Kalashnikov-toting guards and one curious cat milled around as heavy-lidded seminary students struggled to stay awake. Meanwhile, from an orange table as long as the afternoon, earnest men from religious and political parties punished the air with familiar refrains on Pakistan’s sovereignty under threat. One speaker described the US, India and Israel as a “Satanic trinity”. Welcome to the all parties conference organised by the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) on the subject of ‘Defence of Islam and Pakistan’s Stability’.
About a hundred students and 20 speakers came to the event, held at the Jamia al Dirasat Islamia seminary opposite Safari Park. But none of them were able to exactly specify a strategy on how to defend Pakistan in the weeks ahead.
The aim of the conference, according to JuD leader Maulana Ameer Hamza, was “to follow up on the resolution passed by parliament in the in-camera briefing, to reduce US involvement in Pakistan”. Speakers, including Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat’s (formerly known as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan) Maulana Rab Nawaz, Jamaat-e-Islami’s Jarjees Ahmad and JuD’s Abdul Rehman Makki, called for the imposition of an “Islamic system” in the country.
Familiar topics were referenced by speakers, including the number of “spies” in the country, the cases of Raymond Davis and Aafia Siddiqui, the Abbottabad raid in which Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed.
Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf’s Mohammad Aslam Rajput took the rhetoric one step further, and in a high-decibel speech, screamed, “I am sure there are American dogs roaming around this conference to see who is attending it.”
The men agreed that the recent wave of criticism of the Pakistani military was wrong and part of “propaganda”. “If we criticise the military, then we are playing into the hands of the US,” said one speaker. Other speakers said that if Islam were defended, Pakistan would be too, by default.
The JuD’s Makki appeared to go somewhat against the event’s topic by feeling the need to assuage concerns over the stability of Pakistan. “Look, things are not as bad as the local and Western media says.” Makki pointed to what he said was America’s inability to win the war in Afghanistan and that if “Pakistan is worried about the future, [Admiral] Mike Mullen and [General David] Petraeus are more worried!”
Makki praised the late al Qaeda leader. “He killed thousands of US citizens. He brought five planes that hit American buildings. He reminded the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had brought them back to their senses [CIA aur FBI ko nani yaad diladi]”.
For his part, Pakistan Muslim League (Q) leader Amanullah Paracha declared that he agreed with the points put forward in a declaration prepared by the JuD. In fact, he wanted it to contain another: “No Muslim or Taliban is involved in terrorism.” Paracha demanded that this be reaffirmed by a show of hands and loud cheers. However, by this point in the evening, the crowd, which had just heard its seventh speech, could only muster a few half-hearted waves and barely audible “haans” (yes).
The 10-point declaration includes a call to declare the US an enemy of Pakistan, warns India against striking against Pakistan, calls for India to hand over people involved in the Samjhota Express attack to Pakistan, warns Pakistan against releasing Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh and attempts by India, Israel and the US to destabilise Pakistan, asks for government leaders to resign if they cannot restore peace in Karachi and the rest of the country, calls for unity among citizens and that they should be prepared to defend the country.
Despite valiant attempts by the emcee to restrict speakers to three and four minutes each, several speeches ran far too long, prompting the emcee to comment, “You just delivered an entire sermon” to Punjabi Tehrik Pakistan’s Dr Yusuf Saleem. The electricity was cut off several times, forcing speakers to resume their speeches after five-minute intermissions.
The event was held under the aegis of the ‘Defence of Pakistan Forum’, a collective of religious-political parties championed by the JuD’s Ameer Hamza who wants it to work as a pressure group. Hamza told The Express Tribune that events for this forum have been held countrywide and have been attended by thousands of people. “This forum is for people of all faiths, sects and areas. We have gathered people to defend Pakistan at this crucial time. We want the stability of Pakistan and Alhamdullilah, this effort has been very successful.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2011.