The universal truth is that Sufi saints not only preached but also practiced principles of spiritual devotion, humanitarianism, tolerance and love of all, regardless of their creed, caste, gender and religion, which are believed to be a powerful antidote against extremism and intolerance.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, the shrines of Sufi saints have been made target of deadly attacks. The foremost cause behind the spate of terrorist attacks on shrines in Pakistan is the lack of security arrangements at shrines for the protection of their physical infrastructures and safety of devotees.

Regrettably, even in the wake of continuous terrorist attacks no adequate security measures were taken. However, many of the most frequented shrines generate revenue and can arrange their security themselves. The state of affairs shows that we are still not well-prepared for our prolonged battle against extremism and terrorism.

Those that are antagonistic to humanity carried out terrorist attack on the shrine of the 13th century venerated saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Sindh on Thursday Feb 16, 2017, which took more than 88 lives with 342 left injured. The pulverizing blast, one of the deadliest of all the terrorist attacks on shrines in Pakistan’s history, was the result of inadequate security measures.  Of the overall 38 CCTVs installed at the shrine of Lal Qalandar, 20 were out of order. There were only 2 walkthrough gates installed, which also were dysfunctional. As the electronic media clip shows, only one police constable was deployed at the main gate to scan a huge crowd of people entering the shrine. At the time when the blast occurred there was power outage because power connection of the shrine was disconnected due to non-payment of electricity bill of Rs40 million.

After Pakistan supported the United States and its allies in war against terrorism, it became the main target of coldblooded terrorists who also ruthlessly targeted Sufi shrines, killing hundreds of innocent people. A report reveals that since 2005 approximately three dozen shrines all over the country have been attacked, in which around 290 people have been killed and more than 700 injured. Of the overall 29 attacks on shrines, the major and deadly attacks were made on the most frequented shrines of the revered Sufi Saints—Lal Shahbaz Qalander, Sehwan (2017),  Shah Noorani, Khuzdar (2016), Baba Nangay Shah, Islamabad (2014), Dargah Ghulam Shah Ghazi, Shikarpur (2013), Sakhi Sarwar, Dera Ghazi Khan (2011), Baba Farid, Pakpattan (2010), Abdullah Shah Ghazi, Karachi (2010), Data Gunj Bakhsh, Lahore (2010), Bari Imam, Islamabad (2005) and Pir Rakhel Shah, Fatehpur (2005).

The undeniable fact is that the ideology of Pakistan is based on the religion that promotes peace, love, coexistence, tolerance and humanity, which is exactly identical to the spiritual teachings of Sufism. It is not on founded upon the ideological views of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, ISIS, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other terrorist groups. As for the fanatics of the terrorist groups, the spiritual teachings, devotions, rituals of Sufism are intolerable and a cause of infuriation, so they attack the shrines of Sufi saints. Therefore, it would not be wrong to conclude that these attacks are a ferocious offensive on the ideology of Pakistan. Therefore, for the survival of Pakistan, security of its ideology is a prerequisite and it is our constitutional obligation to safeguard it. 

It is notable that almost all the shrines generate their own incomes. The cash offerings, donations poured in boxes by devotees, are the major source of income of the shrines and the income of most shrines reaches millions of rupees annually. A report reveals that the income of the Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh shrine from the offerings of devotees and rent of 300 shops attached to it reached Rs.250 million in 2016. The annual income figure of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine is somewhat similar to that of Data Darbar.

The facts and figures about shrines’ income show that if utilized transparently and honestly the income is enough to make most of the shrines self-sufficient in making their own security arrangements such as installing CCTVs and walkthrough gates and hiring private security guards. They can afford utility bills and somewhat maintenance of their buildings without any support of the government. But a question arises even in common minds: where does this huge amount of money go, if it is not utilized on security, utility bills and repairs of shrines? All the concerned individuals and organizations should be held accountable and there should be transparent financial audit of all shrines. And for the transparent utilization of the cash offerings, permanent audit system ought to be established.

However, Pakistan has always been the land of the Sufis. All over the country, from little villages to metropolitans, network of thousands of Sufi shrines is spread. If not all, then at least the most frequented shrines should be secured through CCTVs, walkthrough gates and deployment of a sufficient number of security guards to keep an eye on the movement of each and every visitor. Moreover, efficient security systems at all the overcrowded mosques, temples, churches and other holy places of worship; public and important places need to be secured to wage war against terrorism in a holistic way.