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Role of influential 'Pirs' in Pakistan's upcoming general elections
Pakistan is the sole country in the world which was created in the name of Islam religion and 'Pir' (spiritual guide) politics has special place in country's political polity, ostensibly in the upcoming general elections also.

Since next general elections in Pakistan are due to be held in July 2018, Pakistan's leading political parties are busy in wooing 'Pirs' to garner public support through them. Influential 'Pirs' are spread all over Pakistan, mostly in Punjab and Sindh provinces, and all political parties seek their support to win the election.

Religion and religious beliefs are used for achieving political gains during the elections and candidates can be seen making rounds to 'Pirs" to seek blessings as well as to elicit tacit support to influence the voters. Despite sizeable increase of middle class in Pakistan, 'Pirs' still hold considerable political influence in rural areas, mostly in Punjab and Sindh province.

Notably, some of leading Pakistani politicians are either 'Pirs' or enjoy political clout and support from their spiritual followers. These included vice chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who is Gaddi Nashin (spiritual heir or successor) of famous shrine of Bahauddin of Multan also another PTI leader Pir Syed Anees Haider Shah is Sajada Nasheen (hereditary administrator) of Jalalpur Sharif, Jehlum.

Likewise, leading Pakistan People's Party ( PPP) leader and former-Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousuf Raza Gilani is a Gilani 'Pir' of Multan and two other leading PPP leaders, late Makhdoom Amin Fahim, and late Makhdoom Muhammad Ameen Faheem belonged to famous spiritual families of Sindh. Similarly, Pakistan Muslim League(N) leader Javed Hashmi has links with a spiritual family and former PML-N Minister of State, Aminul Hasnat is sajjada nasheen (hereditary administrator) of Bhera Sharif, in Sargodha district of Punjab province. The list is exhaustive.

Pakistani political parties also apply all available methods to woo 'Pirs' in their favour and even allot them tickets to contest the elections at national and provincial level. Generally influential religious families prefer themselves to contest the elections and if it is not possible due to certain reasons, their nearest relatives are given tickets. Since shrines, mosques and 'madrasahs' occupy a special and important place in Pakistani's Islamic society, heads of such religious institutions are also wooed by the politicians to strengthen their position in the elections.

In addition, Pakistan's leading political parties including Pakistan Muslim League(N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have given party tickets to 'Pirs' and influential religious personalities to contest upcoming national and provincial elections in July 2018. Since shrines are frequented by numerous followers and 'Pirs' play an important and permanent spiritual role in their lives, followers are bound to get influenced with political leanings of their 'Pirs'. Moreover, sometimes 'Pirs and Islamic scholars also get attracted to 'power politics', so either they prefer to contest the elections or support a particular political party or a local candidate.

In Punjab province of Pakistan, there are a number of famous shrines of both per-independence and post-independence era, and these are frequently visited by followers. In addition to over 550 registered shrines in the Punjab province, there are many small and unregistered shrines in the province being managed by 'Pirs'. Apparently, some of the famous 'Pirs' have political aspirations or political leanings and in turn they influence their religious supporters. Shrines of Sultan Bahu, Sial Sharif, Taunsa Sharif, Baba Farid and Sakhi Sarwar are some of prominent ones in Punjab province and their 'Pirs', 'Gaddi Nashinis (spiritual heir or successor) or 'Khalifahs'(caretakers) support a particular political party or politically family.

Sargodha (Punjab province) based shrine of Hazrat Khawaja Shamsuddin Sialvi is a major shrine of followers of the Barelvi sect of Muslims since 19th century and Sialvi is the biggest spiritual family who has spiritual influence in various parts of Punjab province. Sialvi family has been in active politics since 1970 and openly supports its followers who contest elections. Fifteen candidates for the National Assembly elections and over two dozen candidates for Punjab's provincial assembly for the July 2018 elections are being supported by this influential spiritual family of Sialvis and they have considerable influence in Faisalabad, Khushab, Chiniot, Sargodha, and Jhang districts of the Punjab province.

Likewise, shrine of Hazrat Baba Farid Ganj-e-Shakar at Pakpattan, Golra Sharif in Islamabad and shrine of Hazrat Bahauddin Zikriya in Multan are some of other leading shrines in Punjab province that are directly or indirectly involved in politics and yield considerable influence in their respective areas. In addition, the shrines of Rahman Baba in Peshawar and Shah Noorani in Khuzdar also play dominant roles within the socio-religious life in their respective provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

In Sindh there are mainly four different spiritual gaddis (seats of the dynasties) including Hur Jamaat, which is led by famous Pir Pagara, Ghousia Jamaat, led by PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Sarwari Jamaat of Makhdooms of Hala and Jilani Gaddi of Pir Gul Mohammad Shah Jilani who have had powerful influence in Sindh's desert from Sanghar and Khairpur to the Ghotki district in Sindh. Amongst these, Hur Jamaaat of Pir Pagara is most famous and influential which enjoys the unwavering loyalty of its devotees and during every election they vote for the nominees of their 'murshids '(spiritual guide)' even without a campaign.

Pir of Pagaro-VII, of Pir Jo Goth in Sukkur (Sindh), whose real name was Syed Shah Mardan Shah-II (22 November 1928 – 10 January 2012) was one of the most influential 'Pirs', Pakistan has ever produced, who played an active role in the country's politics. He was 'Pir' of Hurs, which is a Sufi Muslim community in the province of Sindh. During the British rule, Pir Pagaro had declared his community "Hur", which means free from British slavery and this had led to armed insurgency by Hurs against Britishers. During the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, about 65,000 Hurs had served in different fronts against India especially that of Sindh at the behest of Pakistan army's Para military, the Rangers. During 1965 Presidential elections in Pakistan, Pir of Pagaro had supported Fatima Jinnah, who had made Pir of Pagaro Chief of Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F). In previous National Assembly (2013-18) PML(F) had five seats in the National Assembly and nine in Sindh's provincial assembly.

After the death of Pir of Pagaro-VII on January 10, 2012 he was succeeded by 55-year-old Syed Sibghatullah Shah Rashdi III who took over as Pir of Pagaro VIII on January 12, 2012. Rashdi had started his political career with Pakistan Muslim League during the era of General Zia-ul-Haq and was elected as an MPA in the non-party elections of 1985. He was elected to the Sindh Assembly two other times. He also served as minister for irrigation, works and services in the Sindh government. Like his predecessor, Pir of Pagaro VIII is visited by politicians to garner his support. He supports the cause of making south Punjab a separate province of Pakistan.

Following Nawaz Sharif's exit from the country's political scene after being disqualified by the Supreme Court to hold any office, Pakistan's already fragile democracy got another jolt. This has, however, additionally encouraged traditional rural "demagogues" and 'Pirs' to wield considerable influence in forthcoming elections and weak democracy would also help them in further strengthening their bonds with Pakistan army. Significantally, in the previous general elections (2013-2018) 43 hereditary saints were elected to the National Assembly, which had made sixteen per cent strength of the National Assembly.

The clout of 'Pirs' in Pakistan's national and provincial politics can be gauged from the fact that in political circles Pir of Pagara is called as " Pakistan's Pope".

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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