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Surfacing Of Barelvi Extremism in Pakistan, Is a Matter of Grave Concern

By Saadat Hassan

September 11, 2018

Most Islamist militant groups and networks in this region adhere to the Deobandi-Sunni or Salafist schools of thought. The most prominent among these are Deobandi organization like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Harkat ul Jihad-e-Islami, Harkat ul Mujahedeen, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Omar and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Trans-national groups like Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, Waliyat-e-Khurasan, Hizb-ut Tahrir and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) adhere to the Salafist tradition.

Many severe security challenges persist in Pakistan that affect the lives of its citizens. Although terrorism and extremism continue to be the most daunting challenges that Pakistan must overcome today, the internal security landscape is continually evolving and has become increasingly complex. Tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians have been killed. The country has suffered a loss of $123 billion over the past 15 years. The government of Pakistan has adopted a range of soft and hard measures to deal with the menace of terrorism, including the National Action Plan (NAP), military operations, multiple pieces of counter-terrorism legislation and de-radicalisation programs. Because of these efforts, incidents of terrorism have considerably reduced from 2014 onwards.

However, new extremist groups have risen in recent years. These include Barelvi groups like Tehreek Labaik Pakistan (TLP), Majlis-e-Tahaffuz-e-Khatm e Nabuwwat Movement and Majlis-i-Ahrar Islam. These groups strongly opposed the appointment of Dr Atif Mian to the Economic Advisory Council (EAC). They depicted him as a traitor for being Ahmadi, and created a narrative that he was working against Islam. This is despite the fact that numerous members of the Ahmediyya community — such as Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan and Dr Abdul Salam — have proven themselves to be true and loyal Pakistanis.

Even if TLP has not been able to mobilise a large number of followers, it has still managed to enforce its demands, setting a highly dangerous precedent

The Atif Mian episode exposed there aggressive mentality of extremist Islamists in Pakistan. The anti-Ahmadi stance is also in violation of Articles 25 and 27 of the Constitution. Furthermore, the mullahs have no solutions to offer for our political, economic and diplomatic problems.

The rise of Barelvi extremism has heralded in a new era of political violence. We should remember that no action was taken against the TLP for their illegal November 2017 sit-in in the federal capital, in which they obstructed major highways, burnt public property and assaulted law enforcement officials. The sit-in was also in violation of several provisions of NAP including misuse of loudspeaker and hate speech and the ban on glorification of terrorism and militancy.

Considering we are already a violence-prone society where law enforcement forces are struggling to keep up with terrorists, the surfacing of Barelvi extremism is a matter of grave concern.

The writ of state has not only been challenged, but decimated. Even if TLP has not been able to mobilise a large number of followers, it has still managed to enforce its demands, setting a highly dangerous precedent.

Further weakening of the writ of state and demoralising of the civil administration and police will bolster these violent forces. If the state continues to succumb to such forces, it could seriously challenge the state prerogative of monopoly of violence. Negotiated deals are not the best medicine for state legitimacy. Furthermore, these new religious movements may fan sectarian strife in Punjab province and deepen the inter-Sunni sect divisions. Militarisation of the new Barelvi groups cannot be ruled out either.

The demands being exerted by TLP for inclusion of its representatives in the curriculum review committee must not be entertained. This would only pave the way for similar demands from other radicalised groups from different sects. Coverage of their gatherings must be kept to a bare minimum. Had the sources of facilitation and funding been investigated and identified, last year’s sit-in may not have lasted long enough to create the havoc it did.

To avert such incidents in the future the government must strengthen the civil administration and law enforcement agencies, Measures must be taken to boost the morale of law enforcement forces. Cases must be registered against violent protestors, and they must be expedited in courts. Furthermore, Cases registered in which police officials were assaulted and received injuries should be pursued vigorously. Anti-riot units must be raised, properly trained and equipped to tackle such situations. The government must constitute a body in Ministry of Religious Affairs at federal level and at relevant provincial departments to consult with clerics of all sects on a regular basis. Inter-sectarian and inter-faith harmony should not be allowed to further evaporate as this may allow further weakening of state writ which will only help rogue elements.

The constitution provides a sacred covenant between and among the people of Pakistan and the State. It guarantees fundamental human rights, including the protection of the life and property of all citizens of the country irrespective of their religion, sect, caste, gender or ethnicity. It is therefore the primary responsibility of the state to serve all citizens without discrimination.

Pakistan is a country of strong and resilient people who aspire to build a peaceful, democratic and inclusive society. The history of Pakistan is a testimony to the fact that its people have always rejected the forces of extremism, terrorism and authoritarianism and always sided with the forces of peace, development and democracy.

Saadat Hassan is a PhD candidate at the School of Politics and International Relations, QAU