Malik Mohammad Ishaq, a leader of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, made an appearance in Khairpur on Friday to address the ‘Difaa-e-Sahaba’ conference in the city. The event was organised by Jamia Haidriah.
Ishaq was recently released on bail from Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail after serving 14 years of imprisonment. Ishaq was accused of killing 70 people in 44 cases. He was acquitted in 34 and granted bail in 10 cases, including one in which he was charged with plotting the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.
Ishaq’s presence in Khairpur is significant since the city was home to SSP leader Allama Sher Hyderi, who was assassinated in August 2009. A speaker at the conference invoked Hyderi’s memory while introducing Ishaq.
Ishaq spoke of his resolve to continue with his mission, he praised the leadership of the SSP and said he would continue to make sacrifices and work to defend Islam.
Ishaq has been on a publicity tour of sorts after his release and has even addressed people in his hometown of Rahim Yar Khan. “He is re-establishing himself as a leader,” says analyst Ayesha Siddiqa. “Even though there was no curb on his activities when he was in jail – there was his involvement in the Sri Lankan cricket team attack and other plans as well – but his physical presence means that he can organise things better. He is strengthening his base and we do know that the SSP is spreading rapidly in Sindh. For example, Ghotki and Jacobabad are very affected – you see SSP graffiti and flags there.” Siddiqa offered a grim view of militancy in the province, where she says Jamaatud Dawa is also making inroads. “While we are talking of peace in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the centre of militancy and radicalisation is in Sindh and Punjab.”
While he may have been in jail for 14 years, Ishaq appeared to be quite updated with the news of allegedly blasphemous content available online. He riled the crowd by describing blasphemous images in graphic detail. He also questioned the categorisation of religious leaders as being involved in militancy and sectarianism. The crowd waved flags and chanted slogans against a particular sect during his speech.
A video of Ishaq’s speech in Khairpur was uploaded to the official YouTube channel of the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (the SSP’s new name). Scores of men can be seen attending the event and chanting slogans.
The Express Tribune previously reported that Ishaq’s family received a stipend from the Punjab government while he was in jail. Ishaq has also been provided with two police guards. According to Interior Minister Rehman Malik, the man is under observation.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2011.