Nizamuddin dargah clerics quizzed by Pak intel officials about ‘Barelvi links’ | india-news | Hindustan Times
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Nizamuddin dargah clerics quizzed by Pak intel officials about ‘Barelvi links’

The clerics – Asif Nizami, 82, and Nazim Ali Nizami, 66, members of the extended family of the ‘sajjada nashin’ (hereditary administrator) of the shrine – returned to India on Monday after being untraceable for almost three days.

india Updated: Mar 21, 2017 08:39 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Nizamuddin clerics
Syed Asif Nizami (left) and his nephew Nazim Ali Nizami, who went missing in Pakistan last week, arrive at Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia Dargah in New Delhi on Monday.(PTI Photo)

The Pakistani security officials who detained the two senior clerics from Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah focussed on only one issue during their questioning – who were the Barelvi leaders they had met and what had they discussed.

The clerics – Asif Nizami, 82, and Nazim Ali Nizami, 66, members of the extended family of the ‘sajjada nashin’ (hereditary administrator) of the shrine – returned to India on Monday after being untraceable for almost three days.

Since their return, the clerics have acknowledged they were held and questioned but they did not publicly say what they were quizzed about. They also rejected the theory that they had gone to the interior of Sindh province, pointing out their Pakistani visas did not permit them to visit that area.

A person who interacted with the clerics soon after their release said on condition of anonymity that Pakistani security officials had repeatedly asked the two men about the Barelvi leaders they had met and whether they had conveyed any message to the Barelvis from Indian authorities.

The clerics insisted that the sole purpose of their visit to Pakistan was to pray at several Sufi shrines, including the shrine of Baba Farid in Pakpattan, about 160 km from Lahore. The visit to Pakpattan apparently put the Pakistani intelligence agencies on the trail of the clerics.

The questioning by the Pakistani officials also appeared to suggest that the clerics had been directed by Indian authorities to establish contacts with the Pakistani Barelvi leaders. This was rejected by the clerics, the person who interacted with them said.

There were also hints in Pakistani Urdu newspapers, including one known for its close ties with the Pakistani intelligence, that the Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah in Delhi had been infiltrated by Indian spy agencies.

But once the pressure from the Indian government mounted – including a call that external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj made to Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz, who was in London – the clerics were freed by the Pakistani intelligence, at least two sources familiar with the matter said.

Pakistan’s Barelvis are generally perceived as moderate but several recent developments have resulted in security agencies keeping a closer watch on the community.

Though the Barelvis are Sunnis with strong connections to Sufi shrines in India and Pakistan, some Barelvi leaders were at the forefront of protests in Islamabad last year against the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the policeman who assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer.

Though Qadri was reviled by Pakistani liberals, his funeral drew more than 100,000 people – an indication of the support for the assassin among more radical elements in the Barelvi community. The Sunni Tehrik’s links to the protests for Qadri also worried Pakistan’s security agencies.

The influential Dawn newspaper referred to the pro-Qadri protests as an indication of the “resurgence of religio-political parties belonging to the Barelvi sect”. There is also friction between the Barelvis and Deobandis, whose mosques and madrassas have benefited from the financial largesse of Saudi Arabia.