Once again terrorists struck at the heart of Pakistan, Lahore. This was on April 5 when the census teams of civilians and armed forces’ personnel were on their way for survey duty. Six people including four soldiers of the Pakistan army and two census staff lost their lives in the assault. The defunct Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed the attack.
Pakistan has lost thousands of innocent lives in its fight against extremism. The country has gone through various phases of militancy that started back in the Cold-War era. The military-led operations have targeted terrorist hideouts and safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). However, the threat is still imminent and looms large.
There are statements of former civilian and military officials where they have conceded to patronising various proxies in foreign countries. Similarly, there are banned outfits operating in the country on the behest of power corridors. Sometimes, these outlaws were used for political gains and sometimes to pressurise the democratic government.
The biggest apprehension is about the future of these banned outfits. Will they be eliminated, continue to be proxies or shun violence and join national politics?
An important development came to the fore on March 27 when defunct Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) demanded a space in political arena of the country. The head of ASWJ Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi and JuD senior leader and brother of Hafiz Saeed, Hafiz Masood were invited to a working group session organised by Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank.
Is mainstreaming of banned outfit plausible?
Mainstreaming means how these banned organisations can be incorporated in the electoral process and how their trained armed cadre can be inducted in security forces?
Army claims there is mainstreaming plan in place for the JuD and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) because “they have the support of establishment in their operations inside Kashmir”, revealed senior defense analyst Imtiaz Gul while talking to The News on Sunday.
During January 2002, the Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior (MoI) proscribed six religious parties and groups; Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Tehreek-e-Jaferia Pakistan (TJP), Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) and Tehreek-e-Islami (TI). These organisations were proscribed under section 11-B-(1) of Anti Terrorism Act of Pakistan 1997.
According to this section an organisation is proscribed if a) “The Federal Government, having reason to believe that an organisation is involved in terrorism, by order, lists it in the First Schedule. b) It operates under the name as an organisation listed in the First Schedule or it operates under a different name. c) The First Schedule is amended by the Federal Government in any way to enforce proscription.”
These organisations continued their operations and resurfaced after changing their names. Pakistan’s security apparatus believes that turning back from these banned outfits could be a risky game. General (r) Musharraf’s regime carried out a crackdown on these organisations after 9/11 which triggered attacks on the state by a vast majority of these militants.
Renowned journalist Ahmed Rashid, while talking to TNS, says: “these organisations are not just carrying out acts of terrorism in Pakistan, they are also fighting with militant groups in half a dozen countries including Afghanistan, Central Asia, Syria and India.”
Article 256 of the Constitution of Pakistan forbids private armies. It states, “No private organisation capable of functioning as a military organisation shall be formed, and such organisation shall be illegal.”
Last week, Inspector General of Police Punjab, Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera claimed in Geo News programme Jirga, “Earlier, in a gathering of the ASWJ, slogans would be raised against opposite sect but not so in the last two years. We don’t have any evidence to link ASWJ with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.”
The implication of legitimising these banned outfits and allowing them to contest election will not be limited to Pakistan but will be regional. “If you try to mainstream Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad to become part of political mainstream and contest elections, it will directly impact relations with India,” explains Gul.
Many experts believe that if these organisations renounce violence, submit themselves to the Constitution of Pakistan and go through a rigorous exercise of deradicalisation and debriefing, they should be allowed to kick off their political activities.
The head of ASWJ, Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi told TNS, “We [Maulana Ludhianvi and Maulana Sajid Naqvi of Shia Ulema Council] are sitting together on various forums to end riots and if somebody asks me to go there [Sajid Naqvi’a house], I can even go there for this cause.”
But. as Ahmed Rashid questions, “Are they prepared to bring back their fighters from these countries, support the Constitution of Pakistan, renounce trying to change the political and religious system that is guaranteed by the constitution, prepared to disarm and make their youth go through deradicalisation programmes, to carry out reform in their educational systems and the madrassas they control, be useful to the state instead of promoting religious extremism? — That appears difficult”.
If they are prepared to carry out this long list of what needs to be done and fulfill all the articles of the National Action Plan, he adds, “there is every possibility that they could join the political process”.
Several deradicalisation programmes are being run in the Muslim world like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, United Arab Emirates and Indonesia. There are at least two deradicalisatioin and rehabilitation centres operating in Pakistan, Sabaoon which is located in Malakand and another is Mishal situated in the beautiful Swat valley. The programme in both the centres is run under the supervision of the Pakistan army. However, these centres are only meant to deal with the less affected cases of militancy. Hardcore cadre of militants is not the target of this initiative.
We have another significant example in our neighbouring Afghanistan where Hizb-e-Islami (HeI) has announced to shun violence and join mainstream politics of the country. A couple of months back, the United Nations lifted ban on the HeI Chief, Gulbadin Hikmatyar. The historic move was a result of a deal that was brokered between the Aghan government and Hekmatyar.
“As long as anybody or any group submits themselves to the Constitution of Pakistan and pledge to uphold and work for those fundamental human rights, he should be given a chance to become part of the mainstream,” suggests Imtiaz Gul.
Talking to TNS, social activist Jibran Nasir said, “It’s not about banned outfits renouncing violence but banned outfits renouncing their ideology for which they were banned. Is ASWJ willing to give up its ideology, their books, their narrative and teachings? A 40 page book ASWJ Kia Chahti hai (what does ASWJ want?) sums up their views”.
“A code of conduct will be developed whenever the government decides to take such an initiative and we will adhere to it,” responds Maulana Ludhianvi to a query about hate literature.