NEW HAVEN OF TERRORISTS:
Rise of Religious Extremism in Sindh
“Two kind of people do not deserve any human rights. Terrorists and the traitors.”
– Pakistan’s most feared Spy agency Inter Services Intelligence’s former Deputy Head General Shujaat Ali in his interview to Dawn News TV
On January 30, 2015, the town of Shikarpur, which was known as the “Paris of Sindh” before the partition of India, was struck with an earthshaking bomb blast as a suicide bomber detonated in a Shia mosque just after the Friday prayer killing 68 people and injuring 57 including children. Within hours of the attack Jindullah, a Sunni terrorist outfit working in both Iran and Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack in Shikarpur.1
Although it resulted in a large death toll, the January 30th attack on a Shia Mosque was merely part of a string of suicide attacks in the northern region of the Sindh Province. Prior to the January 30th attack, Syed Hajan Shah Mari Waro, a custodian of a Sufi Shrine, was killed along with five of his disciples when a suicide bomber attacked his congregation. The new wave of extremist suicide attacks in Sindh also included two suicide attacks on a former provincial minister and member Sindh parliament Dr. Ibrahim Jatoi, which also killed a Shia cleric. Shikarpur and its surrounding areas have been a hot bed of extremist terrorist attacks since this area is used by convoys of tankers and trucks carrying fuel and other supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan.2 The Sindhi people are known for their tranquility, tolerance, and Sufi socio-cultural fabric.
Shikarpur is on a crucially strategic location. On one side as it connects Sindh with Baluchistan and its Capital Quetta, and Punjab on the other. In days of Czarist Russia and pre- partition India, Shikarpur’s Sindhi Hindu’s trade and banking was connected with Central Asia, the Far East, and Europe. Partition wreaked havoc on Sindh and its metropolis Shikarpur, which was then followed by a mass exodus of Sindhi Hindus, who were most of the middle class, leaving avant-grade architectural structure and educational institutions behind. Now it has become a conduit of terrorist outfits connected to Madrassas funded by foreign sources within Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.
A block over from the site of the January 30th attack on Shikarpur, stands a newly constructed madrassa that replaced the old elegant nostalgic structure that housed the Cinema.
The building was purchased by JUI mullahs; the foundation plaque stating that the madrassa was funded by a sheik from Qatar. The purchasing of old buildings, mosques and other lands to erect Madrassahs for extremist groups is a new phenomenon in Sindh.
These madrassas run by the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e- Islam (Fazl-ur_Rehman Group) and other sectarian terrorist organizations, such as Sipahe- Sahba and Laskhar-e-Jahngvi (LEJ), which have been declared defunct, but are operating under the new name of Ahl-e- Sunnat Wal Jamaat. “Shikarpur is now a hub of terrorists,” admits Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s interior minister responsible for the country’s internal security. Even while admitting this, he was reluctant to name any extremist groups, or their leaders. Even when the army moved in with the National Action Plan, which pressured the government to give them the powers by parliament to cast net of summary military courts all over the country. This did not reduce the amount of incidents. Instead a new wave of violence erupted.
During the latest in a series of raids in connections with Mosque attack in Shikarpur, police arrested two individuals whom they claimed belong to terrorist outfits Jaish-e-Islam (Khorasani Group), Lashkar Jhangvi and Punjabi Taliban (Aslam Group). Police also claim to have unearthed explosive material and suicide jacket factories in two surrounding villages. Police charged arrestees from those villages as facilitator to Shikarpur and other terrorist attacks in the recent past.3 Police cracked down on unregulated madrasahs and shut them down. The JUI held massive rallies that were attended by thousands in Sukkur city, warning the government to allow the reopening of the madrasahs otherwise they would break open the locks themselves.
After the massive killings in the string of attacks, revelations of police claims quoting confessions of the alleged accused, and largely attended rallies of pro-Jihad JUI leave many Sindhis questioning whether Sindh is now Pakistan’s new haven for terrorists? Hafiz Saeed, who is sought internationally as a terrorist with his outfit Lashkar- Taiba (LET), renamed Jamat-u- Dawa (JUD), with his network in Sindh has been seen by many in the province and is being backed by the Pakistani military establishment. The latest reports on Hafiz Saeed did have him located at the Sindh University, which is known as a stronghold of secular liberal Sindhi nationalist ideas and movements. Here he can focus on recruitment of Sindhi youth for Kashmiri terrorist organizations, the Jihad against India, and forced conversions of young Sindhi Hindu women. These conversions are done by forcing young Hindu women to marry against their will.
While anti-Jihadi Sindhi political dissidents and nationalist in Sindh are being taken and tortured by the military and spy agencies, terrorist organizations are being given a free pass. Instead of tracking down terrorist organizations, Pakistani intelligence agencies and security forces often hunt down Sindhi political dissidents and nationalists. These Sindhis are branded as “anti-Pakistan, traitors and terrorists” making them disappear, torturing then killing them and dumping their mutilated bodies.
With the cold war ending in the early nineteen nineties and Sindh being dominated by leftist and Sindhi nationalist political thought in Pakistan, it soon became a stronghold for Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD). Popular uprisings in rural Sindh were suppressed with unprecedented brute force by Pakistan’s military; at the time led by the dictator and general Zia- ul-Haq. By the end of 1980s, the Pakistani military not only erected huge military garrisons such as Pano Akil, but also financed the opening of Islamic Seminaries in Sindh. JUI (F), an off shoot of Deobandi Wahhabis who championed the Jihad in Kashmir, took the lead in establishing Madrasahs with matching grants from Saudi Arabia, the Libyan government ruled then by Gaddafi, and other Gulf States. During mid-nineties young teenaged students recruited from these Islamic seminaries would be sent to the fronts opened by Pakistani army in Kashmir and in Afghanistan by the Taliban.4 Soon busloads of young students from Sindh’s towns and cities were being sent into Afghanistan without the expressed consent, permission, or even knowledge of their parents. When passing the Pakistan-Afghan borders no security checks checked for these students, who were taken by the mullahs so these children could be trained to fight alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. The nineties also witnessed the beginning of rise of the worst sectarian violence. During these years consulate officials of Iran and other Arab Gulf states offered local youth money and training to join sectarian militant organizations like Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba, Shia Sipah-e-Mohammed, and Imamia Students Organizations.5
In the years following, Dr. Khalid Mahmood Soomro of JUI in Sindh organized and hosted conference titled “Osama Bin Laden Zindhabad” (“Long Live Osama Bin Laden”) at Sukkur, the third largest city in Sindh, according to journalist Nisar Khokhar who had experience covering the rise of jihadi culture, and the politics of religious right. During his journalistic assignments wandering in Sindh he came across a young man in a village near Tando Mohammed Khan in Sindh who claimed to have just returned after being released from Guantanamo Bay Prison. JUI recruited youths from Khanpur, Kandhkot, Kashmore, Jacobabad, Kharipur, Larkana and many other parts of Sindh.
Now, the new play in Sindh’s bloody theater is Hafiz Saeed, who was declared a terrorist by the UN’s Security Council, and is among the US treasury and State department’s most wanted as a mastermind of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Hafiz Saeed is a grave concern for the majority of Sindhis as his outfit announced his visit to University of Sindh Jamshoro. “The thing is that nobody noticed the rise of extremism in Sindh in the early stages since it had not become woven into the social fabric of Sindh like it had in the Seraiki belt of Southern Punjab,” says NisarKhokhar.6 Nisar Khokhar remembers when Hafiz Saeed was brought into the urban business center of Hyderabad in a Caravan that included horses and mules with riders carrying daggers to inaugurate a recruiting center for Jihad in Kashmir. Nisar recalls claiming their mules and horses were the symbols of Jihad.
Zulfiquar Haider, who was born and raised in Shikarpur and lost his friends and relatives in the terrorist attack in his native city says “the new problem within Sindh is Hafiz Saeed.” Zulfiquar Haider, who frequently posts on social media with anti-extremist sentiments says, “I am worried as they watch everything on social media. Nobody is coming forward to condemn them. If many people do not come forward then people like me will be easy to be targeted.”
MUSHROOMING OF MADRESSAS
The appearance of madrassas at entry and exit points of Sindh’s cities, and along strategic highways in Sindh, in places such as gas stations and shopping malls, now defines the landscape of Sindh. These mosques and madrassas are heavily guarded. In an interview, Nisar Khokhar, who travelled extensively in Sindh to investigate a story on the rise of madrassas, says: “Just five hundred meters from Pano Akil military garrison a grandiose madrassa, looking like a big show room for cars has been erected along the national highway.” They had RCC construction of a double story building with basements, the basements being a questionable choice in the tropical weather of northern Sindh.7
These madrassas are run by Jamaat ul Dawa of Hafiz Saeed and Alhe Sunnat Wal Jamaat, new name of banned Sunni sectarian terrorist organization Sipah Sahaba Pakistan, Jamiat Ulema- e- Islam (Fazal ur Rehman Group). While some are run by Sunni Bralvi school of thought, and shrines of Pirs, in addition to traditional madrasassa.8 One thing is common among these organizations, with the exception of Bralvi, they have trained people who fought in Afghanistan and later in Kashmir. They are pro-Taliban, and Al-Qaida. According to a report of Saba Imtiaz and Declan Welsh published in New York Times, in August, 2014 the Ahle Sunat W Al Jamaat Pakistan has recruited 50,000 fighters.9 Hassan Nasir Mirbahar, a human rights activist and researcher in Islamabad says there have been 6 to 7 new madrassas in every district of Sindh and their number rose from 200 to 300.10 Many in Sindh’s social, political, academic and civil society circles see these madrassas and their runners operating with the backing of the Pakistani state and they offer ample evidence to support of their claims.11
Among these old shrines is Bharchundi, in the town of Daharki of the Ghotki district of Sindh, which has been instrumental in forced conversions of Hindu women in northern Sindh. With Pir Abdul Haq alias Mian Mithu as registered sharp shooter in nearby Pano Akil Garrison’s shooting club of officers. While another Pir Mujan, his nephew who is another supporter of the forced conversion of young Hindu women, visited Syria and Libya in days of Gaddafi.12 Hussain Shah at Qambar Larkana, which is home base of the Bhuttos and the JUI mullahs at the same time, has been main source of recruiters of youths to send them into Kashmir through Pakistan’s military and terrorist outfit like Jaish. After the death of a combatant during their terror activities in Kashmir, money is distributed to the families of those killed and news of their death are brought by local commanders of the Pakistan army, its intelligence agency’s officers, and leaders of terrorist outfits to the families together. As it happened in case of a young man Riaz Chandio when a deputy of Jaish in Sindh came with a Pakistan army major to communicate the news of his death.13
Floods in the river Indus in years 2010-2011, and reports of famine in years 2011-2013, opened the flood gates of Jihadi outfits such as Jamaat U Dawa in Sindh in the name of charity.14 The best food would be available on the camps of Jamaat ul Dawa to the extent that then US ambassador also mistakenly visited one of the camps of Hafiz Saeed, newspapers reports confirmed by local journalists including Nisar Khokhar who had visited Sindh 2010 floods for the BBC.15 “The American ambassador asked the local administration to show him around a camp where best food was served to the flood affected. So we took him to the camp of Jamaat ul Dawa. That was the camp serving the best food” had told a senior member of administration, Nisar Khokhar recalls the incident. Likewise Jamaat Dawa set up relief camps for the victims of the Thar famine and mobile medical units in far flung areas bordering India. It has now fortified itself with mosques and madrasah in Sindh including Karachi. “Have you ever heard selling of mosques? A mosque sold in Diplo was bought by Jamat ul Dawa for the equivalent to $35, 000” says an Islamabad based human rights activist originally hailing from Thar.
Hafiz Saeed has been addressing crowds of thousands in Sindh inviting Hindus to be converted into Islam, while asking the Muslim Sindhi youths to join the Jihad in Kashmir by challenging India on its borders along Pakistan under the nose of Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies. 93% of Hindus who live in Sindh live in Thar. At University of Sindh, Jamshro mullahs give sermons preaching to Sindhi youths under the guard of Pakistani Rangers, a para-military whose primary duty was to secure borders. Rangers run and renovated a hostel mosque and the campus. A security arrested Hindu students when they were celebrating their Holi (Hindu festival of colors) on the Campuses.16 The madrassa phenomenon giving birth to new waves of religious and sectarian hatred that has always been intertwined with outside influx of population into Sindh. The managers and administrators of these madrassas are from outside of Sindh.
In words of Kapil Dev, a human rights activist, “in markets and bazars of Mithi Thar where you will hear people talking Dhatki, a Gujrat and Rajasthani dialect, is now replaced by people speaking Pushto and Punjabi. The majority of Sindhis believe that the inflow of outside population into Sindh allows the unchecked inflow of terrorists and their outfits into Sindh. They have renewed violence and religious frenzy into Sindh’s socio-political cultural mosaic.
According to the New York Times report, from March 2014 to August 2014 about 12 Hindu temples were attacked, and the attacks on Hindu temples continue unchecked and unabated. The Supreme Court heard the case against attacks over Hindu temples and ordered the Pakistani government to reconstruct the attacked shrines for the Hindu, but the country’s clergymen overruled the country’s apex court’s ruling by declaring it un-Islamic”.17 In February a Hindu temple was burnt down in town of Tando Mohammed Khan.
With more than 7000 elementary and middle schools either left to be closed or converted into guest houses, and cattle pens of local political bigwigs replaced by new madrassas it is clear the children of Sindh’s future is not only bleak but remerging with new recruiting grounds for religious and sectarian terrorist organizations in Sindh.18 The Pakistani Army acquired powers to setup military courts around the country under the National Action Plan with more powers delegated to them by the Pakistan’s parliaments to root out the terrorist network. The Pakistan Army also launched cleanup operation in Sindh in the name of eliminating what they call “financial terrorism”. With more powers to the Pakistani Rangers that had been deployed in the name of internal security in Sindh since 1990, however these rangers and other law enforcement agencies have so far been failed to curb the terrorist networks and recruitment. Instead, the operation cleanup has been responded with allegations of extra judicial killings, arrests, and disappearances of political opponents and Sindhi nationalist activists. While networks of Islamic seminaries or Madrassas remain untouched by the rangers and military engaged in operation clean up in Sindh. The disappearance of Sindhi nationalist activist Raja Dahir at the hands of Rangers and military intelligence agents was witnessed by hundreds of villagers during the raid on his village on June 4, 2015. This is one of many such cases recorded in recent history. His subsequent death in early July, discovery of his mutilated dead body hundreds of miles away from his place is a single glaring example of human rights abuses of rangers.19
The provincial government of Sindh’s Home Department says there are 4,021 madrassas in Sindh. According to the Sindh government’s Home department report, out of 4,021 madrassas 2,598 were registered with the government, and 1,423 were unregistered.20 Government report recognizes only “two dozens” of madrassas connected with terrorism. Though independent international organizations, including the International Crisis Group, revealed the presence of thousands of madrassas in Karachi alone.21
With the thousands of madrassas being run by Jihadi terrorist outfits in Sindh, as the Sindh government admits to 30 being run by the Sunni extremist organization Ahl-e-Sunnah Wal- Jamaat, government and the military establishments lacking political will to crackdown on these organizations is converting a Haven for terrorists”.22 There is no likelihood of terrorist militancy being rooted out and containing religious extremism in Sindh. Hafez Saeed, and his Jamaat ul Dawa, is one example among several who are operating openly and with total impunity not only in Sindh but exporting terrorism abroad. A former chief of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Tariq Khosa recently wrote an article in a country’s leading English newspaper revealing that the terrorists of the Mumbai attacks on November 26, 2008 were trained, facilitated, provided with weapons and vessels from Sindh. The operation of the attacks in Mumbai was also monitored from Sindh.23
As long as Pakistan’s military are engaged with enforcing involuntary disappearances of Sindhi nationalists under their “Kill and Dump” policy, the religious militant outfits will remain busy attacking worship places of Sindhi Hindus and forced conversions of their daughters to Islam. Terrorism seems to be far from being culled in Sindh. And the government and military establishment in Pakistan seem to be in no mood to stop such outfits and crackdown against their leaders. 24 The Pakistani civil and military establishment only seems to be in the mood of accepting the US money in the name of the “War on Terror” and to continue to play their double game. Out of the double game, a new rich and most powerful class of Pakistani generals has emerged while not only Osama Bin Laden is discovered and killed at the foothills of Pakistan’s elite military academy of Kakol (PMA), but Mullah Omar, the founding father of Taliban hid himself and died in Karachi, hub of urban gangsterism, religious, sectarian, and ethnic terrorism.
1 Dailies ‘Kawish’ ‘Sindh Express’ ‘Awami Awaz (Sindhi), Dawn and Express Tribune (English)
2 Interview with Rahim Bux Jaffri on February 3,2015
3 Dailies ‘Kawish’ and ‘Sindh Express’, February 28,2015
4 “Young Guns” on rise of Taliban by Zahid Hussain and Hasan Mujtaba published in September 1997 issue of the ‘Newsline’ Karachi, Pakistan.
5 This author interviewed with young men in Karachi at the time.
6 Interview with journalist Nisar Khokhar on February 28,2015
7 Interview with Nisar Khokhar February 28,2015
8 Conversation with Ustad Khalid, sociologist and political analyst on March 2, 2015
9 “Extremists make inroads in Pakistan’s diverse south, New York Times, by Saba Imtiaz and Declan Walsh July 14, 2014.
10 Interview with Hasan Nasir Miramar on March 5,2015
11 My conversation with journalist Hafeez Chachar, August 12, 2014
12 Video news broadcast on Sindhi Kawish Television Network (KTN)
13 Interview with a political analyst and sociologist of the area who wants to be anonymous to security reasons.
14 Interview with human rights activist Kapil Dev based at Islamabad who is originally from Thar on March 8, 2015
15 Interview with journalist Nisar Khokar February 28,2015
16 Posted by human rights activist Veerji Kolhi on the social media on March 4, 2015. Pakistani print and electronic media mostly censored the news. Pictures of Hindu young students with colors of Holi on their faces but made to sit in Rangers truck went viral on the social media.
17 Daily ‘Kawish’ issue March 12,2015
18 Telephonic conversation with Dr.Ayesha Siddiqa on March March 9,2015
19 https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa33/2167/2015/en/ Amnesty International by Amnesty International, 27 July 2015, Index number: ASA 33/2167/2015.
20 Daily the Dawn July 16, 2015 http://www.dawn.com/news/1194706.
21 http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south- asia/pakistan/130_pakistan_karachi_s_madrasas_and_violent_extremism.ashx.
23 ‘Mumbai Attacks Trials published in daily the ‘Dawn’, August 3, 2015 http://www.dawn.com/news/1198061
About the Authors
Hasan Mujtaba is an award winning journalist and human rights defender on Sindh. He lives in New York.
Alex Sanford is an Undergraduate student at Hobart College in Geneva, New York but was born in Tennessee. He worked with the Sindhi Foundation as a Founding Intern.