‘Pir’ power and Pakistani politics


–General Elections 2018 and the (mis)use of religion for political gains

–Parties have awarded tickets to the religious elite; candidates have sought blessings of saints

–Influential religious families either contest polls themselves or influence electioneering


ISLAMABAD: With elections just around the corner, political parties have started to woo the pirs—who have a considerable following countrywide— in order to cement their position in the upcoming polls.

Islamic practices are deeply embedded among the public at large in across country and shrines, together with other institutions such as mosques and madrasahs, usually hold great importance in the Pakistani society as people show great reverence to them.

Given the fact that there are numerous shrines scattered all over the country and that they are visited by thousands of people, it is not without reason to believe that these small offerings at shrines accumulate into a potential resource which can be better channelised to bring about optimum political results.

Power politics has attracted these spiritual leaders and the religious scholars have either joined the political process directly or they are supporting various candidates indirectly on local basis.

The three major political parties, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have not only awarded tickets to the influential pirs across the country but the candidates have also sought blessings of the influential pirs locally.

Though there is no official data available on registered shrines in the country, an official in Auqaf department told Pakistan Today that Punjab’s Auqaf department had registered 552 shrines till the year 2017.

“But there are many unregistered small shrines that have been built on private lands which are being managed by the pirs who have been handing over the management to their next generations of the family of the holy personage, heirs of whom are called gaddi nasheens.

Though most of the heirs of these spiritual leaders stay away from the practical political field, some influential gaddi nasheens not only are actively involved in power politics. Most of these pirs either contest elections themselves or they vote and support certain political families who show allegiance to them or their khaleefas (caretakers).

Among the influential pirs in Punjab, there are three influential families, including the pirs of Taunsa Sharif, Sial Sharif and Golra Sharif who are interlinked and intertwined to each other’s systems and hold huge following among the faithful.

Pakistan Today has contacted various religious scholars and top political experts to understand how religion is being used for political purposes locally and nationally.


Sialvi is the biggest spiritual family who hold sway in across central, northern and southern parts of Punjab and their followers mostly win elections due to their open support and canvassing in their favour.

Sial Sharif is based in district Sargodha where the shrine of Hazrat Khawaja Shamsuddin Sialvi is the centre of attraction for the followers of the Barelvi sect of Muslims since the 19th century.

Sialvis hold sway in Sargodha, Khushab, Chiniot, Faisalabad and Jhang districts. Khwaja Hamiduddin Sialvi is the incumbent Sajjadah Nasheen of Sial Sharif Shrine who recently led the religious movement against the recent government of PML-N over Khatam-e-Nabbuwat (PBUH) controversy.

Sialvis got actively involved in politics in the 1970s when Khwaja Qamaruddin Sialvi, the then Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) chief, led Swada-e-Azam (the Sunni alliance) in 1970s.

Sialvis are supporting Nadeem Afzal Gondal for NA-88 Sargodha-I, Usama Ahmed Mela for NA-89 Sargodha-II, Nadia Aziz for NA-90 Sargodha-III, Aamir Sultan Cheema for NA-91 Sargodha-IV, Sahibzada Naeemuddin Sialvi for NA-92 Sargodha-V, Umar Aslam Khan for NA-93 Khushab-I, Malik Ihsanullah Tiwana for NA-94 Khushab-II, Ghulam Muhammad Lali for NA-99 Chiniot-I, Zulfiqar Ali Shah for NA-100 Chiniot-II, Dr Nisar Jutt for NA-106, Sahibzada Mehboob Sultan for NA-114 Jhang-I, Ghulam Bibi Bharwana for NA-115 Jhang-II, and Sahibzada Ameer Sultan for NA-116 Jhang-III.

Around two dozen candidates for provincial assemblies also enjoy the support of Sialvis in the above-mentioned districts. To woo the Sialvis, PTI has awarded a party ticket to a member of the Sialvi family i.e. Sahibzada Naeemuddin Sialvi for NA-92 Sargodha.

Jhang is also home of the shrine of Hazrat Sultan Bahu whose descendent Sahibzada Mehboob Sultan is contesting the election from NA-114 Jhang-I while his cousin Sahibzada Ameer Sultan is vying for NA-116 Jhang-III.

Jhang is also the birthplace of the shrine of Hazrat Shah Jeewna whose descendent Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat is contesting the election on the PPP ticket from NA-114 while his younger brother Asad Hayat is vying for NA-99 Chiniot.

Shrine of Pir Choora Sharif from Pindigheb is the centre of gravity for faithful and has influence in across central Punjab. Pir Syed Jamaat Ali Shah of Alipur Syedan is also revered among Barelvis who follow the political direction of the Sajjad Nasheen of the shrine who holds sway in Lahore, Sialkot, Narowal, Gujranwala and Kasur. Being a disciple of Pir Choora Sharif, Hafiz Jamaat Ali Shah also represents Pir Choora Sharif for followers.


Shrine of Hazrat Baba Farid Ganj-e-Shakar is center of attraction for many faithful who pay allegiance to Maneka family of Pakpattan. PTI Chairman Imran Khan got involved in a controversy recently when video footage went viral on social media showing the PTI chairman kissing the pathway on the gate of Baba Farid’s shrine. Khan’s wife, Bushra, also hails from the powerful Manekas and she is being referred to as the one who got Imran to pay allegiance to Baba Farid’s descendants.


Taunsa Sharif, a subdivision in Dera Ghazi Khan (DGK) Division situated on the Indus Highway and is center of attraction for the faithful due to the shrine of the revered saint, Hazrat Muhammad Suleman Shah Taunsvi (also known as Pir Pathan).

Khwaja Attaullah Taunsvi, the descendant of Hazrat Muhammad Suleman Shah Taunsvi, is the custodian of Taunsa Sharif’s shrine which is center of gravity for faithful from across country especially Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces. Taunsvis hold sway in DG Khan and Dera Ismail Khan Districts. Khwaja Attaullah is contesting the election as an independent though he had been awarded party ticket from PPP chief Asif Zardari.


Golra Sharif is the shrine of Pir Mehr Ali Shah – the Sufi saint who shot to fame due to his poetry to express his reverence with the Holy Prophet (PBUH). His descendants, whose followers are present from across country – are actively involved in politics and have influence in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.


Shrine of Hazrat Bahauddin Zikriya is center of attraction for faithful from across the country but the influence of the descendants of the saint is overwhelming among districts of southern Punjab and interior Sindh.

PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi is the incumbent Sajjada Nashin of two holy shrines in Multan – Hazrat Bahauddin Zikriya and Shah Rukne Aalam. He leads Ghausia Jamaat whose followers travel barefooted in hot summers from interior Sindh to Multan.

Qureshi is contesting from two national assembly constituencies – NA-220 Umerkot and NA-221 Therparkar, interior Sindh. He is also contesting from NA-156 Multan while his son Zain Qureshi is contesting from NA-157 Multan.


Pir Sibghatullah Shah Rashidi is the existing Pir of Pagaro Sharif in Khairpur Sindh. He leads Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) and is also leading an election alliance of like-minded forces called Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) to confront the powerful PPP.

Being most influential dargah in Sindh, Pir of Pagaro leads an informal force called as “Hur Force” who waged the fight against the Indian army in wars of 1965 and 1971.


Makhdoom Jameeluz Zaman is current Pir of Sarwari Jamaat also known as Makhdoom of Hala, Sindh. The center of influence of Sarwari Jamaat is in across Sindh, especially in Hala, rural Hyderabad.

Makhdoom Jameeluz Zaman is PPP’s candidate from NA-223 (Matiari) while his relatives have been accommodated on two provincial assembly seats. Makhdoom Mehboobuz Zaman has been awarded ticket for PS-58 (Matiari-I) while Dr Makhdoom Rafiquz Zaman is contesting from PS-59 (Matiari-II).