Twenty people were killed and four more injured this week when they were attacked while worshipping at a Sufi shrine on the outskirts of Sargodha in the Punjab region of Pakistan. The shrine’s custodian, 50-year-old Abdul Waheed, has confessed to the attack and is the primary suspect. He has been arrested, alongside several individuals suspected of being his accomplices. Waheed claims that his actions were in retaliation for an attempt to poison him, which was previously made by the victims and that he killed them out of fear for his own life. Evidence suggests that the victims were tortured and murdered with clubs and knives after Waheed called them to his shrine. The police were alerted by one of the victims who managed to escape. The region’s Deputy Police Commissioner, Liaqat Ali Chattha, was quoted in an interview with GeoTV saying that “as [the victims] kept arriving, [Waheed and his accomplices] were torturing and murdering them.”
Another officer working on the case commented that Waheed appeared to be “mentally unstable,” and speculated that the violence might have occurred as a result of rivalry for control of the shrine. Furthermore, a doctor at the local hospital who was tasked with treating the victims confirmed that their injuries appeared to have been inflicted with daggers and blunt objects, primarily around the backs of their necks.
Reports indicate that Waheed had created a career for himself as a religious leader. The BBC’s correspondent in Islamabad, Secunder Kermani, stated that “residents have been reported as saying he would regularly beat his disciples. He would make them strip off… and would burn their clothes.” However, events, such as these at religious shrines are not uncommon in Pakistan. Sunni militant groups, such as the Taliban and IS have been known to attack Sufi shrines on accusations of heresy. Sufi Islam, otherwise known as Islamic Mysticism, is a sect or aspect of Islam, which holds that saints can interact directly with God on the behalf of worshippers. Ibn Khaldun is quoted as defining Sufi as “… dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone.”
A large-scale attack in February on a Sufi shrine in Lal Shahbaz Qalander saw an IS suicide bombing kill more than 80 people and injure hundreds more. The state’s response was significant. On one hand, three days of official mourning for those killed and injured were announced in the Sindh province. On another, army chief Gen Qamar Saved Bajwa released a statement in which he claimed that “each drop of the nation’s blood shall be avenged and avenged immediately. No more restraint for anyone.” Following this, over 100 ‘militants’ were killed as part of an intense security crackdown. Furthermore, tensions were high between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as the former accused of ‘tolerating militant sanctuaries’ (according to the BBC). These events paint a troubling picture of a Pakistan where innocent worshippers are in danger of attack (and indirectly see their freedom of religion threatened), whereby the state is compelled to maintain the appearance of strength by enacting retributive and violent national security policies.