By: Naimat Khan
KARACHI: A new sectarian outfit, modeled on the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), has emerged in the Punjab province of Pakistan, intelligence sources say. While the dominant milieu of armed groups in Pakistan is Deobandi, the new group, calling itself “Labaik Ya Rasoolallah”, is Barelvi.
“Labaik Ya Rasool Allah draws from the Barelvi strand of the Sunni sectarian bent. It seeks to target those from the Deobandi school of thought,” disclosed an intelligence official.
According to sources, the group initially restricted itself to protests and sloganeering but has gradually become more militarized. “It will be another Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). I fear it might be more lethal, if not checked on time,” said Raja Umar Khattab, a senior counter terrorism officer. According to an intelligence official, the organization has targeted members of Tableeghi Jama’at’, a nonviolent and apolitical organization of religious preachers from Deobandi sect, in various localities of Punjab province.
The group’s emergence not only adds a new, disturbing dimension to the sectarian war in the country but also presents a serious challenge to the soft image of the Barelvi community. The Barelvi sect has long been seen the sect of Sufi and peace loving devotees.
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“It is not just the responsibility of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to check activities of the outfit but the elders of the Barelvi school of thought should also campaign against it, prevent its consolidation,” Khattab suggests.
Barelvi militancy is not entirely a new phenomenon. According to analysts, the Deobandi, Ahle Hadith, and Shia groups’ strength stem from their role in Afghanistan and support from Arab countries and Iran. However, Barelvi groups have never been part of jihadist or militant activities. “But in recent years, they became violent on the issue of the blasphemy law, especially on the issue of Mumtaz Qadri,” said Zia Ur Rehman, a Karachi based journalist and author of Karachi in Turmoil.
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It’s pertinent to mention that Sunni Tehreek, a Karachi based Barelvi group has been on the watch list of security agencies due to its activities for the last many years. “From the late 90s onward ST has been involved in target killing, extortion and land grabbing in Karachi whereas several criminal elements found it as cover after the military operations of 90s, however, mainstream Barelvi groups have never supported it,” told an official.
Other analysts, however, see it as a shadow of the Deobandi militant ecosystem, unlikely to replace the hegemony of Deobandi group. “The networks of Deobandi militancy in Pakistan are much stronger so I don’t see a Barelvi movement presenting much of a challenge,” according to Asfandyar Mir, a University of Chicago based scholar of armed groups in South Asia. “Deobandi militancy has benefitted from years of state patronization. Post 9/11, many Deobandi groups gained from Al-Qaeda’s support. Even now, many in the state apparatus have a soft corner for various Deobandi groups. The state will not cut a Barelvi armed group the same slack. Mumtaz Qadri’s fate would have been very different if he was from a Deobandi faction,” he opines.
Originally Publishe in The Frontier Post