By Babar Sattar
June 25, 2016
On Wednesday Amjad Sabri was assassinated on the streets of Karachi in cold blood. The Hakeemullah Mehsud group of the TTP reportedly claimed ‘credit’. Sabri’s stirring voice helped many recognise the strength of their bond with the Creator. But the TTP and their ilk thought he was a bad Muslim for he sang Qawwalis. The day Imran Khan condoled the death of Sabri; he also defended Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Rs300 million grant to the seminary run by Maulana Samiul Haq.
The tragedy for Pakistan is that it is stuck in a quagmire, forced to choose between bad options. Imran Khan, urban Pakistan’s great hope since 2011 as an alternative to the horrid status quo, seems plain wrong on the existential issue of our times: the threat of religious extremism and militancy, its causes and solutions. A decade back, his approach to tribal militancy seemed misconceived. The year 2013 onward, when he forced a consensus in favour of peace talks with the TTP, it seemed dangerous. Today, post-APS and Zarb-e-Azb it seems bigoted.
IK has long projected a romanticised view of tribal militants, disconnected from the history of Afghan jihad and radicalisation of militants by the jihadi factories we set up in our country. To simplify, his explanation for the existence of snake pits in our backyard is that we ordered the army into the tribal areas on behalf of the US, and that peace-loving folk mutated into vermin overnight when they saw the army within their fold and started killing citizens and soldiers alike because the US droned our peace agreements with them.
When a drone killed former TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud, IK called it a defining moment in our history that required us as a nation to pick sides. He stated in parliament in 2013 in his speech mourning Hakeemullah’s death that, “we sent the army into Waziristan at the behest of the US. We sent them in there for dollars”. He threatened to blockade supply lines to Nato forces in Afghanistan for sabotaging our peace efforts with TTP by killing Hakeemullah.
In 2013, IK led the move to build a political consensus to engage in peace talks with the TTP. He succeeded in doing so, one of his rare multi-partisan victories, when an APC in 2013 backed his appeal to talk peace with ‘our misguided brethren’ as a way for the security of Pakistanis whom the TTP was terrorising and killing. In 2014 our friend Cyril Almeida wrote that IK, also labelled Taliban Khan, was the man who sold Pakistan, for he mainstreamed extremism. The PTI’s soul-searching response was to serve him with a defamation notice.
In February 2014, TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid named five interlocutors authorised to negotiate with the Pakistani government on behalf of the TTP. They included, amongst others, Maulana Samiul Haq of Darul Uloom Haqqania and IK. IK politely declined the role while continuing with his mission to support peace talks with the TTP et al as head of Pakistan’s second largest party.
IK asked those who wanted the state to forcefully establish its writ across the country, including Fata, whether launching a military operation in Waziristan would solve all of Pakistan’s problems. He further questioned the advocates of such operation whether they had considered what conditions might the TTP impose on the rest of Pakistan if such military operation failed (while imploring Pakistanis to show grit and character and stand up to the US).
In the midst of the peace talks in February 2014 (advocated by IK and backed by the PML-N and even our ‘liberal’ political parties) the TTP killed 23 kidnapped Pakistani soldiers. Terror attacks continued while our political leadership celebrated its ‘consensus’ to talk peace with terrorists. Finally, when the TTP claimed the attack on Karachi airport in June 2014, calling it a means to avenge Hakeemullah’s death, the army (notwithstanding its past role in the creation of our snake pits) decided that it had had enough and launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
Six months later, APS happened. That seemed to be a turning point in our national consciousness. Post-APS, the sharp tongues of IK and others – calling a kinetic war against terrorism in Pakistan a US war not ours – fell silent. There seemed to have emerged a new national consensus and resolve to fight and wipe out the terrorists amongst us. This consensus was built by the military, which seemed more attuned to public sentiment than our lets-talk-peace-with-terrorists politicos, who quickly fell in line.
There were worrying early signs that APS had not really cured those propagating deal-making with terrorists, but overwhelming public anger had only forced them into tactical retreat. For example, after meeting members of the APS Shuhada Forum in July 2015 IK reiterated his support for peace talks with the TTP, arguing that if it was ok for the US to talk peace with the Afghan Taliban it was ok for us to do so with our Taliban. This was only six months after the TTP butchered 141 Pakistani in APS, including 132 schoolchildren.
Should we be surprised that the KP government wishes to give Rs300 million of taxpayers’ hard-earned money to Maulana Samiul Haq’s privately-owned and controlled Darul Uloom Haqqania? The decorated alums of this ‘seat of learning’ include, amongst others, Jalaluddin Haqqani of the Haqqani Network and Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the recently fallen Taliban chief. It prides in having conferred an honorary ‘doctorate’ on (Dr?) Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Maulana Sami ul Haq has been conferred with many affectionate titles. The one relevant for present purposes is ‘father of the Taliban’. He supports a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan as the elixir to our neighbour’s problems. He mediated between rival Taliban factions after the death of Mullah Omar and threw his weight behind Mullah Mansour.
IK and the KP government spokesperson have defended the Rs300 million grants as an effort to ‘mainstream’ the products of this so-called ‘University of Jihad’. How this grant for reconstruction and expansion of a private madrasa supporting the Taliban, TTP and the Jihadi enterprise generally mainstream its students, or madrasa students in general, we have not been told.
Is it part of a broader scheme to regulate the syllabus, teaching methodology, faculty or student body of madrasas, starting with Haqqania? Are there any declared criteria pursuant to which Haqqania qualified for this grant and not other madrasas? Has the KP government discharged its constitutional obligation under Article 25A to afford free education to all school-going children in the province and is thus lavishing grants on private ‘educational’ institutions as the best use of available excessive cash?
What is wrong with us as a nation that as soon as we get something going, we begin to lose interest? The 20-point National Action Plan contrived post-APS included the decision to register and regulate religious seminaries, bring to an end religious extremism and ensure protection of minorities. Only a year and half after APS, which finally slapped us out of our complacency, we are not just in snooze mode but regressing.
The Rangers seem interested in fighting terror and corruption in equal part. Pemra views itself as the new guardian of morality and religion, banning individuals for asking if the state should have a role deciding on people’s religion. Maulvis are back in the business of issuing Fatwas on who should live and who shouldn’t. IK wants to mainstream products of the ‘University of Jihad’ under the able guidance of the ‘father of the Taliban’.
The strongest justification for the PTI’s grant to Haqqania has been that it isn’t ideological, it’s just politics. That isn’t something new but a brew of the same toxic mix of religion and politics that we have sipped on since the 80s.
Pakistan is adrift. But the jury is out on who is the more worthy successor of Zia’s Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif or Imran Khan. Sorry Amjad Bhai. Business is business and a cup of tea is a cup of tea.