Is Larkana not Gojra?

Published: March 19, 2014
The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc.

The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc.

In an opinion piece written recently on the attack on a Hindu temple in Larkana, the writer was of the opinion that the issue must not be taken too seriously. Larkana is not Gojra, Punjab. Thank God for that! But Gojra didn’t happen in a day. The burning of the Hindu temple is an indicator of the gradual transformation of, what was once, a peace-loving society. Like Charles Napier, who sent a telegram after winning the final battle in this area, saying that “I have sinned”, indeed, the extremist forces have Sindh and will gradually challenge plural sociocultural norms, just the way it happened in South Punjab.

The presence of hundreds of Sufi shrines and the fact that the province has a large number of Hindus will eventually not make any difference. It is still the only province where fairly large-sized Hindu religious festivals take place and the community is part of the middle and upper-middle class. However, things have gradually begun to change. The cases of both forcible and consented conversion, especially of Hindu females, have increased, resulting in rising numbers of outbound migration. There are still people, who resist and raise a voice, but this cannot be construed as a sustainable bulwark against an increase in the extremist mindset, especially when militant networks and religious parties are increasing their political and social presence.

The attack on the Hindu temple under the garb of punishing blasphemers is probably nothing more than an attempt to create chasms within society to consolidate political gains made consistently by the religious right. Lest we forget, five religious parties got an impressive number of votes during the 2013 elections. The 376,105 votes of religious parties were two per cent of the 4,742,169 total votes cast. In 2002, the MMA bagged about 11 per cent of votes cast in Sindh.

Broadly speaking, there are three factors that sustain extremism in this province. First is the support rendered by the powerful and permanent institutions of the state to certain militant forces mainly for strategic benefits. The gradual growth of Salafi militancy is certainly a result of this policy. While the Rangers stop everyone else, there is little control over the spread of the LeT/JuD network and their graffiti in border districts. Secondly, the opportunity provided by the state to numerous militant groups to play a role in providing welfare services during the 2010 and 2011 floods has helped legitimise these elements. The LeT/JuD network in lower Sindh, particularly in areas with a sizeable Hindu population, means that there is a slow but gradual building of a base for the Salafi ideology. The network is currently not in a rush to convert Hindus. It probably intends to buy enough time to legitimise its social presence. So, if the Hindu population in these areas does not object, then why would others? The process of social and political legitimisation is critical to the Punjab-Sindh model of militant expansion.

Finally, political legitimacy is sought through building political partnerships between non-religious parties and those of the religious right of a particular ideological brand. Here, the reference is to years of political alignment between the PPP and the JUI-F, which forms the political backbone of the Deobandi militant network. Over the past five years and more, the JUI-F has encompassed most of upper Sindh, expanding into Balochistan. This is a development worth watching because most Deobandi militant networks tend to creep into the province under the umbrella of political parties these are ideologically aligned with. The influence is further buttressed by connections with strong business and other mafias. Political involvement, in particular, is part of the process of building a support base, which in turn, is vital for developing a strong power base in society.

This is not an anomaly because this is exactly what happened in Punjab. The Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) was grounded in the political legitimacy of its prominent leader, Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. He was part of the MRD movement and contested the 1988 elections on a JUI-F ticket against Begum Abida Hussain. The construction of the militant apparatus of the SSP was aided and abetted by influential individuals from the transport and construction mafias from Jhang. Later, the deep state and its foreign allies in the Middle East also joined in.

The militant networks use the cover of ideologically aligned religious political parties to their own advantage. The dependence continues up until militant networks and their leadership can launch themselves more forcefully. Not that the alignment between the militant and political cadres comes to an end but then militant networks tend to become relatively independent, often even chipping away the social influence of their political platforms. So, the influence and support base, which we find in Sindh in the form of the JUI-F, currently spearheaded by leaders like Senator Khalid Soomro will bolster the clout of Deobandi militant outfits that right now are parked in the shadow of this right-wing political party. In this regard, the JUI-F leadership in Sindh plays the same role as the JUI-F did in Punjab. The performance of Khalid Soomro in Larkana is worth watching. He received 15,730 votes in the 1993 elections. The total votes cast for all forms of religious parties that year were 21,238 against Benazir Bhutto’s 59,376. In 2002, Soomro received about 32,000 votes

Viewing the JUI-F’s votes as a percentage of total votes cast is a flawed perspective. These are hardcore ideological votes, which means that there are enough people who genuinely believe that attacking a minority’s place of worship is their religious duty, especially if it involves blasphemy. The PPP must not target all and sundry as it did in reaction to the religious parties’ gains in 1993. This will make militant forces even more popular. Nor is running away an option. A strict implementation of the rule of law and bringing culprits to justice is imperative for strengthening a counter-narrative in this province.

In case leaders have lost the plot, they must not forget that this act is the beginning and not the end. Sadly, the alignment with the JUI-F, allowing expansion of the madrassa network and not resisting ideological expansion is coming home to roost.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2014.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (15)

  • Toticalling
    Mar 20, 2014 - 1:18AM

    Well written. Just when when something terrible happens, we tend to think it can’t get any worse. The tragedy is that just then it goes real downhill. And later think back of the first incident as insignificant. It is sad that a hindu temple has been attacked. Hindus have been model citizens of Pakistan, hardly ever taking law in their own hands.
    A few years ago I was checking in a hotel in London and met this guy with a hindu name and asked him which part of India he came from. ‘Pakistan’ he said, I come from Pakistan. I asked him if his community is being persecuted in the country. ‘rubbish’, he said, ‘we have no problems and people accept us as one of them.
    I was so happy to hear that. I wish I could see him again and tell him I am sorry for the madness of those who attack religious places of other faiths. There is no other word than madness. We are all human beings, hindus, Muslims or whatever. As long as our detination is the same, it matters little which road we take to reach the same manzil..


  • Ahmed
    Mar 20, 2014 - 1:48AM

    The writer probably should have mentioned that the only time SSP was part of any government was when it had an alliance with PPP in 90’s. For all the lip service PPP does for its secular outlook, it has always taken the politically expedient path when dealing with religious or even extremist parties. Bhuttos may want to curb religious extremism in Sindh but it may be only due to encroachment in their domain. They are not better or probably worse than other parties as far as tacking extremism is concerned.


  • Mirza
    Mar 20, 2014 - 2:46AM

    A pragmatic and common sense Op Ed by ET. It is about time we should promote the multiculture of Sindh and nip in the bud of hatred and militancy. We have to promote our heritage of love and tolerance in all provinces. Hopefully PPP leaders are listening to this sane advise.Recommend

  • Mar 20, 2014 - 3:02AM

    Great article reflecting on the permanent slide
    of this country towards extreme ideology.
    The author should have mentioned, in clear
    unequivocal terms: The blasphemy accuser, a
    Muslim,obviously, owed Rs.500.000 to the Hindu,
    the same Hindu…who was accused of desecration.


  • John
    Mar 20, 2014 - 3:07AM

    A thought provoking Op Ed, thanks to the author for the clarity on this subject. While I firmly believe the future of Pakistan lies in a secular constitution but the present mess requires immediate remedy. To start off with, all kind of political activities in the name of religion should be banned including a blanket ban on all religio-political parties in Pakistan. No religious outfit shout be allowed to raise funds or distribute aid directly in calamities affected areas. Further, the entire madrassa network should be taken over by the government and regulated so we exactly know what’s going on with each Madrassa. Offcourse the religious right is going to make huge hue and cry but no ground should be ceded to them. With 65,000 Pakistanis dead, the situation is extra ordinary and calls for extra ordinary measures, if we don’t take on these wackos now, Pakistan will implode and there would be nothing stopping that from happening.


  • Islooboy
    Mar 20, 2014 - 10:03AM

    No, I am just not surprise aoubt these developments. However, I am deeply saddened by Indias approach. How many htousands of times the Muslims are to be reminded that they just cannot leave among themselves, because the religion is flaud and that they ought to be reminded of the pluralism in the society. But, alas!!! India will not do anything, we are waiting for Modi.


  • Wajeeh
    Mar 20, 2014 - 10:53AM

    Govt. is sitting idle on this very important matter and waiting the overall collapse of the peace and harmony just to save its tenure and scared of these militant wings. Innocent being killed a very grave situation indeed. Illiteracy poverty and unfamiliarity with the Islam is aggravating the situation some groups are using these elements to get their interests.


  • Malik
    Mar 20, 2014 - 1:04PM

    Using Latin, Charles Napier sent the telegram saying “peccavi” which means “I have sinned”.


  • Adam Malik
    Mar 20, 2014 - 2:23PM

    There are circumstantial evidences for making Larkana, Pangrio, Badin and other cities like Gojra. But Sindhi society not accepting it. Still it is alien factor for society – though this factor exist at large scale with with lot of support – Therefore issue must be taken very seriously in support of tolerant and plural sufi Sindh.


  • Nope
    Mar 20, 2014 - 2:44PM

    @Ms.Ayesha :

    Please don’t bring shame to Pakistanis , especially Muslims . They are shameless now.


  • Hanif Shah
    Mar 20, 2014 - 2:47PM

    Sindh of all the provinces has been home to all sorts of people be it Hindus, Christians, Shia, Sunni, Sindhi, Pathan etc. It is in the nature of this land to be hospitable to everyone and to accept their changes as their own and form a multicultural environment. For God sake do not politicize these one off incidents, if anything, PPP needs to nip this evil in the bud itself and make sure that Sindh stays the way it has been.


  • Aamir
    Mar 20, 2014 - 3:54PM

    Well composed and thought provoking.
    I do not know when we will realize the actual threat.


  • Mar 20, 2014 - 7:08PM

    True analysis, I hope government will take steps according to the long term policy to sort the issue from it’s root, As writer is mentioning rightly don’t make those forces heroes but zeros by spreading awareness in public to counter those evil forces working in the country on the name of political parties.


  • Not one off...
    Mar 20, 2014 - 9:12PM

    @Hanif Shah: “For God sake do not politicize these one off incidents, if anything, PPP needs to nip this evil in the bud itself and make sure that Sindh stays the way it has been.”

    One off? This is the 2nd functioning temple destroyed in Sind in the past 2 years. Just last year many Hindus from Sind had to permanently move to India because of the kidnapping , rape and forced conversion of Hindu girls. Please do not pretend these are one off events – they are NOT.Recommend

  • truthbetold
    Mar 22, 2014 - 12:04AM

    @Not one off…:

    “One off? This is the 2nd functioning temple destroyed in Sind in the past 2 years. Just last year many Hindus from Sind had to permanently move to India because of the kidnapping , rape and forced conversion of Hindu girls. Please do not pretend these are one off events – they are NOT.”

    Well said. What is galling is that Pakistanis growl and howl about the destruction of Babri Masjid in India but take for granted the dozens of Hindu temples destroyed in Pakistan in the past several decades as if Muslims are entitled to destroy religious places of other religions. Never mind the destruction of thousands of temples destroyed all over India in the past several centuries by invading Muslim armies. The forcibly conversions and rape of Hindu girls still goes unabated. Worst of all, Pakistan’s (West) Hindu population which amounted to 20+% after the partition now stands at less than 3%. What happened to all those Hindus?


More in Opinion