By Mohammad Jibran Nasir
Wednesday morning I woke up to the news of Malik Ishaq, the dangerous head of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) being killed in a Police encounter.
My first reaction, which I believe was shared by many Pakistanis, was “good riddance.” One of Pakistan’s most notorious terrorists was no more. A lot of people, including many apparent human rights activists went to the extent of sharing the image of his bullet-riddled body with the caption “Eid Mubarak” on Facebook. To this I had some reservations. Have we become that accustomed to violence that we refuse to show grace or dignity while condemning our enemies, the terrorists, for lack of same. I also find myself wondering that if a terrorist from the Balochistan Liberation Army, a banned outfit like LeJ, was killed in a similar encounter then would the same human rights activists share the picture with a similar caption or would they condemn it as an extra judicial murder and stress for the need of fair trials. A human, however cruel or beastly, is still a human and a human rights activist for sake their personal political views cannot and should not differentiate in his treatment. By engaging in this behavior, we inch closer to the indifference and barbarism of our enemy, which we universally condemn, but nonetheless seem to emulate.
However, the more pertinent questions which remained are: Is this killing a sign of a new beginning for our political leadership and security forces? Can this killing be viewed even remotely as part of the implementation of the National Action Plan? Is our government becoming serious about ending sectarian violence?
Malik Ishaq was not a common terrorist. Malik headed LeJ, Pakistan’s most lethal terrorist organization in terms of sectarian violence. Unlike the Taliban, it was not launched in Afghanistan. One can also not compare it to the TTP which started in the tribal belt of Pakistan where people have never been economically, socially and politically integrated with the rest of Pakistan, have been trained to take part in the Afghan war and worse been subject to drones. They on the fact of it appear more prone to be recruited by terror networks. LeJ is an offshoot of Sippah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) now known as Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), another banned organization was founded in an urban town of Jhang district of Punjab, the most populated and economically and politically powerful province of Pakistan. Malik was also serving as the vice president of ASWJ. ASWJ’s manifesto includes declaring all Shia’s as infidels under the constitution of Pakistan following the 1974 precedent whereby Ahmadis were declared infidels.
SSP/ASWJ also supports and provides muscle to Lal Masjid’s Abdul Aziz who for reason known better to Chaudhary Nisar remains untouched. Unlike other terror groups, SSP/ASWJ and LeJ, perhaps primarily because of their location have penetrated the political and civil structure of Pakistan more than any other organization. Through rallies, sermons and preaching, they have not only raised militias but also a formidable voter base. Azam Tariq, the former head of SSP/ASWJ was elected thrice to the assemblies and in 2002, under Musharraf he played the pivotal role of providing the winning one vote to elect Zafarullah Jamali as Prime Minister; so much for the General’s enlightened moderation.
Rana Sanaullah, the current law minister of Punjab has participated in election campaign rallies with ASWJ. However, interestingly, LeJ itself has reported to have made assassination attempts on Nawaz Sharif during 1999. Malik Ishaq, though known to have differences with the leadership of ASWJ did briefly serve as the Vice President of ASWJ in 2012. Malik Ishaq also attended the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DFP) rally in Multan the same year.
The DPC is currently headed by a former Senator, also known as the father of the Taliban, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq. Maulana Sami-ul-Haq also formed Muttahida Deeni Mahaz in 2013 under which 40 terrorists of ASWJ contested elections. MDM manifesto stated that the offices of the President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice and COAS can only be occupied by Sunni men in another indication of MDM’s anti-shia stance.
The DPC’s Vice President is Jamat-ud-Dawah’s head, Hafiz Saeed, who is deemed responsible for the terror attack in Mumbai in 2008 and is seen as the head of another banned outfit, Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Secretary General of DPC, Siraj-ul-Haq, is the chief of the mainstream Islamic political party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). Perhaps this is why I could not get myself to retweet the recently trending hashtag #YouthLovesSiraj. The Joint Secretary of DPC is ASWJ’s head Ahmed Ludhianvi who earlier this year publicly admitted that his organization views all Shias as infidels on a private television show.
Another big supporter of the DPC has been Lt. Gen. (Retd) Hamid Gul who has served as DG ISI and who in a television interview described Baitullah Mehsud as a Mujahid. (link to interview – see at 2:35)
Malik Ishaq, though reportedly over a hundred shia muslims, was never convicted of murder. He was released on bail in 2012 and since then has been taken under house arrest on various occasions. Though listed by the US on its global terrorist’s list he comfortably went through our airport security to perform Umrah in 2012 and was only taken in custody upon his return. All of this despite the fact that his organization even took responsibility of the attack on the Sri Lankan Cricket Team in 2009 which became a reason for our embarrassment around the world and still haunts our country and cricket.
An article published yesterday in the Express Tribune reported that close to 72 judges and prosecutors have requested to be excused from his cases and those of his accomplices.
The above facts not only provide an insight into how dangerous Malik was, but also how flawed our system of governance continues to be. At one end through Zarb-e-Azb we are waging war against terrorism in the tribal areas and cleaning up Karachi’s target killers via Ranger’s operation. One the other hand our political parties continue to tolerate and at times embrace terrorists where convenient. Not to forget the policies of our security establishment against terrorist continue to remain convoluted. Where the military is active against BLA, LeJ’s most active commander Ramzan Mengal continues to spread his reign of terror in Balochistan unchallenged.
Malik’s killing though being celebrated as a start of a “clean up” process could very well perhaps be an isolated event where the police officials in the heat of the moment and under heavy gun fire were not left with many options and took the decision of taking out Malik and his accomplices. The only other explanation could be that this was a pre-planned encounter which would not only constitute as an extra judicial murder but I doubt the Police would admit to same.
This in any case cannot be equated as any implementation of the NAP, as the same would have seen a court, albeit military, convicting Malik and giving him the necessary sentence. A court conviction would have revealed to us how the State of Pakistan sees Malik and his actions and what message does the State wants to send to his accomplices.
Aurganzeb Farooqi of SSP/ASWJ as per the latest reports, is currently in police custody. We do not know what charges are being framed against him for his involvement in sectarian violence. Farooqi was arrested in Taxila in Punjab, but while in Sindh he used to travel with police protocol allotted to him by the Sindh Government of PPPP. Talk about paying a tribute to the memory of Benazir Bhutto.
All I know is that the Prime Minister of Pakistan belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League meets and greets Ludhianvi of SSP/ASWJ. That Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah of PPP who serves as the opposition leader of the country also does the same. That Pakistan Tehkreek-e-Insaf can go to the extent of join forces with ASWJ in Azad Kashmir for contesting and winning elections and thank them publicly for same through a press conference. That Muttahida Qaumi Movement regardless of the hue and cry it creates against religious extremism maintained cordial relations with SSP/ASWJ, visiting their offices which under the Anti Terrorism Act 1997, is an illegal establishment.
In a live television interview in 2013 to Gharida Farooqi, Khalid Hussain Dhillon, secretary general of ASWJ, claimed that the likes of Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Javed Hashmi, Qaim Ali Shah, Ameer Haider Khan Hoti and Mian Shahbaz Sharif reach out to ASWJ for support in elections.
And as far as the military establishment is concerned I question if it is fair to our Jawans, who continue to sacrifice their lives fighting against the Taliban, to allow the likes of Hamid Gul to sit on national television and defend the Taliban. I do not want to hinder his freedom of expression but it would have been better if he was stripped off his medals and title.
Unless known leaders of all banned organizations are not seen in prison cells as opposed to having tea with the Prime Minister we cannot claim to have new system of governance. Unless judges and prosecutors are not rid of their own sectarian bias and those who are willing to perform their duty are provided adequate security we can only count on terrorists being killed in encounters as opposed to being convicted and given jail terms. Encounters do not kill ideologies of terror organizations and worse they paint terrorists as martyrs for their followers and in the strict sense of the law leave the room for doubt as to whether they were guilty of their crimes or not.
For now, due to the self serving politics of our politicians and flawed policies of some generals, these killers are not treated as terrorists but as stakeholders and I hope we do not have to go through another incident like Army Public School to realise that like TTP, SSP-ASWJ-LeJ are also enemies of the state and its people.
If nothing else, I hope the government at least has the foresight to increase security around Imam Bargahs and other potential sectarian targets to prevent any retaliatory attack from LeJ.