Sunni militants, their friends versus Sunni Sufis

By Andaleeb Rizvi

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This time around, the Pakistani state was left with no other choice but to launch an operation against terrorists after the Karachi airport attack on June 8, 2014, but the state conveniently forgot the urban allies of the extremists living comfortably with or without beards.

With militant Sunnis like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) wreaking havoc in the Fertile Crescent, and al-Qaeda anywhere it pleases, Pakistani Sunni groups are at loggerheads with each other, not just in the tribal belt but all over. The hotbed of terrorists in South Asia has, apart from the major Shia-Sunni divide, developed deep fissures between Salafis and Deobandis; Deobandis and Barelvis; Barelvis and Wahabis; and a Shia-Sunni coalition against non-Muslims, including Ahmadi Muslims. Extremists consider it legitimate to shed blood of all self-styled Muslims as kafirs. The puritanical, takfiri Salafists and Deobandis both consider Barelvi and Shia infidels for which severing their heads or blowing them to a pulp is a shortcut to heaven.

The state conveniently forgot the urban allies of the extremists living comfortably with or without beards.

Many Shias, especially doctors, have been targeted and killed by extremists. As per the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report, between January 2012 and June 2013, in the 203 sectarian violence incidents, at least 717 died, 635 of them Shias. These human rights violations did not just occur in North Waziristan where the army is conducting its operations, but all over the country – from Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore, Parachinar to Gilgit all the way up in the Karakoram Mountains.

Resultantly, several Shia and Barelvi organizations, including those of the Hazaras, demand a military operation against extremists, or even an army takeover in cases where the party is not hoping for getting their hand in the till.

However, such demands are naive if one considers the behaviour of the establishment towards extremist elements. Though the government often bans websites spreading alternative news about Shia genocide, Baloch and Pashtun ethnic cleansing and secularism, websites run by terrorists, or those who provide extremist literature remain functional 24/7, 365 days a year. This discrimination gives one an idea where the government and those who make decisions stand on the matter.

After the beginning of Zarb-e-Azb on June 15, and following the reports of IG Police Mushtaq Sukhera’s transfer from Baluchistan to Punjab, the city of Lahore witnessed a clash between the supporters of Dr Tahirul Qadri, a Barelvi, and the police, that killed 10 people and injured 85.

Sukhera has previously been accused by an Urdu newspaper of brokering a coalition deal between the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ)- the renamed militant Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). The said policeman was serving as an additional IG Punjab, and the deal was brokered in Bahawalnagar. In the whole charade, there was another actor, Gullu Butt, who was captured on security cameras while damaging private vehicles. Butt is allegedly a police tout, as well as a PML-N worker.

This massacre by the Pakistani state police was followed by the hijacking of an international flight single-handedly by the Canadian national of Pakistani origin, Dr Tahirul Qadri, that set the Emirates on its ears on June 23, when he refused to disembark from the plane in Lahore, Pakistan.

Though the government often bans websites spreading alternative news about Shia genocide, Baloch and Pashtun ethnic cleansing and secularism, websites run by terrorists, or those who provide extremist literature remain functional 24/7, 365 days a year.

None of these shenanigans took place even close to North Waziristan. TuQ in cahoots with the ‘whole opposition’ had earlier announced on Twitter that he plans to attack the “PML-N ideologically”. So, the federal government, to scare him off, asked the police, to take away the security barriers at TuQ’s place. The zealous supporters of the religious leader, instead of bowing, dared to protest, letting the police do what they do best. Be brutal with abandon. They fired straight at the protesters, killing and injuring several, including women.

Incidentally, Dr Qadri also leads a religio-political party, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), and has in the past given a fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombings that directly refutes the puritanical, takfiri ideology of both al-Qaeda, Taliban, and groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), and Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). Tahirul Qadri mostly has a Barelvi following, who are generally considered non-violent. However, there are people like Mumtaz Qadri, murderer of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, within this Sufi sect as well. Taseer was killed for raising his voice against the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. The Barelvi Sunni Tehreek is another wing involved in militant activities against Wahabis and Deobandis, especially for winning mosques in Karachi. For which pesh imams are often shot dead by one group or the other.

One cannot treat merely symptoms in North Waziristan, and let the causes and assets in urban centers live happily

Amid such a controversial situation, it is safe to question the credibility of the Pakistan Army’s operation in North Waziristan against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, al-Qaeda, and allegedly the Haqqani network, who have often been garlanded as the ‘good Taliban’, and strategic assets in Afghanistan.

These Taliban are supported by countless seminaries and mosques functioning in cities like Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad, Faisalabad, and Jhang, providing human resource for extortion, targeted killings, bomb-making activities, etc. One can even say that the LeJ, ASWJ, and SSP are the Taliban’s urban allies, many of whom have formed partnerships and coalitions with the ruling elite, especially with parties like the PML-N, Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

Hence, one cannot treat merely symptoms in North Waziristan, and let the causes and assets in urban centers live happily. It is safe to assume that the operation in North Waziristan, like the one in South Waziristan, will prove futile, and terrorists will regroup and join forces once the military feels exhausted after the diversion.

The writer is a Sub-editor at The News and Teacher at Department of Visual Studies, University of Karachi.

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