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LeJ is part of the larger Deobandi network in Pakistan: Interview with Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa


“LeJ’s ideology is to strengthen a Sunni state”
— Defense and security analyst Dr Ayesha Siddiqa

By Farah Zia

The News on Sunday: In a recent study that you have conducted “The New Frontiers: Militancy & Radicalism in Punjab” you seem to be suggesting that after 2014, the focus of militancy will be on sectarian violence within the country. Can you briefly explain how do you look at it in strategic terms?

Ayesha Siddiqa: I haven’t said that after 2014 the focus of militancy will be on sectarian violence only but I am saying that these militant organisations that have sectarian violence as part of their larger agenda will strengthen and thrive in the country. Anti-Shiism is one of their agenda. It emanates from their understanding of Islam and Quran. They believe that Shia are not Muslims and so, like anything considered as menace to Islam or fitna, these people should be eliminated. The other part of their philosophy pertains to expanding their political strength within and outside the territory. These organisations have their own concept of war and peace. There is increasingly more material being produced by them to justify jihad against all non-Muslims especially the Christians and Jews. So, as these organisations strengthen they have a lot on their agenda.

TNS: You are also saying that militancy flows from Punjab to other provinces. Should we read the Hazara killings in Balochistan in the same light: LeJ Balochistan as an extension of LeJ Punjab. Are the Hazara being killed because they are more vulnerable?

AS: When Saifullah Kurd of LeJ Baluchistan comes and takes directions from Malik Ishaq in Punjab then what will you call it if not an extension of Punjab based organisation. The main leadership of most Ahl-Hadith/Wahabi and Deobandi networks is based in Punjab. The Hazaras as we know are vulnerable due to the fact that they can be easily distinguished. However, there seems to be a larger plan to kill and threaten Shias as they are considered conduit of Iran. If you read some of the writings of journalists that sit close to the military you can see such suspicions being aired.

TNS: How do you look at LeJ’s cadre, strengths and long term objectives in Pakistan (Sunni state?)?

AS: LeJ is part of the larger Deobandi network that is connected with other groups like SSP, JeM, HuM and HUJI. Also, it has the Tableeghi Jamaat and JUI-F network to depend on. It has over years strengthened itself and is now in a process to establish itself politically. There is a general perception that bringing these parties into politics will indeed result in their mainstreaming and creating an opportunity to wean them away from violence. However, the violent portion will continue to exist and expand. In fact, it will be able to justify itself and hide better due to this mainstreaming.

LeJ and the Deobandi network has expanded quite well in parts of North Punjab and most of South Punjab. They are now getting into Sindh as well. They are playing a role in Sindh Urban and linking up with MQM-H. They are focused on their ideology which means strengthening of a Sunni state that sees the minorities in a certain role. Minorities will always be considered as half citizens.

TNS: How is the Punjab government dealing with this menace of sectarian violence that is a threat to the entire country? Is it engaged with LeJ/SSP or is it in a political coalition of sorts as some people suggest?

AS: The PML-N leadership has a history with the LeJ. It tried to curb it during the 1990s but was taken to task through a terrorist attack aimed at killing the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In 2008, the PML-N seems to have adopted a new strategy that is based on cooperation rather than conflict with the LeJ. There are stories of a deal struck at that time, negotiated through the good services of some senior police officers according to which Malik Ishaq was to be freed if he was not convicted by any court and the LeJ not harassed. Also, its boys would get accommodated and get jobs in the province at various levels. In return the LeJ would not hurt the leadership and there was an agreement for Malik Ishaq’s younger brother to withdraw from elections from Bakkhar against Mian Shahbaz Sharif.

The Punjab government seems to have tried to make the best of a situation. In an environment where it was not allowed to take any action against these various outfits, and there was the fear factor as well, they decided to deal with it by sleeping with the enemy. There are reports of seat adjustment between PML-N and LeJ which now calls itself ASWJ for 2013 elections. The idea is to give ASWJ 3-4 seats in return for its support in other areas where they have a strong position. Interestingly, the ASWJ is only highlighting the support it has given in the past to some of the PPP candidates. However, LeJ (now ASWJ) has always supported mainstream parties in its areas of strength including PML-N.

But a question worth raising is that what else can a party do when it is not given any option but to survive with the menace. We also need to understand that these various outfits have now created justification for their survival. Most of the financial mafias such as the land mafia, trader-merchants groups etc. are linked with or connected with these groups for help. For instance, if I need to sort out a property matter I would rather go to these groups than to the police or judicial system. In many areas in Punjab like Faisalabad, Lahore and Gujranwala, there is a network of support. These militants are as much into extortion as anyone else.

TNS: What are the linkages between these militant outfits and the TTP, the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda?

AS: The TTP, LeJ and Afghan Taliban are all ideologically tied if not organisationally. They keep getting strength from each other and have fought together. Al-Qaeda now has local franchises which means prominence of these local Punjab-based outfits. We also need to understand that the traditional al-Qaeda was dominated by Arabs. The LeJ types have inherited the larger agenda of creating a Sunni Islamic state and fighting all those considered as enemies.

There is always a level of support amongst these various outfits. For instance, JeM was involved in one of the attacks on Musharraf. However, we tend to consider it as a safe and friendly outfit. Even in the case of that attack, it is believed the money and material were provided by the JeM but the actual task was carried out by people from Waziristan. Now, we can call them TTP, bad Taliban or whatever. Their ideological and human resource base is almost shared.

TNS: What is the state of Shiite militancy at the moment. Shia seem to be on the receiving end only?

AS: The Shia militancy started during the 1980s and is confined to target killing. In fact, the Sunni and Shia militants used to engage in target killings of each other. Riaz Basra of LeJ changed the trend when he engaged in mass killings of Shias during the 1990s. Also, Shia militancy has not engaged in mass killing. Generally, their capacity to respond, like they did in the 1990s, has reduced. However, some segments in our security establishment remain concerned about Shias getting close to Iran and threatening Pakistani state politically, especially in areas of concentration such as Gilgit-Baltistan and Hazara. This is also where you see increase in mass murders of Shias.

TNS: You have had a chance to travel to small towns in Punjab. How radicalised is the youth who form the cadre for the police force? Are the people divided on sectarian ground or harmonized?

AS: I remember doing a study in elite universities in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore in 2010. You will be surprised to find that of these youth (LUMS, IBA, NUST, NCA, Indus Valley School, Kinnaird College, Shifa Medical College, and others), who have better access to resources and exposure, 16 per cent of the sample considered Shias as non-Muslim. This indicates the level of interaction between communities.

I have been to villages that follow JeM and LeJ in South Punjab, for instance, where they express displeasure of the Shias and Barelvis. The Shias are considered a greater enemy than the Barelvis who are only treated as yet as fools who ought to be corrected. This thinking is in the police and other organisations of law and order as well. There is now a natural division in Punjab between Sunnis and Shias. There is Shia concentration in a few areas. However, it must also be kept in mind that these differences have been exploited for political gains. For instance, the uncle of Sheikh Waqas Akram, Sheikh Iqbal and others like the pirs of Sultan Bahu encouraged anti-Shia sentiments for political gains. People do live side by side but with lesser cohesion than we could see during the 1960s or even the 1970s.


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  • loss
    The Sect factor
    Political parties, security forces, and the judiciary will have to show their
    mettle to bring the culprits to book
    By Aoun Sahi

    Last Saturday saw another attack on the Shia Hazara in Quetta, killing more than 85 and injuring 170 people. The Hazara once again decided to hold a sit-in with the dead bodies, refusing to bury them. They were joined by the Shia all over the country who also held a sit-in throughout the country, choking all the major roads which brought the country to a standstill.

    This time they demanded a targeted operation against the LeJ by the army along with others. The prime minister formed a six member parliamentary committee under the leadership of Qamar Zaman Kaira to negotiate with Hazara. Interestingly, not a single member of the committee was from Balochistan. The committee, with the ‘help’ of the interior minister Rehman Malik, succeeded in convincing the Hazara leaders and Shia Mullas to call off their sit-in and bury the bodies.

    The committee accepted most of the demands with the exception of calling in the army in Quetta but ensured a targeted operation against LeJ. Thus far, the security agencies claim to have killed four activists of LeJ and arrested 170 in what they call a “targeted operation”. The Supreme Court also took suo motu notice of the incident and asked all stakeholders to submit their responses. Apparently, no security or intelligence agency has satisfied the SC judges.

    In less than two months since the beginning of 2013, 271 Shia Muslims have been killed and 460 injured in sectarian attacks in different cities of Pakistan. These include mass murders as well as target killings. According to data collected by a Karachi-based organisation, around 200 Shia were killed in Balochistan, a majority of whom belong to the Hazara community. This organisation claims to have maintained a record of all Shia murders since 1963. So far, it says, 21,338 people belonging to Shia sect have been killed in Pakistan on sectarian grounds. 2013 has proved to be the worst year for the Shia so far.

    The Hazara Shia, a community of between 0.5-0.6 million people in Quetta, are the worst affected of this anti-Shia wave in Pakistan. In the last six weeks, more than 160 people belonging to this community have been killed in Quetta. The banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for both the attacks.

    The governor’s rule imposed after the January 10 attack appears to have failed in restoring peace to the province. After a recent meeting of the country’s troika, the law minister came on television and indicated the possibility of restoration of the civilian government in the province.

    Some people ask: Was it even fair to blame the civilian government when everybody knew it had little control over anything in the province? “No civilian government since 2006 has control over the security situation in Balochistan. The fact is that the military intelligence agencies and paramilitary forces have been in control of the province, says Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director of Human Rights Watch.

    Others reply by asking a counter question: Was it even fair for the provincial government to have assumed power and claim to represent people for more than four years when there was no power to be shared?

    The failure of the current political system apart, the fact of the matter is that the Hazara Shia have been under attack for more than a decade now and, in most cases, the LeJ has not hesitated from accepting responsibility. The LeJ is believed to have sent an open letter to the Hazara community in August 2011 asking them to either leave Quetta by the end of 2011 or get ready for getting killed.

    The January attack was followed by a demand from the Hazara community to hand over Quetta to the army. The army’s role in the sectarian attacks was not openly questioned then but this time the failure of intelligence agencies in anticipating the attack was generously commented upon. Some commentators have suggested that the security agencies use the activists of LeJ against Baloch nationalists.

    “I think the military itself is not perhaps clear what future policy it needs to adopt. There was some hope when, in August 2012, the COAS General Kayani said that the threat [to the country] was internal. But the sectarian killings have continued unabated,” says Raza Rumi, a political commentator.

    Ahmed Ali Kohzad, general secretary Hazara Democratic Party, says: “Our agencies have arrested and killed anyone having some linkage with the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), but they are least bothered about the LeJ. So, we are right in assuming that they support LeJ. I think they still believe that after 2014 they may need these groups in Afghanistan.”

    He hinted at the release of Malik Ishaq and how the number of attacks on the Hazara increased manifold after his release.

    The 2010 annual report of Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) says that the Hazara Shia of Quetta were victimised by the LeJ at a rate of approximately 350 per 100,000 inhabitants, or nearly twice the rate of the second most victimised ethnic group, the Pashto speaking Turi Shia of Parachinar. “The situation has turned worse for the Hazaras in the last couple of years. It may have reached 1000 per 100,000 now,” says Amir Rana, director of PIPS.

    “The LeJ does not have a huge network in Quetta and if our security forces are serious in eliminating them, they can easily do so,” says Rana.

    He is of the view that sectarian hatred has infiltrated the main discourse of the society. “It is not only students of some Deobandi Madaris who believe that Shias are non-Muslim. In fact, a good majority of the country believes so.”

    The political parties are scared of these outfits. They are under the impression that if they take strong action against Islamist and sectarian groups, there might be a backlash and they may lose popular support.

    Security and military officials, on the other hand, deny supporting LeJ at any level. Passing the buck remains the standard response. “The military cannot start an operation against them unless a political consensus emerges on the issue. Politicians need to politically back the military. They will have to give the policy on the issue,” says a senior military official.

    Intelligence officials say they are demoralised by the way the courts and the people react to their activities in Balochistan, KPK and other parts of the country. “Courts are not ready to take action against the arrested terrorists; instead a media trial is conducted against the intelligence agencies. The police officials in Quetta release information about our operations to media and blame us in the courts,” says a senior intelligence official.

    He says that judges and police officials in Quetta do not dare take action against LeJ.

    Police officials in Quetta apparently agree, saying it is too tough for them to fight out LeJ. As usual, they cite logistics as an excuse. “We have only 1500 operational police force in Quetta while we are short of arms and vehicles. Police in Quetta has borrowed 3000 AK47 from the Levies,” says a senior police official in Quetta.

    The police, he says, is in control of only around five per cent of Balochistan. “The rest are ‘B’ areas and Levies control those areas. LeJ mainly operates from ‘B’ areas. We have problem in even gathering information from such areas, leave alone taking actions against them.”

    He says like other security institutions, the sectarian mindset has also penetrated the police force. “We fear our own sipahis who may pass on the information to militants groups.”

    According to him, dozens of LeJ activists involved in different activities are in jail for the last many years but they have not been convicted by the courts as yet. “We need to change anti-terrorism laws and Qanoon-e-Shahadat to fight out terrorism in Pakistan.”

    Lashkar from Jhang
    Terrorist activities of the LeJ against Hazara community give an impression as if the state has surrendered to a coterie of al-Qaeda and Taliban linked extremists
    By Amir Mir

    The endless spate of terrorism unleashed on the country’s Shia Hazara community by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked anti-Shia and anti-US Sunni-Deobandi sectarian-cum-jihadi organisation, is clearly in line with its avowed agenda of transforming Pakistan into a Taliban-style ‘Islamic state’.

    The ruthless massacre of around 200 Shia Hazaras in two incidents of suicide bombings in Quetta in one month is part of a systematic drive by the Lashkar to persecute half a million members of the largely marginalised Persian-speaking Shia Hazara community into leaving Pakistan, the way Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Taliban regime did in Afghanistan, compelling thousands of Hazaras to abandon Afghanistan between 1995 and 2001.

    Launched in 1996 as a breakaway faction of the sectarian Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (renamed as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), the LeJ has deep links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban and is considered to be the most violent militant organisation operating in Pakistan. As with most of the Sunni sectarian and militant groups, almost the entire LeJ leadership is made up of people who fought in Afghanistan. Most of its cadre strength is drawn from the Sunni madrassas. The LeJ aims to convert Pakistan into a Sunni Deobandi state, mainly through violence.

    Currently, in a Karachi jail following his June 17, 2002 arrest and subsequent conviction, Akram Lahori is the Saalar-e-Aala or commander-in-chief of the LeJ. Though Lahori officially remains the LeJ ameer, Malik Mohammad Ishaq is believed to be commanding the group as its undeclared functional head ever since his July 14, 2011 release from a Lahore jail. Ishaq is one of the founding members of the LeJ which has let loose a fresh reign of terror against the Shia minority, especially after his release. The LeJ consists of at least eight loosely coordinated cells spread across Pakistan with independent chiefs for each cell.

    As far as Balochistan is concerned, two splinter groups of the Lashkar —known as Usman Saifullah Kurd group and Shafiqur Rehman Rind group — are active there, targeting Shia Hazaras by using human bombs. Kurd and Rind had escaped from a high security jail in Quetta Cantonment in 2008. While Kurd carries a Rs2.5 million head money, his second-in-command, Dawood Badini carries a reward of Rs2 million. Badini is the nephew of al-Qaeda’s former chief operational commander Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and the brother-in-law of Ramzi Yousaf, the mastermind of the first terror attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 1993.

    Those investigating the recent upsurge in anti-Shia attacks in Quetta strongly feel that the dreadful tendency has something to do with the release of Malik Mohammad Ishaq who had been charged with involvement in more than a hundred sectarian-related murders but released by the Supreme Court on bail due to “lack of evidence”. Ishaq’s release had led to instant sectarian tensions which were prompted by anti-Shia sermons he began to deliver while touring Punjab, coupled with the release of an open letter warning the Shia Hazaras living in Quetta.

    According to the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP) Chairman, Abdul Khaliq Hazara, it is the Sharif brothers’ soft corner towards the SSP and the LeJ which had contributed to Malik Ishaq’s release. The friendly treatment meted out to Ishaq by the present rulers of Punjab can be gauged from the fact that he was not only allowed to use a mobile phone in his prison cell while he was still in a Lahore jail, but was also paid a regular monthly stipend by the Punjab government. SSP chief Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi had conceded during a media talk almost two years ago that he met Malik Ishaq in jail on Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s request to offer him a conditional release if he assures to remain nonviolent for the rest of his life.

    If some close acquaintances of Ludhianvi are to be believed, following intense backdoor contacts in the beginning of 2010, Ludhianvi and Shahbaz had a clandestine meeting in Makkah to sort out their long-drawn-out differences. The bone of contention was the killing of 36 activists of SSP/LeJ in fake police encounters by the provincial government of Shahbaz in 1999 when Nawaz Sharif was the premier. Shahbaz, who had been named in the murder of SSP/LeJ workers, was eventually acquitted by an anti terrorism court after the complainants had withdrawn cases against him.

    As Shahbaz and Ludhianvi reached an understanding, they reportedly swore upon the Holy Quran inside the Holy Kaaba to bury their grievances and not to act against each other in future. Although Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah strongly refutes these reports, the fact remains that the Shahbaz government had courted the SSP in Jhang in the March 2010 by-election on a vacant seat of Punjab assembly. Rana Sanaullah Khan chose to openly campaign for the PML-N candidate along with SSP chief, Maulana Ludhianvi. Shahbaz Sharif threw his support behind this informal alliance between the PML-N and the SSP, finally winning the by-election. It was after the Makkah meeting that Shahbaz had publicly appealed to the Taliban to “spare Punjab” while conducting terrorist activities.

    The unbridled terrorist activities of the LeJ against the Shia Hazara community give an impression as if the Pakistani state has surrendered to a coterie of al-Qaeda and Taliban linked extremists. And the Pakistani state must rise to the challenge before it is too late.

    Soft targets

    Mass murder of Hazara is not where the story ends. Target killing on sectarian grounds is in full swing in Karachi and has now moved to Lahore

    The murder of Dr Syed Ali Haider, professor of ophthalmology at Lahore General Hospital and his 11-year-old son by ‘unknown’ assailants last Monday appears to be an act of target killing on the basis of their sect.

    This is the fifth incident of sectarian attack in Lahore in the past few months, according to police officials. Previously, the terrorists have targeted two lawyers (one survived), one banker, one professor, and one founder of an Imam Bargah in Bhati Gate.

    After Karachi, where sectarian killings have been the order of the day in the past few years, security officials fear a similar wave in Lahore as well. “There are intelligence reports of possible target killings in the coming months in Lahore for which effective measures are being taken,” informs a senior police officer, requesting not to be named. He says such cases take time to resolve.

    A few weeks ago, Waqar Haider, manager of a bank in Township Lahore was killed while the killers of a lawyer, Shakir Ali Rizvi, and Prof Shabihul Hassan Hashmi remain untraced, says a senior police offer in Lahore.

    In the late 1980s, dozens of noted members of Shia community were targeted by the LeJ, following an operation by the then Punjab government. Today, there are reports in the press that the Punjab government is soft on these elements because it has made some political compromises keeping in view the next general elections.

    Recently, the official says, a network of terrorists has been traced that was carrying a hit list of known Shia places and personalities.

    There were no sectarian killings in Karachi between the year 2002 to 2008. “The recent wave seems to have started a few years ago with the release of LeJ leader Akram Lahori, the founding member of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who was acquitted by the court after finding no evidence against him,” says a Sindh police official who does not want to be identified. Lahori’s group is active in the killing Shia, in reaction to which some Shia gangs have also started killing LeJ activists.

    According to Human Rights Commission report, at least 54 sectarian murders occurred in the first 10 months of 2012 in Karachi alone. Students and teachers of seminaries, activists and sympathisers of religious sects are key targets in this recent wave of target killing. Since 1989, fighting between the two sects has killed at least 7,636 in Pakistan, according to some reports.

    Some incidents of target killings involved issues of land grabbing. “Slow progress on cases has also led to target killings in Karachi,” a senior official in Sindh government says. He says Akram Lahori’s group is active in Karachi and some parts of Balochistan, including Mastung. They have also a strong set-up in Punjab.

    In 2012, he says, 2,303 cases of target killing were registered in Karachi, including 123 policemen. Of these, 1,698 cases showed personal enmity, 74 cases showed political background and the rest had sectarian side. He suggests the biggest step to tackle the issue of sectarian killing is witness protection programme. “The absence of witness protection mechanism creates fear for the police and sometimes judges too.”

    It is also learnt from different sources that well-to-do Shia families are moving abroad or to Punjab but common Shia have no respite.

    “Sectarian controversies are politically motivated as well,” says I. A. Rehman, secretary general Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “We need a nation-wide effort by religious scholars as well as lay persons and civil society activists to keep sectarian forces out of politics.” He says “polarisation is increasing in society, political and religious parties. There are apprehensions that certain elements might exploit sectarian differences to undermine the democratic character of elections so the danger of violence, too, cannot be ruled out.”

    — Waqar Gillani


    In a little over a month, the Hazara Shia in Quetta faced another massive bomb blast when, on February 16, a water tanker laden with explosives burst in one of the ghettos they are confined to, killing more than 85 people and injuring more than a hundred. The unfortunate déjà vu came in the form of another sit-in alongside the dead bodies who the families refused to bury.

    The governor’s rule in the province had proved as ineffective as the civilian government before this.

    This time though the Shia political groups took no time in making a common cause with the Hazara and the sit-ins multiplied across the country, bringing life to a virtual standstill. Unlike the impromptu sit-ins of January, these were strategically put up, blocking access to major cities.

    The federal government had no choice but to act and act fast. The prime minister formed a parliamentary committee that was sent to Quetta to negotiate with the Shia leaders. In between, on Monday morning, something else happened that triggered the anger of what is euphemistically known as the silent majority. In Lahore, a Shia doctor and his eleven year old son were shot dead in what appears to be a case of target killing on sectarian grounds.

    The Quetta attack has been claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) while the Lahore murders are widely believed to be motivated on sectarian pretext. The government has responded in the form of what it calls a targeted operation. Only time will testify how effective and well-meaning this operation actually is.

    While the resilience, patience and fortitude of the Hazara community was a subject of discussion along with a sense of relief at the ouster of an ineffective government in Balochistan in January, this time there are questions in people’s minds.

    They want to understand the state’s indifference or ineptitude. Unlike January, they have pointed at the intelligence failure rather openly. They want to know if the unrest is being deliberately created to achieve certain political consequences. They are naming and shaming political parties for their role and support to the religious parties with extremist agenda. They are both happy that Imran Khan named the LeJ and are ready to grill him if he did so for narrow political gains. They are ready to question media outlets if they refused to name the sectarian group under attack because this archaic media ethics does not hold ground any more they say.

    If the LeJs of the world wanted to divide the people of this country with this spate of killings, it seems to have united them. In today’s Special Report, among other things we have also interviewed Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, Chief of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), in order to give the people a sense of what the other side thinks. This is not an endorsement of the warped views but just an attempt to understand them.

  • I have seen for the first time such a clarified article about LeJ and its ideological and political affiliation. The most important point to understand is the affiliation of LeJ and the people who support it. The day when Deobandis start to practice humanity, Pakistan will be free from terror.!

  • Extremism post-2014
    By Ayesha Siddiqa
    Published: February 13, 2013

    Now that in his State of the Union address on February 13, US President Barak Obama reiterated his intent to pull back the bulk of American troops stationed in Afghanistan, the question arises that will the region naturally head towards peace and quite? Moreover, will the exit be a harbinger of the end of extremism in Pakistan as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) would like us to believe? The underlying assumption is that extremism and terrorism landed in Pakistan with the US moving into Afghanistan. Such opinion does not consider all the pre-9/11 violence in the country that mostly took the form of, what is popularly termed sectarian violence. At one level, terms like sectarian violence or genocide are problematic as they cast this dimension of terrorism in the light of inter-communal rivalry. The state’s law and order functionaries usually tend to hide behind this and take an act of violence relatively lightly as, for them, it is nothing more serious than an expression of a historic anger of one community against the other.
    But referring to the US and Isaf 2014 pull-out from Afghanistan, it is bound to create tensions for Pakistan at many levels. First, peace within Pakistan will largely depend on the kind of solution which has been worked out in relation to it. Given that Pakistani forces have been involved in training Afghan troops, we now know that there is some understanding regarding Islamabad’s share in Kabul’s larger future power structure. However, the second important question is that will the Pakistan Army be satisfied with the power arrangement as it will not be the only ‘kid on the block’ after the US pull-out? Third, will GHQ continue to maintain a certain level of ‘strategic assets’ or abandon them as part of some peace deal?
    It is foolhardy to imagine that the TTP is the only form of militant-extremism in the country. In fact, there are three kinds of elements operating inside the country: (a) friendly Ahle Hadith militants like the Lashkar-e-Taiba(LeT)/ Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) network, (b) mildly-uncontrolled Deobandi militants like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and (c) friendly-and-controlled Deobandi outfits like the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and the Lal Masjid gang. These forces are critical as they operate at the level of being a social and political force as well. If Tahirul Qadri could land in Islamabad with about 40,000-odd people from his Minhaj network, these various outfits can produce an even greater force. Furthermore, it is difficult to calculate the damage done by the presence of these forces as their existence in a geographical area is not necessarily commensurate with the levels of violence in that area. In fact, one of the key features of the friendly and better-controlled outfits is that they tend not to generate violence in their areas of operation so as not to attract attention. For instance, a comparison between the peace and quite in Bahawalpur versus the mild violence in Rahim Yar Khan is a case in point. While a better-organised JeM ensures silence in Bahawalpur, the relatively loosely controlled SSP/LeJ network cannot hide its traces due to the proliferation of Shia-Sunni conflict in the latter district.
    The absence or presence of conflict, however, is not a commentary on the level of extremism in an area. These various outfits have ensured their continued presence due to the state’s dependence on them to fulfil its national security goals. To a military mind, this is indeed the cheapest form of available force that can fight with maximum commitment. But this also means that these various outfits continue to procure manpower from within the country for which they need to maintain a certain level of extremism in society. The LeT/JuD network’s extensive wall-chalking throughout the country, especially Punjab, which calls for jihad, or JeM’s extensive discourse development on religious war is an extensive intellectual investment with string bearings on segments of society where these outfits operate.
    These various above-cited networks have sufficient space to operate as there is no counter-narrative to challenge their existence. A local historian from South Punjab shook me up by his statement that the Barelvi school of thought as a counter-narrative was almost dead. This was to highlight the bitter fact that neither Barelvi scholars nor Sufi institutions had expanded in terms of a counter thought process. While the shrines are there and continue to attract people, there is an extensive decay in the moral fiber of the Sufi orders that control the shrines. Some khanqahs have become a method of extortion rather than a source of spirituality. Although there is a difference between the Sufi and Barelvi schools of thought, the two institutions were loosely connected, hence, the weakening of one has impacted the other. Recently, talking to one of the heirs of one of the big Barelvi scholars, Ghulam Mohammad Ghotwi, I realised that the greatest threat to Sufi Islam was not just from the rabid mullahs but from the pirs and sajjada nasheens themselves. Moreover, post-1980s, with the state backing extremist and militant forms of religion, the pirs have also lost their value as prime negotiators between the poor and helpless mureeds and the state. Thus, the mureed today is uncomfortable with a pir who, besides his blessings cannot deliver in terms of intervention with functionaries of the state like the patwari, the tehsildar, the local thana, or even a minister.
    Could the state then have used Tahirul Qadri and his 600-page fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombing to establish the basis of a counter-narrative? Qadri’s fatwa has intellectual issues but has the energy and meat to develop a strong argument against lawlessness and violence sold in the form of religious diktat. But Qadri denotes a wasted resource and, perhaps, indicates the state’s unwillingness to disengage with violence and extremism. This is because the Barelvi cleric was launched as a political force to destabilise the current leadership rather than a means of encouraging peace in society. Therefore, some of the key political parties have no reason to look away from their active engagement with Deobandi extremist organisations, including their plan for seat adjustment in Punjab for the coming elections.
    In the absence of an alternative narrative on national security, politics or religion, extremism unfortunately will continue to have a vibrant future. Violence is a tap that the extremist networks will open and close at their behest.
    Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2013.