DERA Ghazi Khan had been itching to get prominent media space. It finally did on Sunday at the cost of precious lives. The alarm bells had been ringing since devotees were asked last year take their dhamaal out of the shrine.
They were more exposed now to the enforcers of a rigid cultural code who have in recent times been regularly targeting mazaars.
The terrorists who are angered by the diversions encouraged by the shrine have struck long and deep — in Lahore, Islamabad, Pakpattan, Karachi — but even then Sakhi Sarwar’s mortal neighbours insist they were an easier target because of their proximity to Balochistan and because of the ineffectiveness of those who man the provincial borders.
A political activist from D.G. Khan says he had feared a strike in the run-up to the recently held by-election in the NA-172 constituency, of which the Sakhi Sarwar union council is a part. The election over, fear still loomed large. Many were praying for the urs to end peacefully. Their prayers turned out to be as ineffective as whatever security that was in place after the big names who were in the area for the polls on March 29 had been safely seen off.
Sunday’s suicide blasts led to the standard questions being raised with as much strength as the posers could muster in these desperate times. That the attack was sect-motivated was obvious, yet an effort — a vain one in the end — was made to further specify a smaller sect as the target so that the majority could breathe more easily.
The false defence didn’t have a chance. It has been penetrated far too many times. In their moment of grief, Sakhi Sarwar’s mortal neighbours were left with no other option but to find refuge in another defence that we all usually hide behind: they said it was an attack by outsiders.
One of the bombers caught from the scene had been identified as an invader from Dera Ismail Khan, possibly an Afghan. That was enough proof for the people around of their own innocence. Conscience clean, case closed. No trace of guilt, not even of complicity, of tacit involvement in creating a situation which divides people on sectarian lines and makes penetration by the terrorists that much easier.
Only a few days earlier, the by-election had drawn a large number of well-known political players to the area, many of them, in their own way, drawing strength from their sect. The PPP had as its candidate Shabbir Leghari who was more well known for his links with the Tableeghi Jamaat than his association with the jiyalas. Even then it hoped that a Shia leader from Karachi could help secure the votes of the members of his sect.
The PPP’s challenger for power, the PML-N, was banking on a resourceful and famous maulana from the Ahl-i-Hadith school at the same time trying to woo people from all shades and beliefs. It was the constituency where Farooq Leghari had managed to manoeuvre a close, controversial win against the PML-N’s maulana in the last election. Struggling to re-establish the family’s authority, Leghari’s son, Awais, who carried a PML-Q ticket, invoked old tribal loyalties to stave off the challenge.
The very precise division of the votes this time was remarkable as it tells the story in the whole making, other facts of the election superfluous. Maulana Abdul Karim of the PML-N had got around 42,000 votes in the 2008 general election. He retained his vote bank this time. On the other hand, the PPP’s Shabbir Leghari lost around 18,000 votes in comparison to how many he had got in 2008, which is almost exactly the number his cousin Awais Leghari gained this time. With more than 60,000 votes in his bag, Awais Leghari defied media predictions of a close contest with Maulana Karim and walked away an easy winner.
The hardcore, ideological PPP jiyalas accuse their leaders of supporting the old feudal oligarchy that has ruled over the area’s people. And while they say the PML-N feudals wished to see Awais Leghari a winner, they accuse Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of extending tacit support to the PML-Q nominee.
The point about the coming together of the PPP and PML-Q is not without substance backed as it is by what transpired in some of the recent elections in southern Punjab. The desire for a return to the National Assembly had last summer taken Jamshed Dasti to seek the blessings of Abdul Hameed Dasti, lately known as a PML-Q politician. Jamshed Dasti’s pleas managed to win over veteran Abdul Hameed and the poor man’s nominee did defeat Nawabzada Iftikhar who was a PML-N candidate from the NA-172 seat in Muzaffargarh.
Then, a few weeks later, as Prime Minister Gilani’s younger brother Ahmed Mujtaba fought for a Punjab Assembly seat from Jalalpur in Multan, he had by his side a battery of feudals who had been earlier moved by circumstances to ally themselves with Gen Pervez Musharraf’s PML-Q. They needed to call all powers at their command to subdue the Punjab government represented by Naghma Mushtaq Lang.
Much as these elections bring out the necessity — and perhaps the inevitability — of a joint PPP–PML-Q platform against the PML-N, the D.G. Khan contest on March 29 was ultimately a fight between the emerging Islamists, who were, in this case at least, backed by the Punjab government and the feudals who have long maintained a stranglehold on power in the area.
This in a sense proved right the analysis where the Islamic fundamentalists are said to be squaring off with the landowning class in southern Punjab. In the absence of proper party organisation and mobilisation, these are the two sides the PPP and PML-N are happy to choose from. Let alone a joint front against the fast-moving terrorists, badly missing from the scene are political workers who can rise above the sectarian and the parochial. Sadly, a tribal alliance offers D.G. Khan its best defence right now.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.