It’s been five years since the bomb blast at Qalandar Shahbaz’s shrine in Sehwan took place. The parents of Ayaz Ahmed Solangi, who died in the tragedy, are still distraught. They also suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes. “There is a picture of our son hanging on the wall of a room of the house. We gasp in grief every time we see it,” they say.
Ayaz Ahmed Solangi’s father has stopped visiting Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine after the tragedy, but his mother sometimes prays there. They say that they no longer have the courage to go to the place where their young son was brutally killed. Going to the shrine deepens the pain of their son’s memory.
After losing their son, both parents say they now feel dead inside. “There is no more desire to live, but the angel of death would arrive only at his assigned time,” they maintain.
Allah Dino Solangi and Nazeeran Mai, residents of Sehwan, Sindh Province, South Pakistan, now have two sons and six daughters. 24-year-old Ayaz was martyred in the suicide attack that struck the Lal Shahbaz shrine on February 16, 2017. At least 90 people were killed and 350 injured in the blast. ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Apart from Ayaz Ahmed Solangi, among the dead were Ikhtiar Ali Magnahar, Zeeshan Lakho, Abdul Aleem Pahanwar, Mohsin Ali Magnahar and Munir Ahmed Sheikh all of whom belonged to Sehwan, a town 300 km from Karachi, the largest city of Pakistan. The interior Sindh town is home to the mausoleum of Sufi saint Qalandar Lal Shahbaz, also known as Qalandar Shahbaz, Lal Shahbaz and Lal. On the occasion of his urs, devotion for him is also felt from Punjab, Sindh and other provinces as attendants from each are present in large numbers.
Most of the residents of Sehwan earn their livelihoods through Lal Shahbaz’s urs and the daily arrival of pilgrims.
People believe that all hopes and aspirations are fulfilled by visiting Lal. They also claim that Lal bestows upon childless couples. Here at the shrine, children and the elderly, women and men, join the dhamaal, which was taking place on the day of the blast. It was during the dhamaal that the blast took place, the imprint of which is still visible today.
Ayaz Ahmed Solangi’s parents maintain they can’t even consider heading towards the shrine after the incident. Ayaz’s father Allah Dino Solangi says: “I do not have the courage to go to the place where my young son was killed in the blast. When a young son dies, it seems that both of us have become a living corpse.”
He further underlines the mental toll of the incident. “It is difficult even to walk. Children bring us medicines, and we spend 24 hours at home.”
Their children are mostly unemployed: a daughter teaches in a private school and two sons work in a shop, barely making ends meet. There were many promises by the government of government jobs that still haven’t been delivered upon. In Sehwan, earning opportunities are few and far between. “Only the shrine offers work, but I am scared to send my sons to work there after Ayaz’s death,” says Allah Dino Solangi.
Ayaz’s parents say the only hope that keeps them alive is that of the marriage and employment of their other children. His mother gets emotional when talking about Ayaz. On the day of the incident, Ayaz went to the shrine from home two hours early, because he used to work at a shop there in the evening. From his earnings, he also contributed to the household and also managed his own expenses. His mother says before the explosion took place, he was talking to her about his marriage.
After losing their son, Ayaz Ahmed Solangi’s parents say they now feel dead inside. “There is no more desire to live, but the angel of death would arrive only at his assigned time,” they maintain
“He liked a girl,” she says. “He used to say, ‘Just get me married soon.’ I told him, ‘Just wait till the urs ends and then we will get you married.’” Ayaz’s marriage was set to take place after the urs, but it wasn’t to be.
When the blast occurred, Ayaz’s father says, he was in his house when he heard the loud explosion. The explosion was so loud that the house shook. He says that when he came out of the house, people were running in the streets. He was soon informed that there was an explosion at Lal’s shrine.
“My son was also at the shrine. I ran towards it, but there was nothing there. The police said that the dead and injured had been rushed to the hospital. I started to worry and then ran to the hospital. There were some relatives of mine at the hospital. They told me that Ayaz was injured. They told me to go home. As a father, what must my condition have been at that time?”
Trance Before The Storm
Two hundred feet from the mausoleum lives the family of Gulzar Ali Maganhar. They have been playing drums at Lal Qalandar for generations – it’s their main source of income. At the time of the blast, Gulzar Ali’s three sons were at the mausoleum, while he was home. The dhamaal was going on.
“I heard a loud noise. I had never heard such a sound. I was afraid of what must have happened. People thought the oil and gas companies that kept causing explosions in the mountains, must have been the source of that noise. But I couldn’t believe it.”
“When I came out of the house,” Gulzar continues, “the windows of Lal Shahbaz’s shrine were shattered. Then I ran to the big gate because my three sons were inside the shrine. I was scared.
“There were bomb blasts at shrines across the country in those days. Although, I was sure that terrorists could not do that at Lal’s shrine, but after the blasts like at the shrine of Shah Noorani, I sometimes felt afraid that someone would attack Lal, too. I was, however, still sure that nobody would do such a thing.”
As he tried to enter the shrine, Gulzar says, he was stopped. The gaddi nasheen of the dargah warned him not to go inside as the terrorists could detonate more bombs. Terrorists do this, he was told: when people gather, another terrorist detonates a second suicide bomb. Everybody was to stay outside.
“But as a father with three sons inside I couldn’t care less. It was the first time I forcibly pushed the gaddi nasheen and went inside the shrine.”
His son who was killed had gone to the shrine just 10 minutes before the blast. When Gulzar entered, bodies were scattered around: limbs and blood everywhere. He lost consciousness and later realised that they were the remnants of the terrorists. “I looked at each body and head one by one – ‘are they not my sons?’ – But none of them was my son. I later found out that one of my sons was no longer in this world.”
Gulzar’s son was killed and a nephew of his was injured in the blast. Two of his sons survived, one of which, Javed Ali, could not hear afterwards for several months. After receiving treatment, he is now able to hear. The injured nephew’s father is now differently-abled due to which he is not able to earn. He just stands at the door of Lal’s shrine from 4 am to 10 am; tourists give him some money, with the help of which he runs his home.
The Sindh government had announced Rs1.5 million for the heirs of each of the deceased, Rs1 million for the severely injured, and Rs0.5 million for the less severely injured. The heirs of Ayaz Ahmed Solangi, Zeeshan Lakho, Ikhtiar Ali Maghanhar and Abdul Aleem Pahanwar were given Rs1.5 million each by the Sindh government.
Gulzar Ali used this money to get two daughters and a son married, and used Rs800,000 to buy a plot. His sons and daughters are educated but none has a job. The government had announced government jobs for the heirs of the deceased and the injured but no such job has been provided to Gulzar’s family yet. Keeping in view the requirements of the times, his children had been educated up till Intermediate but since they did not get government jobs, they had to find employment in this profession of their ancestors.
Gulzar Ali now has three sons and four daughters. He says even after the blast, he did not stop going to Lal’s shrine. Two of his sons are still working at the shrine and he also goes to the shrine himself. There is income. Government employees do not work at the shrine themselves, they hire private people. His sons also work for these employees; they also give them something.
“My son who died in the tragedy, he also used to serve at the shrine,” Gulzar says. “He was wise, made a good income, but what can be done, it had to happen. Now my two sons are at Lal’s shrine, and the third son is running a retail shop after an NGO gave him training and then gave retail goods worth Rs140,000. Work was going well but the coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult again.”
“My three sons were inside the shrine. I was scared. There were bomb blasts at shrines across the country in those days. Although, I was sure that terrorists could not do that at Lal’s shrine, but I sometimes felt afraid that someone would attack Lal, too. I was, however, still sure that nobody would do such a thing.”
Lal’s shrine had been shut for a long time due to the pandemic, and so had their income. The running of the whole house, then, became dependent on the retail shop. Expenses exceeded the income, so now the stock at the shop has shrunk and the revenue has also reduced significantly. Before the epidemic, the retail store had a stock of up to Rs150,000, which has now fallen to Rs20,000.
Fida Hussain Magnahar, father of Mohsin, who was injured in the accident, begs at the shrine. He says he was injured in a road accident. One of his legs was amputated due to the accident. His elder son used to work at the shrine but was injured so there was no income coming in; hence he started begging.
Food for children is also available at the shrine’s langar. The Sindh government provided Rs500,000 for the injured child, and Magnahar used the money for his daughter’s marriage and the treatment of his son. His children, too, are jobless despite being educated.
Lines Drawn With Blood
Munir Ahmed, also a resident of Sheikh Sehwan, got injured in the blast: he also worked privately at Lal’s shrine, cleaning and sweeping there. Visitors were also a source of income for him. However, after getting injured he could no longer work at the shrine. Now he runs a retail shop with the help of NGOs. He does not have much income but this shop helps him meet the expenses of the house.
Both of Munir’s legs were injured in the blast, one seriously wounded. Munir was also given Rs1 million by the Sindh government but most of the money was spent on his treatment. He still needs another surgery to recover completely, but due to his lack of resources it is not possible. Munir says when the blast took place, he was rushed to Sehwan Hospital. He says there is a lack of facilities in government hospitals in small towns. At that time, the situation was similar in the Sehwan Civil Hospital. The injured were later shifted to hospitals in Hyderabad and other major cities. The delay led to more loss of life.
Sehwan Hospital had few facilities in 2017. One ambulance was operational at the time and there was no supply of gas. It was not possible to provide medical aid to the injured of such a major accident in such a small hospital. Officials shifted the injured to hospitals in major cities.
“Now all facilities are available at Sehwan Hospital,” says Moinuddin Siddiqui, director of Syed Abdullah Shah Medical Institute Sehwan, which is named after former Sindh Chief Minister Syed Abdullah Shah. One hospital is not enough for a major accident like the blast. More than one hospital is needed. Though at present Sehwan Hospital has a lot of facilities – all the facilities that a teaching hospital should have.
At present, the hospital has 350 beds. There are 5,000 daily OPDs, specialist doctors are deployed, and there are 12 ambulances with gas supply. The ICU ward and ventilator are fully equipped with gas supply as well.
Munir Sheikh says due to the lack of treatment facilities offered at Sehwan Hospital, he was admitted to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Hyderabad. He remained in the hospital for 21 days. The treatment was provided free of cost. He continued to travel from Sehwan to Hyderabad for treatment. The Sindh government’s Rs1 million aid was mostly spent on treatment, with some used to meet domestic expenses. Eventually, he had to take out a loan.
Due to his injury, Munir was not able to earn and had to stay home. Later, the Sindh government gave him a government job on a contract in the Auqaaf (endowment) department. But after 18 months, the job was terminated, despite the Sindh government’s announcement that those possessing a Sindh domicile would be given government jobs.
Both of Munir’s legs were injured in the blast, one seriously wounded. Munir was also given Rs1 million by the Sindh government but most of the money was spent on his treatment. He still needs another surgery to recover completely, but due to his lack of resources it is not possible
Locals say in 2017 the security arrangements at Lal’s shrine were insufficient keeping in view the frequency of the terrorism and attacks on shrines taking place in the country at the time. 40 personnel are required to be on duty but there were only a few on duty, then. One of the security personnel at the time could only see with one eye. He is still on duty. A massive, irreversible, loss was caused by such security arrangements.
Now, there is strict security at the shrine: iron lines have been drawn out at both the doors, making it impossible for visitors to enter without making a line. Then, they are also checked.
According to security in-charge Aziz Hussain Jatoi, two control rooms have been set up for monitoring. Drone cameras are also used for monitoring, while 166 CCTV cameras have been installed and 130 personnel, including 20 women, are on duty in three shifts. All personnel are commando trained.
The Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) arrested Nadir Ali Jhakrani alias Murshid and Furqan alias Farooq Brohi on charges of facilitating the Sehwan bombing. According to the CTD, Nadir Ali was leading the terror attack, and Babar Brohi, from Balochistan’s Mastung town was the bomber.
The CTD claims Nadir Ali had confessed to the joint investigation team that he belonged to ISIS, having worked earlier for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. His confessional statement concedes that he was involved in the Sehwan bomb blast.
The two arrested accused were tried in an anti-terrorism court in Karachi. During the court proceedings 29 witnesses recorded their statements, many of whom were police officials, whereas two witnesses privately identified the accused as the ones seen in the CCTV video before the blast. The court sentenced Nadir Ali and Furqan to death in May 2019 and fined them Rs14 million.