LAHORE: Attendance at the Data Darbar remained relatively thin and the day was dotted with several protests as the tumultuous week since the attacks came to a close on Thursday.
Safety insecurities kept the crowds away, despite the reopening of the Langar Khana. Customers also avoided the area leaving small flower and food shops with very little business.
Thursday is normally the busiest day for the shrine with devotees and visitors flocking to pay homage to the saint. Qawali singers from all over the country also gather at the darbar on Thursdays and perform throughout the day.
Yesterday, however, was an exception to that rule with no qawali performances scheduled at the Samaa Hall.
Security measures were beefed up during the Zuhr prayers as the main roads, leading to the shrine, were completely sealed off for motorists. Pedestrian were only allowed inside after they were thoroughly frisked by security personnel. Only one gate out of five was used to allow visitors into the shrine.
Several groups of devotees staged protests and condemned the government’s ineffectiveness in arresting the individuals responsible for the twin attacks last Thursday. The road immediately in front of the shrine was blocked intermittently throughout the day as various groups rallied at the location.
The largest demonstration, with over 200 participants, was organised by members of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC). The men hoisted placards and flags bearing party emblems. They raised their voices in praise of Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh and bemoaned government inaction.
Leaders of the SIC assembled at Samaa Hall for the ulema and mashaikh convention and demanded that an inquiry committee should be set up under the supervision of the Chief Justice of Pakistan to investigate the attacks.
Sahibzada Fazle Karim, the leader of SIC, informed members of the press that the SIC would not recognise any committee unless it had representation from all four provinces and was headed by Iftikhar Chaudhry.
He alleged that the Taliban had infiltrated government ranks and urged political leaders to expunge such elements from within their parties. He stated that the government had failed to arrest any suspects even though a week had lapsed since the tragic attack.
He further stated that Sunnis had an irrevocable right over the Auqaf (charitable trusts associated with shrine) adding that the SIC would not let anyone snatch it from them. He also said that the Ahle Sunnat Auqaf Board needed to be abolished.
Muhammad Aslam Tareen, the capital city police officer (CCPO) invited a lot of criticism by suggesting that the shrine should be closed between Isha and Tahajud prayers.
The CCPO had suggested that the Darbar should be closed to avoid any untoward incident.
A spokesman for the CCPO had to clarify that the CCPO had only made a suggestion and no formal orders had been issued by him. He explained that the CCPO had only advised the administration of the darbar to lock the gates after Isha and re-open them for Tajahud in the light of security concerns.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2010.