Difa-e-Pakistan has organised three large gatherings in Punjab alone. The first was in Lahore, which was organised by Jamatud Dawa (JuD), whose leadership is in charge of coordination and communication between all members of the group.
The movement will now hold a rally in Karachi on Sunday (today), which is being organised with the support of Jamaat-e-Islami. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has also held numerous meetings with the Difa-e-Pakistan leadership.
Other prominent members, who are widely perceived to have links with the intelligence circles in Pakistan, include Ejazul Haq, son of the military dictator who ruled during the Soviet-Afghan war, Sheikh Rasheed, a former federal minister in the last set-up under General Pervez Musharraf, and Hameed Gul, the former head of Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the ISI.
Difa-e-Pakistan does not currently maintain any joint fund and its leadership says all donations are from the public. “The business community, workers of each party, and even Pakistanis living abroad are sending us money, which is enough,” states the head of coordination committee, Yaqub Sheikh.
Independent researchers, however, say that most of the funding for the group comes through rich Arabs. “Not the governments there but the Arab public hate the Americans and have always been involved in using Pakistan as a proxy state,” says Khaled Ahmed, a renowned journalist who has authored several research papers and a book on terrorism and sectarian violence in Pakistan.
Ahmed feels that Difa-e-Pakistan is highlighting foreign policy issues, which the army command has historically dominated in Pakistan. Since the army cannot speak openly on these issues, it will use these non-state actors to communicate,” he adds.
Senior military officials who want to remain anonymous echo his thoughts. “Difa-e-Pakistan wants to tell us and anyone else who wants to use them that they are available. Their presence can be used to bargain with Americans,” a military officer remarked. When the group’s leaders are asked about this, all deny any signal from the armed forces in starting this group but their love for the military is quite evident. “The army is the largest institution of this country, so it holds a lot of importance for us and we are willing to fight for them,” says Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, head of Ahl-e-Sunnat-wal-Jamaat (ASWJ).
While their statements glorify the Pakistani military and criticise the current political regime, they say they have no direct political stake in the upcoming elections under the banner of Difa-e-Pakistan. “We do not believe the current political system is Islamic and that is why we are not going to contest,” says Yaqub Sheikh from JuD, though he clarifies that his group has always had a political wing.
Analysts feel the union between such ‘Islamists’ can bring no good. “Difa-e-Pakistan has zero political objective but they are taking Pakistan back to the pre-9/11 era when the country had a pro-jihad policy. That will isolate Pakistan internationally,” says Amir Rana, director for the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies. “We were on the brink of being declared a terrorist state then, and with Difa-e-Pakistan’s reactivation, a similar narrative is being revived,” he warned.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2012.