July 02, 2010

Data Durbar - The target-in-waiting gets hit

The BBC is reporting 42 people died at the attack on Data Durbar shrine in Lahore last night.

During the last few months, everyone in Lahore would tell you it's just a matter of time before the place was bombed. The sufi Brehlvis who revere the place have been targeted before. And the Taliban spares no effort making the point that it doesn't approve of "shrine worship". The Taliban have hit shrines before. But they were smaller and in the northern Pashtun areas. Data Durbar on the other hand is a huge complex right in the middle of Lahore. It's a national icon. It is also difficult to police a place thronging with that many people at all hours of the day and night.

The attack comes less than a month after the Taliban attacked mosques in Lahore belonging to minority community that is seen as non-Muslim by he vast majority of Pakistanis. The attack on Data Durbar is a big step up the scale. This is a big, big deal. I would agree with the various respected analysts I have spoken to while in Pakistan who would say that the Taliban is trying to provoke sectarian warfare in Pakistan and then set themselves up as the protectors of the Sunnis.

But I wonder, if the Taliban are being prevented from realising their aims by the same thing that normally works for them; the Pakistani rumour mill. I have watched some Pakistani news channels on line. The line of questioning by the presenters seems to suggest, predictably, that the Indians/Israelis/CIA/Blackwater are being touted as the puppet masters as "obviously" they want to break up the country and that's what this kind of attack threatens to achieve. If the "real" perpetrators aren't Muslims, then that lessens the potential for communities turning on each other. But that's no reason to feel complacent. The communities being attacked have expressed anger that the section of Pakistan's religio political community sympathetic to the Taliban turn a blind eye when their people die. And I have heard leaders of these communities, in private conversation, talk about arming for "self defence".

I went to a very interesting conference earlier this week called Information Operations Europe. More than one speaker reminded the audience that al Qaeda's genius in part has been the placement of information and communication considerations at the heart of its activities. This is something other extremist outfits are learning too. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. My feeling is that the Taliban will hold back from doing so until they know whether confirmation will serve or damage their overall aims.

This would be a good time for the Pakistani state, or someone, to press home the point that this attack killed and maimed over a hundred Muslims, was carried out by people who claim to serve Islam and are Pakistanis (ie not Indians, Israelis etc) and targeted a site of worship, a national icon and somewhere that draws positive international attention to Pakistan. Unfortunately, the TV news I've seen has officials still repeating the "hidden hand" insinuation, which feeds into a sense of hostility, victimisation and tacit support for extremism.


UPDATE: It killed and maimed over a hundred people rather than hundreds of people.

Data Durbar: