Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on March 12 that banned terrorist organisations stood a chance of restoration to normal status if they “closed down their militant wings”. He said: “We have been contacted by several banned organisations that want to sit and talk. If they want to give up militancy we will talk to them as we are revising the list of proscribed organisations.” He did not mention the names of the banned organisations numbering 30, including al Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). One doesn’t know how the minister categorises the terrorists of Pakistan, but going by public perception, the banned or semi-banned or vaguely-banned outfits are busy displaying muscle in the country, rather than abjuring violence, negating the impression that they are banned in the first place.
Which outfits are in dialogue with Mr Malik one doesn’t know. To what extent they are ready to forswear their extremism and violent ways, one doesn’t know either. To build a platform for dialogue of any sort, Mr Malik has to see to it that the ban placed on them is real: that means their leaders are put under arrest and their assets sealed pending trial. Does the state know who among the 40 outfits represented in the Difa-e-Pakistan (Defence of Pakistan) movement are banned? Comment has been made about the presence of terrorists in the Difa rallies — as their attendance has been recorded by the press.
In 2010, international opinion noted that Pakistan had banned the LeT in January 2002, and its successor front group Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) a month after the November 2008 suicide terror assault on Mumbai. Several years ago, its leader Hafiz Saeed, was placed under house arrest but was freed by the Lahore High Court, which said there was no evidence that he was involved in any wrongdoing. After that, the court had ruled that the government had never formally prohibited the JuD. The government, thereafter, took the case to the Supreme Court in appeal. Some observers in Pakistan think that the government was never keen in pursuing the case against Hafiz Saeed. Internationally, the JuD is constantly linked to terrorism staged in Afghanistan on behalf of al Qaeda.
The front runners in the Difa rallies are the JuD and Sipah-e-Sahaba. The latter was among the first outfits to be banned after the wave of sectarian violence hit its high watermark after 2001. Despite the ban, its leader late Maulana Azam Tariq was ‘mistakenly’ elected to the National Assembly in 2002. Today, it is renamed as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) and its leader, Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi declares that his party is not banned on the strength of some inconclusive judicial process. The blanket imprimatur of Difa rallies made it possible for the ASWJ to make a comeback and seal their growing presence in south Punjab. It is often said by political commentators that PML-N’s new strategy of confronting the PPP in the south of the province is hinged on its understanding with the old Sipah elements now in the field as Ahle Sunnat. The scene became complicated after Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, of the old Sipah-e-Sahaba, pledged to back Pakistan’s army chief: “Because of threats from America and conspiracies against Pakistan, I promise to give General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani 100,000 of our followers as fighters.”
The banned publications — daily newspapers and weeklies — are in the market carrying messages that politicians and media-men read carefully for signs of personal warning to avoid being assassinated. Banned jihadi trusts are functional in small cities, doling out funds to promote the cause of jihad, including funding of hate literature. Meanwhile, these organisations have reinvented themselves as welfare organisations, relying on their rural outreach to gather funds and replace the state to come to the help of the masses during natural calamities.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2012.