IN a disturbing reminder of the mayhem that has plagued Pakistan for the past many years, Lahore’s iconic Data Darbar dargah was struck by a suicide bomber on Wednesday morning.
The apparent target of the atrocity was a contingent of the Elite Force stationed outside the shrine for its security; at least five policemen were martyred in the attack.
According to media reports, Hizbul Ahrar, said to be a splinter faction of the local Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Of course, this is not the first time that a Sufi shrine has been attacked in Pakistan.
Data Darbar was previously targeted in 2010 while the shrines of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Rehman Baba in Peshawar, and Baba Farid in Pakpattan, have all witnessed deadly violence perpetrated by militants.
Extremists bear a grudge towards Sufi dargahs and practices, and law enforcers and security personnel, regarded as symbols of the state, are ‘easy’ targets.
The Data Darbar bombing, as well as a number of other recent attacks, such as the one on the Hazara community in Quetta, indicates that militant groups are communicating to the state that they are far from vanquished.
Hizbul Ahrar has been involved in acts of terrorism elsewhere in the country, including Karachi, and at one point the security apparatus had claimed the militant outfit had been ‘broken’.
If it is indeed confirmed that Wednesday’s attack was carried out by the same group, then the law enforcers spoke too soon.
Moreover, with security already high in the country due to religious activities associated with Ramazan, it must be asked how the suicide bomber managed to slip through.
Better intelligence coordination is needed between the civilian and military security agencies, as well as between the provinces and the centre, to keep an eye on the resurgence of militant groups.
Security personnel — whether the police, paramilitaries or the armed forces — are on the front lines guarding sensitive installations and places of worship.
The families of the martyred personnel must be looked after by the state.
While there is no replacement for their loved ones, the least the state can do is to care for the families of those who fall in the line of duty.
As for the security of dargahs and shrines, it is a pity that such places of worship have become so heavily securitised, as opposed to the open, welcoming nature they have exhibited for centuries.
However, these are difficult times and they call for strict security measures to protect the lives and property of the people.
Increased intelligence sharing and vigilance are essential as large crowds of people will gather throughout Ramazan — for taravih prayers, for Yaum-i-Ali, for Eid shopping etc — which is why all precautions must be taken to minimise the danger to ‘soft’ targets.
Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2019