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Islam and Sectarianism ( 10 Nov 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Sleeping With Sectarianism: How Militants Are Becoming a Political Force in Pakistan – Part 2

By Mohammad Jibran Nasir

November 08, 2016

In 1997, the then PML-N government, with different priorities from now, attempted to take on the militants. The government enacted the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 under which special courts were set up where a lesser burden of proof lay on the prosecution for speedy trials and easier convictions for terrorists. However, in absence of adequate protection of judges, prosecution and witnesses, a problem we still face, the ATA courts didn’t prove effective. Rather than strengthening the courts, PML-N resorted to street justice killing 36 SSP and LeJ members in encounters. The LeJ responded with two attempts on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s life. It was during this time that SSP and LeJ strengthened their alliance with Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) in Afghanistan seeking refuge at their camps.

In the aftermath of 9/11 pressure grew on General Musharraf to take action against terrorists. In 2002, Musharraf banned SSP and several other organizations claiming “No organization is allowed to form Lashkar, Sipah or Jaish”, but the same appeared to be an exercise on paper to appease our western allies. The dictator allowed these outfits to continue to oil the jihad machinery to meet the military’s disastrous aims of strategic depth.

A ban under ATA on an organization means that its offices are to be sealed, its literature seized, all of its public engagement activities are to be suspended, arms licenses of it workers are to be rescinded and passports of its active members are to be cancelled.  Any violation carries a prison sentence.

However, despite banning SSP, Musharraf allowed its then head, Azam Tariq, to contest for the National Assembly in October 2002 and used his help and vote to get Mir Zafarullah Jamali get elected as Prime Minister.

In 2008 all major political forces including the PML-N embraced this dangerous trend of aligning with banned outfits helping these outfits gather genuine street power with members which have far little fear of law and much less concern for life than ordinary political workers.

In an interview given to Gharida Farooqi on Samaa TV, the then General Secretary of ASWJ, Khadim Hussain Dhilon, revealed that Shahbaz Sharif and Javed Hashmi sought their support in 2008 on PML-N’s ticket. Shahbaz Sharif in fact formed an official alliance making the ASWJ Bhakar President, Abdul Hameed Khalid, withdraw in his favour helping Sharif win the by-election in Bhakar unopposed on his way to becoming Punjab’s Chief Minister.

In addition 25 MPA and MNAs of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) including former Chief Minister Sindh Qaim Ali Shah, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Kamaruz Zaman Kaira, Jamshed Dasti, Nazar Gondal and Manzoor Wassan as well as former Chief Minister KPK Ameer Haider Khan Hoti of the Awami National Party also sought and got the support of ASWJ in order to secure their wins in 2008 according to Dhilon.

By 2013, ASWJ was not only forming alliances, but making its own members contest elections under a new and purpose built political party Muttahida Deeni Mahaza (MDM) which was headed by Sami-ul-Haq of JUI-S. The MDM fielded at least 40 candidates from the ASWJ all of whom featured on the fourth schedule of the ATA. Aurangzeb Farooqi, who is the second in command after Ludhianvi, contested from PS-128 in Karachi getting more than 21,000 votes and losing only by a little over 2,000 votes, a margin which he reduced to a little over 200 votes in the by-election in 2015.

People’s Aman Committee (PAC) and MQM workers clashed in Karachi while ASWJ negotiated its co-existence with both of them. ASWJ’s Karachi President, Taj Mohammad Hanfi, performed Dastaar Bandi of PAC’s head Uzair Baloch whereas an MQM delegation met with Aurangzeb Farooqi at ASWJ’s headquarters in Karachi in March 2013. Hanfi who was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of being involved in sectarian violence has also been cleared by the ECP to run for the National Assembly from NA-258 in Karachi on 24th November this year.

Around that time, Ludhianvi was more vocal about distancing himself from LeJ in his attempt to allow ASWJ to become more mainstream. However, in February 2013, the then Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, claimed that LeJ was divided into two factions with one headed by Malik Ishaq and the other operating under Ludhianvi. ASWJ and LeJ nexus became evident when Ishaq was made Vice President of ASWJ after his release from jail in 2014.

In June 2015, Ishaq along with 13 other militants was killed by the police in an encounter. Ishaq was in police custody at the time. Not much changed since 1997. The ATA courts are still ineffective and PML-N is still opting for street justice.

Ludhianvi, focused on the bigger picture, distanced ASWJ from Ishaq completely and did not even offer a word of condemnation for the killing of his outfit’s former vice president.

It wasn’t long before PTI also joined this trend of questionable alliances with its members being unapologetic about it. In March 2015, PTI’s Barrister Salman Mehmood held a press conference to announce the party’s alliance with ASWJ for the Mirpur by-election which he later went on to win. In the Haripur by-election in August 2015 for NA-19, PTI’s Dr. Raja Amir Zaman even published an ad titled “Izhaar-E-Tashakkur” in a local newspaper thanking ASWJ for supporting him. In October 2015, a PTI delegation met with Taj Hanafi at ASWJ’s Central Office in Karachi.

In the local body election in 2015, ASWJ formally launched activities of its new political front, Pakistan Rah-e-Haq Party. PRHP was registered by ASWJ’s former provincial head, Muhammad Ibrahim Qasmi, in February 2012 shortly after ASWJ was banned. PRHP and ASWJ turned out to be the most flexible and astute political force as it successfully aligned with PMLN, PPP, PTI and JI all across Pakistan ending up with substantial influence on the local governments. In Karachi alone, PRHP along with its allies bagged 49 seats.

The most appalling political alliance however took place back in Jhang itself. In pursuit to defeat its old rival family, the Akrams who belong to PML-N, the ASWJ through PRHP formed a public alliance with Asad Hayat brother of Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat. Not only is Faisal Saleh Hayat a former federal minister but he is also the Sajjad-a-Nasheen of one of the most influential Shia political clans of Jhang, the Shah Jewna. Shah Jewna is one of the main clans to counter whom Haq Nawaz Jhangi had founded SSP in Jhang. The alliance was made possible by father of then PML-N MPA, Rashida Yacub.

ASWJ’s alliance with a Shia political family should make it clear to us that it will leave no stone unturned to become a mainstream political force taking advantage of the short-sighted, hypocritical and self-serving interests of the actual mainstream political forces.

It is not just local, provincial and national issues but ASWJ through outfits like the Difah Pakistan Council (DPC) is aiming to become a stakeholder in Pakistan’s foreign policy as well. For the past several months, the DPC has been holding rallies on Kashmir, CPEC, relations with Iran and the the Saudi Arabia-Yemen conflict. Moreover, Ludhianvi’s nominations paper reveal that he himself has travelled to South Africa in 2013 for “tableegh” and has been to Saudi Arabia five times in the last three years citing pilgrimage as the purpose of visit. However, while in Saudi Arabia he has attended conferences organized by the Muslim World League (MWL). MWL is a Saudi backed organization known to fund the state’s militant version of Islam in seminaries abroad.

In the DPC, ASWJ doesn’t only get patronage from political forces like JUI-S, Sheikh Rasheed’s AML and JI but has enjoyed considerable support by one of the founding members of DPC and former head of the ISI, the late General Hamid Gul.

Today despite repeated protests by civil society organizations and activists, the government allows ASWJ to administer several madrassahs across the country, has numerous chapters in all provinces, regularly stages rallies and holds conferences and publishes a weekly newspaper. They have allies ranging from mainstream political parties to militant outfits like Jamat-ud-Dawa, HuM, the Taliban, Haqqani Network and the Lal Masjid Brigade. They were officially recognized as stakeholders in our internal security as Rangers in Sindh and Police in KP consulted them over the security plan for Muharram. Not many things could be more ironic than that.

Its leader, Ludhianvi, doesn’t hide in the mountains or takes refuge in caves. Instead, he roams freely on the streets of Islamabad with armed personnel, has interviews with the national press and dictates the Interior Minister into reviewing his actions against him such as suspending CNICs of persons on the fourth schedule.

We can present the argument to the growing followers of Ludhianvi and Hanafi that they are militants or radicals but to them they are religious activists and political leaders. They are seen as such because our political forces and military have treated them as such. Very soon both of them may also become Parliamentarians, a haunting reality which we won’t be able to reconcile even with ourselves.

Let us see if any political party will appear to have clarity of thought and equal conviction in taking back political space back from these militants.

Jibran Nasir is a lawyer, independent politician and civil rights activist.