Taming violent outfits

It is necessary to limit the space of such organisations in the country

Faisal Ali Raja November 23, 2021

The Tehreek e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) brings out the inner conflict between the state and the society. The elasticity of the conflict is a function of the manipulated space of action available for any extremist group or groups to operate in the country. The emergence of these groups has various factors of motivation but their growth depends upon their ability to make space for themselves. Sometimes, they jostle for it by intimidating the local district administration; at times they engage in active extremism through narrative building on communication networks; but in acute circumstances they confront the LEAs as they are stopped forcefully through state apparatus. The strength of their followers wins them the extra space through creating extreme law and order situations which also promotes vigilantism in rank and file of these groups. The external environment has an appreciable impact in their expansion. As these groups spread their tentacles across the provinces, the diversity of their patronage exhibits shades of factionalism in them. Owing to the type of response against their followers, their violent streaks get metastasised through formation of violent factions in these groups.

For example, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) emerged in mid-1985 as a response to Shia sectarian advancement. They quickly gained ground as they found ample supporters and financers at home and abroad. The Afghan jihad contributed a lot to their expansion. Their association with different violent extremist groups turns the spotlight on their activities. A more violent faction under the banner of Laskar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) came to the fore in mid-1990s which further ignited violent sectarianism in the country. The SSP joined political bandwagon and were represented in the National Assembly as well. Nonetheless, its violent streak remained intact and many of its members gave tough time to the LEAs. In 2015, nearly two dozen members of LeJ top tier leadership were killed in Muzaffargarh in an engagement with Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Punjab. Since then, the group has been in search of an active leadership to perpetuate violence in the country. In absence of any structured national deradicalisation programme, the old passions still simmer among its hardcore elements but fail to accumulate enough support to stage an impressive activity. Their relevance in a particular social setting persists as its narrative remains attractive among their followers or other groups having similar ideologies.

The return of a proscribed organisation into the political fold is an encouraging exercise albeit with certain conditions and requirements. The section 11(U) of Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 stipulates the conditions of de-proscribing an organisation. A proscribed organisation must prove to the satisfaction of the federal government that the reasons of its proscription cease to exist. It means that some sort of evidence must be given to the government in form of material or otherwise about its activities including non-participation in arson, road blockades, hate mongering and working against public tranquility and peace. The acceptance of evidence is the prerogative of the government. The more transparent the procedure of evaluation of such evidence, the more deterrence it gains among the leadership of other proscribed organisations. Even after de-proscription, the government should tell a de-proscribed organisation to disassociate itself permanently from the violent elements in its fold. Such individuals should also be closely monitored otherwise they may be used by other internal or external violent actors. A larger question that arises out of TLP de-proscription is whether an honest recalibration of the proscribed organisations is carried out in accordance with the ground realities or not? The answer to this query provides a suitable framework of de-proscription. Unfortunately, once an organisation enters into the proscribed list, its de-proscription remains enigmatic, complex and intricate. As a result, TLP is the only group which has been de-proscribed from the list of 79 proscribed organisations.

There are three categories of violent groups on the list of proscribed organisations. One, organisations which purely perpetuate violence with transnational religious objectives. Two, those which harp upon sectarianism at home to profess violent ways and means. Three, who rely on ethnic composition to put forward their aims and objectives. The last two are more dangerous than the first one. Pakistan may face the scourge of sectarianism and ethnic terrorism in future and it is necessary to limit the space of such organisations in the country. No shortcut methods can end the violent streaks among these groups. Hence, promotion of a tolerant, moderate and less violent leadership can tame them in the long run.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2021.

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