Cleaning up the act with conviction
The government of Pakistan, together with the leaders of the armed forces, and the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), have done Pakistan a great service by heeding the voice of the international community in general, and China in particular, by taking action against the organisations banned on Wednesday by the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council: Jama’at-ud Dawa and Jaish-e Muhammad.
Most Pakistanis will be shocked at the outreach of Jama’at-ud Dawa in the country after its “education” and charity institutions were raided on Thursday in compliance with the UN Security Council ban. In fact, action had begun before Thursday after Pakistan became aware of the extent to which Dawa-Lashkar was possibly involved in the Mumbai attacks.
In Punjab alone, 18 cities have the presence of an outfit that the UN Security Council thinks is involved in terrorism abroad. Outside Punjab, the network is also highly developed from Karachi to Peshawar and Azad Kashmir. In some cities, the Dawa “system” has chains of kindergarten schools which the government must now consider taking over and running as its own system to prevent the children from being deprived of education. Dawa had its own “universities” too, but public knowledge about them is scanty.
It is also not known widely in Pakistan that Jama’at-ud Dawa was the target of new restrictions at the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council but was saved by a Chinese veto every time the matter was brought up by affected states. It was accused of being involved in terrorism in the UK, and there was a scandal in 2005 of large sums of money being funnelled as charity funds during the earthquake in Pakistan, which some suspected had been actually remitted to Dawa.
India had its plaint over the Red Fort attack in 2000, and Dawa was noted for the conspicuous act of leading the funeral prayer in absentia in Lahore for Al Qaeda’s sectarian terrorist Zarqawi after his death in Iraq. After that, Dawa warriors were noticed in Iraq too. Of course Dawa claimed that it was a new organisation and had nothing to do with Lashkar-e Tayba that was allegedly carrying out terrorist acts, and was based in Indian-administered Kashmir. The UK had to bring in new laws to prevent charity contributions of up to 3 million pounds annually to the Dawa-Lashkar recipients in Pakistan.
Dawa moved from Muridke — after it became “vulnerable” — to Lake Road, Lahore, where it significantly named its headquarters as Masjid Qadisiya, after the historic location where the Arabs had defeated the Iranian king in antiquity, a very sectarian reference in our times. But all this was ignored and allowed to pass under the radar of intelligence. People who got into trouble with Dawa were visited with “official” wrath, and soon everyone accepted the anomaly of Dawa as a part of life.
It is the Chinese “message” that has changed our mind. The Chinese did not veto the banning of Dawa on Wednesday, and they had reportedly told Islamabad as much beforehand, compelling our permanent representative at the UN to assert that Pakistan would accept the ban if it came. One subliminal message was also given to Chief Minister Punjab, Mr Shehbaz Sharif, during his recent visit to China, and the message was that Pakistan had to seek peace with India or face change of policy in Beijing. Once again, it is our friend China whose advice has been well taken; above all, thankfully, by the media, while discussing the Dawa ban on the night of December 11.
There are other things to take care of too. Jaish-e Muhammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar has been placed under house arrest in Bahawalpur. But reports from Bahawalpur for the past five years had consistently said that he was not there but was occasionally seen in Islamabad. That is also true of the chief of Harkatul Mujahideen, Fazlur Rehman Khaleel, who was taken out of his “safe house” and displayed to the media during the Lal Masjid crisis in 2007. But these are patently Al Qaeda hangers-on who can bring more heat on Pakistan in the future.
Pakistan will need to cooperate with the international community in the coming days. The trend among our jihadi outfits so far is not to surrender to bans but to make a beeline for the Kohat Road pockets of terrorism and join the Al Qaeda-Taliban combine to kill our soldiers. Our army discovered all the banned jihadis when it confronted the militants at Darra Adam Khel. If Jaish was let off the hook after it attacked General Musharraf in 2004, it should now be confronted for providing the bulk of suicide-bombers to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Last but not least, Pakistan should act not because an “unfair international system” compels it to act; it should act out of conviction. Some commentators are already suggesting the kind of double-faced strategy adopted by Musharraf. It has been exposed as self-damaging and should not be embraced again.