Bhakkar bombing

Published October 8, 2008

ANOTHER day, another district, another suicide bombing. The victims, however, are always new. Every suicide bombing tears a new hole in the social fabric of Pakistan and the Bhakkar attack is no different. The senseless death of at least 22 individuals and injury to over 60 at the hands of a religious zealot has been rightly condemned in the strongest terms. The truly frightening aspect of the recent spate of suicide attacks is that there is no end in sight. Indeed, the threat only seems to be growing from a toxic brew of militancy that encompasses everything from Al Qaeda and pan-Islamist ideologues to sectarian hatemongers.

The attack on Rashid Akbar Niwani, a PML-N MNA from Bhakkar, has the hallmarks of a sectarian strike. Mr Niwani belongs to a very influential Shia political family in the district. The district nazim of Bhakkar, Hameed Akbar Niwani, is Rashid Niwani's elder brother. In June this year, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was elected unopposed from Bhakkar in a by-election for a seat vacated by a Niwani. In 2002, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was elected as an MNA from Bhakkar with the Niwani family's help. Bhakkar, however, has another, more dubious claim to fame it is a base of the Shia militant outfit Tehrik-i-Jafria. Set up in 1979 by Allama Arif Hussain Al Hussaini, a student of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Fiqh-i-Jafria, as it was known then, developed a vicious rivalry with the Sunni militant group Sipah-i-Sahaba. The rivalry morphed into a bitter sectarian war between the Tehrik-i-Jafria and Sipah-i-Sahaba's more radical offshoot, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi. Over the years, Bhakkar has witnessed many targeted killings and sectarian attacks.

The first suicide bombing in Bhakkar has occurred in the wake of two sets of developments. First, Shia families fleeing the sectarian violence in D.I. Khan have begun to settle in Bhakkar, driving up property prices in the district. Second, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has grown more powerful in Punjab on the back of its links with Al Qaeda and is flexing its muscles all across Pakistan. Last month, NWFP Governor Owais Ghani warned of the dangers his province faced from suicide bombers with links to militant groups in southern Punjab. Irrespective of whether investigations reveal any link between the Laskhar-i-Jhangvi and Monday's attack in Bhakkar, the fact is a dangerous foe is stalking Pakistan today. Militancy is neither confined to one particular group nor to one particular area of the country. It is everywhere and comes in every imaginable — and sometimes unimaginable — stripe. Caught in the militants' crosshairs, the ANP has belatedly woken up to the threat. “The time has come to clarify our national policy.... We are fighting for not only the survival of the Pakhtun nation but also of Pakistan,” an ANP leader told this paper. We could not agree more.

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