It was unusual to see the Sunni Tehreek (ST), a group that claims to represent the Barelvi school of thought, protesting the excesses of the Taliban, in Peshawar recently.
Observers say the party, which is run from Karachi, has almost no members in other parts of the country. However, of late, the ST is making waves all over Pakistan and with good reason.
Suddenly members are appearing from nowhere. Party offices have been set up in places all over the country. Some say the intelligence agencies are behind this new popularity for the party. Others say it is the current government, which helping the Tehreek into becoming a national force.
The party is no stranger to controversy.
In 2006, 57 party members died when a bomb exploded at a party convention in Karachi.
The ST had blamed the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan — an extremist group which has ties with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan — for the bombing. No one has been arrested for the attack, which wiped out the entire party leadership. The new leaders are more extreme in their words and actions.
After years, the party’s fortunes changed in 2009 when it was seen as a force to counter the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan. The government wanted to promote a moderate face of Pakistan, and sought out parties like the ST to fit the bill. Today, the Tehreek, and its leader Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, are an important component of the Sunni Ittehad Council.
The council is a collection of Barelvi Sunni parties that are being readied to fight the ideological war that the Taliban has unleashed in the country. So far, they have met limited success.
In 2009, Ejaz Qadri formed the Pakistan Inquilab Tehreek. Possibly this is the beginning of a larger battle between the Taliban and its supporting groups, which includes the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and the Barelvi parties.
But Tehreek dismisses talk of government support. It said, “We are still waiting for the government to find those behind the 2006 bombing.” Despite denials, the ST is the natural choice for the government.
Some say, the government and some intelligence agencies are supporting the Barelvis. Even as others suggest ST members are being given logistical support and funds to widen their base. Journalist Shamimur Rehman scoffs at the suggestion. “It is the same story happening all over again.” Many like him argue that the government is creating another monster, which it will lose control of in the coming years.