Pakistani pilgrims flock to crocodile shrine as Taliban threat recedes

Thu Oct 15, 2015 3:17am EDT
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By Syed Raza Hassan

KARACHI (Reuters) - The lean days appear to be over for Mor Sahib, an 87-year-old crocodile venerated by Pakistan's tiny Sheedi community, as pilgrims once again flock to a shrine in Karachi that has been shunned for years amid fears of Taliban attacks.

The aging reptile, his leathery skin fissured by time, waddled out of the murky water toward a crowd of visitors wearing garlands, all hoping to lure him with handfuls of sweets and choice pieces of goat neck.

The pilgrims are Pakistani Sheedis, whose ancestors came from Africa and are drawn from different Muslim sects, making them a potential target for hardline militants who want to impose their strict interpretation of Islam on others.

Their new-found confidence coincides with a major crackdown on crime and militancy by paramilitary Rangers in the southern port city of 20 million people where the shrine is located, which has seen murder levels drop sharply.

The Pakistani military has also been carrying out a major offensive against the Taliban movement in the northwest of the country since June, 2014, and its pursuit of militants gathered pace following the massacre of 134 school pupils in December.

"Three, four years back, armed Taliban had become so influential that police were afraid of them ... at the nearby police station they killed 18 policemen," said shrine caretaker Mohammed Yaseen, light glinting off tiny mirrors stitched into his traditional cap.

"Since the Rangers and police operation (in Karachi), people have started to return."

Militant attacks across the nuclear-armed nation of 190 million people have fallen by around 70 percent this year.   Continued...

Devotees pray at the grave while visiting the shrine of Hasan-al-Maroof Sultan Manghopir, better known as the crocodile shrine, on the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan October 11, 2015. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro