Militants blew up the mausoleum of the 17th century poet apparently because women visited the shrine. — AFP
Militants blew up the mausoleum of the 17th century poet apparently because women visited the shrine. — AFP

PESHAWAR The mausoleum of renowned Pashto mystic poet Abdur Rehman Baba was bombed by unidentified miscreants, badly damaging its structure and his grave in the Hazarkhwani area early on Thursday.

No one was hurt in the bombing, but the blast has left residents deeply shaken.

The shrine`s watchman had received a threat from suspected militants on his cell phone three days ago. He told police that the attack took place to crack down on the tradition of women making pilgrimages to the site of the grave of Rehman baba; a 17th century poet, revered for his message of love and peace.

The high intensity device almost destroyed the grave of the Rehman Baba and the gates of a mosque, canteen and conference hall situated in the spacious Rehman Baba Complex.

Police said the bombers had tied explosives around the pillars of the tombs, to pull down the mausoleum.

Following the occurrence visibly shaken followers and volunteers were seen wielding sticks and forcing the visitors to leave the area, fearing that the badly damaged structure of the mausoleum might crumble down.

The police said they suspected the involvement of outlawed Lashkar-i-Islam chief, Mangal Bagh in the incident but were investigating the matter to ascertain the facts.

`We have been able to give them a black eye and this is their way of getting back at us. Its pure desperation,` a senior police official said.

The news of the occurrence soon spread like wildfire and a large number of his followers and other people visited the shrine.

A bomb disposal squad official said that five explosives each weighing around five kgs were planted at the shrine. The explosives, the official said were packed in containers which had been jointly connected and detonated simultaneously.

`The entire area was covered with thick smoke and dust soon after the blast,` said the president of the volunteers of the shrine association of the complex, Sardar Khan, who was busy in removing rubble of the damaged portions.

He told Dawn that he was the first one to reach the shrine after the blast. `I saw major portion of the grave was blown up and the building was badly damaged but no one was present there,` he said and added that he informed the local police and some media persons about the incident.

He claimed that in past some groups of Taliban-like persons with long hair and beards used to come there and asked the caretaker of the shrine why they had not been forbidding women from visiting the shrine.

`Once two Taliban came and said that performing prayers in the complex mosque was harram and when I heard that I asked them to get lost,` the chief volunteer said.

He said that apparently the miscreants had entered the complex by scaling the boundary wall from the rear side and planted the explosives beneath the four main pillars and one in the grave by connecting them through an electric wire.

Provincial minister for culture and tourism, Syed Aqil Shah, visited the site and stated that although the said complex was attached to the archive department, but he would take up the issue with the Chief Minister regarding the repairing or reconstruction of the mausoleum.

He said that apparently the structure was damaged beyond repairing and had to be reconstructed.

The caretakers said that they had three watchmen who used to perform duties on rotation basis. The concerned watchman said that he was preparing himself for Fajr (morning) prayer when he heard a loud blast.

`I was puzzled and couldn`t decide as to what I should do,` one of the caretakers said adding that he had no weapon to resist any attacker. The caretakers and other employees of the complex said that they had time and again informed the officials of Archives Library to beef up security at the complex but to no avail.

Malik Wazir a member of the Rehman Baba Adbi jirga said that there was only one watchman who couldn`t check movement of the suspected people around such a vast area of the complex.

He suggested that there must be at least three watchmen armed with sophisticated weapons in each single shift.

The people demanded establishment of a police check post in area. They said that the nearby Akhun Baba graveyard had become a safe heaven for criminals and no one could safely pass through the Rehman Baba Road after evening in routine.

The tomb was a part of the spacious complex housing a conference hall, library, mosque, canteen, guest house, small shrines of some other saints, Tawoos Baba, Syed Sattar Bacha and Syed Sultan Bacha.

The work on construction of the complex was initiated on November 17, 1991 and completed in 1994 with an estimated cost of about 15 million rupees.

Police officials of Yakatut police station said they had no information about threats to the caretakers.  They said it couldn`t be ascertained as to who was behind the crime. The officials reported that a case against unidentified terrorists had been registered at the police station.

The local Nazim of Hazarkhwani Union Council Hidayatullah Khan Advocate told Dawn that it was a terrorist act and the local population had decided to stage a protest demonstration against it today (Friday).

The nazim said the building was not repairable and demanded of the government to reconstruct it as soon as possible. He said the local lashkar (volunteers) would devise strategy within a couple of days to protect lives and properties from the militants.