Pamela Constable, The Washington Post
LAHORE, Pakistan – The modest office where Sarfraz Naeemi kept his library and received visitors seeking spiritual guidance is now a charred hole. The floor is strewn with burned pages, glass shards and ball bearings from a young suicide bomber’s lethal vest.
Even though this cultured provincial capital is fast becoming used to bombings, the assassination of Naeemi, a scholarly cleric who promoted religious harmony and spoke out against Taliban extremism, has resonated far beyond the blackened walls of the quiet seminary he headed.
Naeemi’s death Friday has provoked an outpouring of grief and condemnation across Pakistan’s political and social spectrum. It has marked a turning point in the consolidation of public opinion against the Taliban, a violent Islamic movement that was once fostered by the state.
But the killing of Naeemi, 61, has also broadened the Taliban insurgents’ war against the “infidel” state to include fellow Sunni clerics who defy them. It has raised fears that sectarian violence will erupt in a tolerant, lively metropolis that draws millions of pilgrims to its historic religious shrines.
“Since the death of Mufti Sahib [Naeemi], everyone is frightened of suicide bombings,” said Mohammed Shakil, who sells trinkets in the maze of alleys around a 13th-century Shiite shrine. “We are a peaceful community where all faiths respect each other. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Now people are afraid even to come and worship.”
Last week, the Taliban issued a public letter against Shiites in a Lahore newspaper, declaring them non-Muslim and ordering them to leave Pakistan, convert or face violent consequences.
This week, police have barricaded Lahore’s Shiite shrines amid rumors that they will be infiltrated by female suicide bombers.
Police are also camped outside public buildings, and armed commandos await flights at the Lahore airport.
Naeemi’s assassination is the latest in a string of attacks in the Punjab province’s capital since March. The attacks included an assault on a police academy, the bombing of an intelligence agency building and a shooting rampage targeting a Sri Lankan cricket team.
The army has been moving aggressively to confront Taliban forces on their home turf in northwestern Pakistan. By killing Naeemi, analysts said, Taliban leaders sought to prove that they could retaliate at a distance and had no qualms about eliminating any opponents.
The Washington Post