS/Daesh to set up shop.

Even before this, there were reports of IS links with factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, and with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Militant groups in Pakistan — the kind that have India in the cross hairs, such as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa or the Jaish-e-Mohammed, or those ranged against non-Sunni Islamic sects — all have much in common with the IS, except perhaps the latter’s access to oil wells. Pakistan has received many “blowback” wake-up calls since 2001, but none could be a clearer call to action than the IS heralding its arrival in the country. In 2015, the Pakistan Army conducted a military campaign against the Taliban, but tackling the IS — ensuring it is not allowed to grow on Pakistani soil — will need more than just a selective targeting of “bad” jihadists.

The first step would be an overhaul of Pakistan’s security policies, including the use of militant proxies to conduct foreign relations in the region. For India, where IS has been desperate to find a foothold, the dangers of it finding a home next door are obvious.

Over the last five days, there have been 10 attacks, big and small, across Pakistan, from Lahore to Quetta, to Peshawar and Waziristan in the north-west frontier and now Jamshoro in Sindh, each claimed by a different group. Thursday’s was the second big attack in the Sindh hinterland in two years. Likely the work of a suicide bomber, among those killed were a large number of women and children. Despite being home to Karachi, the safe haven for jihadi terrorists of many hues, Sindh has been the most plural of Pakistan’s four provinces, and home to many of Islam’s mystic traditions, insulating it for years against the terror attacks sweeping the rest of the country. For the same reasons, it is also a finger in the eye of Sunni extremist groups and an obvious target.

Over the last five years, radical seminaries have mushroomed in rural Sindh, spewing their toxins into once peaceful backwaters such as Sukkur and Shikargarh. Irrespective of the IS, and because of it, what should be worrying Pakistan is that terror is taking root in areas that were formerly bulwarks against extremist ideologies.