In a bid to target domestic terrorism and restore a measure of peace after the December 16, 2014, Peshawar school attack, the Punjab Government under the National Action Plan (NAP) tried to reign in the growing menace of terrorism in the Province. Official documents cited in a June 20, 2016, report claimed to have eliminated the entire leadership of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Over 226 'jet-black terrorists' (a term first used by the then Army Chief General Raheel Sharif to describe hardcore terrorists who have committed violent crimes) had been killed and 1,000 hardcore militants arrested since the beginning of 2016 till June 19, 2016, in combing operations conducted by CTD. 637 hardcore terrorists of LeJ and its splinter groups were arrested. These included 394 close associates of slain LeJ chief Malik Ishaq. Counter-terrorism forces also claimed that they had arrested 352 hardcore terrorists affiliated to the Ludhianvi Group, 24 of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), 37 of TTP, 67 of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), and 164 affiliated to other proscribed organisations. 1,600 suspects had been placed under the 4th Schedule (on the watch list), and 2,240 Afghan trained boys, 556 returnees from Afghan prisons and 89 Lal Masjid elements were also arrested in the combing operations.
Despite these vaunting figures, the terrorist establishments in the region are far from being wiped out. In its report, 'Pakistan's Jihadist Heartland: Southern Punjab', released on May 30, 2016, the International Crisis Group (ICG) observed, `Continued state sponsorship remains a source of empowerment for groups that fall under the category of `good` jihadists, such as the Jaish, which has networks across the province.` ICG confirmed that Jaish-e-Mohammad's (JeM's) infrastructure at Bahawalpur remained intact, including its sprawling headquarters at the Usman-o-Ali Madrassa and other mosques and madrassas across the District. A Federal Minister and Member of Parliament from Bahawalpur, Riaz Husain Pirzada, concurred, `the breeding grounds remain; the [sectarian"> madrassas are still being financed.` According to local observers, Jaish also continues to run a prominently-located terrorist training cell on a main Bahawalpur road toward Ahmedpur tehsil [revenue unit">, which attracts young (often teenaged) recruits from around southern Punjab.
The presence of JeM and LeJ, Pakistan's most radical Deobandi groups, in the Province has long fuelled the atmosphere of sectarian conflict. However, according to a statement on on July 14, 2016, by the Police Chief of the Province, Inspector General (IG) Mushtaq Ahmad Sukhera, a crackdown on mosques which use loudspeakers to blare out incendiary language against minorities has cut down public hate speech in Punjab. Punjab, which has a population of about 100 million, has historically struggled to curb sectarian violence and hate speech by firebrand Sunni Muslim clerics who often refer to minorities as `heretics`.
Representatives of minority groups confirmed that mosques in Lahore and other big cities in Punjab had largely stopped using loudspeakers to preach against smaller religious group. Saleemur Rehman, spokesperson for the Ahmadi community which is often targeted, however, observed, `But (that is) only in big cities where Police do strong checks. In smaller towns and rural areas, loudspeakers are still being used for hate speech.` Peter Jacob, Director National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), added that hate speech continued on social media and is plastered to rickshaws and public buses, adding, `There is no change in the level of intolerance in the society.`
It is the duplicity of the Pakistan and Punjab Governments on the issues of terrorism in general and of sectarian terrorist formations in particular, that has aggravated the situation. High profile officials and ministers continue to openly associate with sectarian terrorist formations, casting serious doubt over the Government's commitment to combat extremism. For instance, photographs featuring Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan with Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, the leader of the banned sectarian terrorist Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (ASWJ) have surfaced on social media. When a hue cry was raised, the Minister was unrepentant and, indeed, offered a defence of ASWJ, stating, on January 14, 2017, that the Shia-Sunni conflict dated back 1300 years and was a part of Islamic history, and it was unfair (with regard to terrorism) to `link everything with ASWJ's Chief`.
Responding to a question in the Senate regarding his remarks that outlawed sectarian organisations should not be equated with terrorist outfits, Nisar asked whether it was `a crime` to suggest that separate laws should be formed to deal with groups proscribed on sectarian basis to remedy the `confusion being created`. Crucially, this is the Federal Interior Minister of the country, who is in charge of the implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism. Clearly, Pakistan has miles to go before it can arrive at any consistent policy that could free it of terrorism.
(Courtesy of South Asia Intelligence Review)
(Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)