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Attack on Lahore shrine raises concern about sectarian violence in Pakistan

Thousand of Pakistanis protested Friday after militants attacked a Lahore shrine. Debate is intensifying about the potential for a rise in sectarian violence.

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The Data Darbar shrine is over 900 years old and houses the remains of Abul Hassan Ali Hajvery, a figure revered by Muslims and Hindus alike. Every Thursday night, adherents gather to pray and make their devotions to the saint through dance, in stark contrast to the austere form of Islam practiced by the Taliban. It is the “biggest icon of Lahore,” says Mr. Rehman, and the attack represents a major step-up in what he calls “the battle for competing ideologies.”

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The last major attack on a Sufi shrine took place at the Rahman Baba shrine in Peshawar in March 2009.

Outside the Data Darbar shrine on Friday, worshipers lashed out at the government but promised to remain uncowed.

“The government must crack down on all terror being committed against all sects,” said Fazl-e-Kareem, a prominent Barelwi scholar, to a crowd of some 2,000 people. The Barelwi sect accounts for the majority of Sunni Muslims in Pakistan, and its traditions and beliefs are closely associated with Sufism.

Others were keen to point out what they called government hypocrisy. “This is all the fault of the Deobandi extremists whom the government continues to support,” says Muhammad Saleem, a businessman and member of the Sunni Tehrik, a Islamic political organization affiliated with the Barelwi sect.

“They pay the salaries of Jamat-ud-Dawa but fail to protect us,” he added, in reference to the provincial Punjab government’s lack of action against the charitable arm of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was officially proscribed by a United Nations Security Council resolution but remains a legal organization in Pakistan.

Others in the crowd lashed out at the United States for continuing its drone attacks, which they blamed for destabilizing Pakistan.