By Khalid Bhatti 02/05/2015
Rise of Barelvi Extremism
Since the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, different religious-political groups belonging to the Barelvi school of thought are trying to take advantage of the religious emotions of the ordinary Muslims. Barelvis considered relatively moderate and socially liberal compare to the other sects of Sunni Muslims. But the events in the aftermath of the Qadri’s hanging upto to the sit-in in Islamabad at the end of March 2016 send the disturbing signals. Once moderate and more tolerant shade of Sunni Islam have started to follow the footsteps of more hardline Deobandi groups.
Bralevi groups never been part of the Jehadi culture or extremism which was promoted by the Zia dictatorship in the 1980s and always kept distance from the Jehadi organisations. The Jihadi organisations overwhelmingly belonged to the Deobandi sect which was provided material support and state patronage during the Afghan Jihad. Later, Wahabi sect joined the Jihad with the introduction of the lashkar-e –Tayyaba (LeT) in early 1990s. Both Deobandi and Wahabi consider hard liner compare to Barelvi school of thought. For years, The Barelvis have watched from the sidelines as the minority Deobandi Sunni Muslims have received state and foreign largesse and acquired extraordinary clout and power in return for their support to the state.
At a time when the relations between establishment and Deobandi hard line groups are strained and finally to have hit the rock bottom, there will be no greater irony if the Barelvis decide to assert themselves. The consequences of such development for Pakistan could be devastating. If the authorities continue to ignore the rise of Barelvi extremism at the early stage that it is now at the moment, it can spread to the new layers. It will be wrong to presume that Barelvi extremism pose a direct threat or reached to the dangerous levels as the case with banned Taliban Movement and other extremist groups. No comparison can be drawn between the two at this stage. But if it is left unattended and the present trend not discouraged than it can pose serious threat in the future.
The biggest challenge faced by the Barelvi religious-political movement is the absence of an established leadership, there is no national level leader exist in the movement who can pull other small groups and local leaders behind him to put formidable challenge to the political opponents. There is huge vacuum as Barelvi political movement is divided and fragmented since the death of Jamiatulmai-Pakistan (JUP) leader Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani. Once a considerable political force under Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani, JUP lost much of its political clout. It was use to enjoy support in some pockets like Karachi, Hyderabad, Muzaffar Ghar, Bahawal Pur, Sialkot and some other areas. The leaderless JUP is divided among different factions which are fighting among themselves to get their own political clout and influence.
Karachi based Sunni Tehreek which was formed in the late 1980s but came to fore during the 1990s when establishment was trying to clip the wings of MQM. It strengthened when in 2002, General Musharaf formed alliance with MQM- Altaf and launched operation against MQM-Haqiqi. Many MQM-H cadres joined Sunni Tehreek (ST) to protect themselves. This provided ST much needed trained armed wing to effectively control its areas. In its report submitted in the Supreme Court by the Sindh Rangers, has alleged ST for taking extortions and protecting criminal elements in their controlled areas. ST is trying to expand its support base from Karachi to the different parts of country. It champions itself for the cause of Barelvi sect. It suffered a big loss when its main leadership was killed in a bombing during a mass procession in Karachi.
ST was the main force behind the recent sit-in in Islamabad. ST tried to use the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri to establish itself as the leader of the Barelvi religious- political movement. ST used this occasion to build its political clout.
It seems that there was a competition during the sit-in to prove that who is the most vocal and hard line group among the many. The foul language was used and abuses were hurled against the highest office holders of the country. Speeches delivered during the sit-in can best be described as hate-speeches. The language used by the leaders can not be described as civilised and unprovoked. Despite a reputation for being comparatively docile in their street agitation, followers of various groups belonging to the Barelvi school of thought seem to have taken the authorities by surprise. Sunday’s march on D-Chowk from Liaquat Bagh was also not led by any established party, but rather proceeded under the banner of the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, which is a coalition of several, mostly unknown Barelvi groups.
These Barelvi groups used Qadri and the issue of blasphemy as a lever to try and consolidate their political support and shore up their credentials against other challengers within the Barelvi religious-political firmament and also to head off challenges to their domain from Deobandi political- religious groups. This is not the end but the beginning of a new hard line approach and extremism among the Barelvi groups.