Saturday, June 4, 2016

Perspective: Punjab and extremism | Naseer Memon


Last year, the government updated a terror watch list that included 5,400 militants in the country; of that 2,572 belonged to Punjab.

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | UK Desk
Source/Credit: The News on Sunday
By Naseer Memon | May 1, 2016

The exigencies of terrorism demand some drastic measures to stamp out militancy in Punjab

Events happen in this country in quick succession, often leaving the memory blurred. Incidents are interred under layers of new episodes. Only a few weeks ago, we saw a four-day paralysing sit-in in the capital city by some religious parties, questioning the illusive writ of the state. Yet a senior representative of the Punjab government brazenly claimed that no organised network of terrorists existed in Punjab.

The truth is that while successive regimes have continued to target terrorists and militants in the tribal areas, their factories in the safe haven of Punjab continue churning out fresh products.

There is a justifiable need for a massive purge of such elements from the province, but the ruling party refuses to budge. The ruling party has a political constituency that tends to favour conservative right wing elements. For them, it is convenient to launch operations through paramilitary forces in the other three provinces while their own political stakes remain tied with religious politics and polity in Punjab.

The bond is so cordial that in 2010, the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had made an explicit request to the Taliban to spare Punjab and avoid acts of terror in Punjab since both the PML-N and Taliban struggled together against former army supremo Gen. Musharraf. This explains the tardy action against sanctuaries of extremist elements and a listless implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) in Punjab.

The security establishment has frequently frowned on the lethargy of provincial administration. This compelled the Punjab government to admit its lacklustre performance on the NAP and issue special directives in November 2015, prodding the provincial police and administration to expedite their action. The Punjab government swung into action and figures started pouring in into the official database.

This cosmetic surgery was exposed when the minister for Interior and Narcotics Control shared some facts and figures in the National Assembly. His report revealed that out of 254 unregistered seminaries closed down in all provinces, only two were from the Punjab.

In August 2015, the provincial government submitted a report before the Supreme Court on completion of geo-tagging of all madrassas in the province. The report acknowledged that the province has 6,479 unregistered seminaries out of a total 13,782. Hence, closing only two out of 6,479 seminaries does not make even a minuscule fraction of the total number. Such was the scale of apathy of the Punjab government one year after when the NAP was unfurled.
A report by the Interior Ministry admits the government has absolutely no influence over 868 of the total 957 mosques in the federal capital. The government spends over Rs60 million annually to cover the salaries and utilities of 89 mosques.

Last year, the government updated a terror watch list that included 5,400 militants in the country; of that 2,572 belonged to Punjab.

Another report reveals that out of 1,764 most wanted militants, 729 were based in South Punjab alone. Footprints of the Islamic State (IS) aka Daesh have been traced in (and later on denied) Punjab. Only a few months ago, the Counter Terrorism Department of Punjab busted a cell of the most brutal group of IS. The top boss of the Intelligence Bureau stunned the Senate’s Standing Committee on interior by conceding that the IS was an emerging threat in the country.

The Foreign Office had to issue a prompt rebuttal lest the international community demands deeper probe. In the beginning of this year, security agencies were reportedly hunting for two brothers busy in recruiting IS cadres in the twin cities. In November 2015, the Counter Terrorism Department of Punjab warned of the Paris-like bloodbath in Lahore and elsewhere.

According to a newspaper report of January 2015, the federal interior minister Chaudhry Nisar threw a bombshell in a top level meeting by disclosing that at least 95 proscribed groups were actively engaged in terrorism and extremism in Punjab. In December 2015, replying to a question in the National Assembly, he admitted that foreign countries are funneling money and 147 seminaries in Punjab were receiving funding from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Iran. These foreign-funded seminaries are fanned out in all major districts of Punjab.
Punjab has 6,479 unregistered seminaries out of a total 13,782.

Punjab has 6,479 unregistered seminaries out of a total 13,782.

There have been violent attacks on non-Muslims, ransacking and defiling their places of worship and vandalising their properties in the province. A noted lawyer was killed in Multan only for providing legal services to an alleged blasphemer. Even the judges balk at adjudicating such cases.

The person who painstakingly justified and vehemently argued in defence of Salmaan Taseer’s murder before the court was no less than a former chief justice of the Lahore High Court. Teachers, lawyers, law students and engineers have been found actively engaged with proscribed groups.

The spillover of extremism is starkly visible in Islamabad which is separated only by a blurry administrative line. A fiery and defiant cleric had been audaciously challenging the powerful writ of the state, that otherwise does not pardon even unarmed people in smaller provinces. The government invented a novel solution and gagged cell phones every Friday afternoon to block the cleric’s telephonic sermon. The Capital Development Authority (CDA) that ruthlessly demolishes unauthorised settlements of the poor turns a deaf ear and a blind eye to illegally erected structures of religious outfits in the city.

In January 2015, an audit report presented before the Public Accounts Committee disclosed that about 305 mosques/madrassas are illegally constructed on CDA land. In March 2015, the CDA submitted a report to the Interior Ministry that made startling disclosures. The report revealed that out of 492 mosques within the municipal limits, 233 belonging to different major sects are illegally constructed on state land. In January 2015, a survey report of Islamabad police unveiled that the city has 160 madrassas and 72 day scholar institutes are operating without any registration. The iron fist of Interior Ministry melts before the 329 madrassas inhabiting 31,769 students belonging to all major sects.

A report by the Interior Ministry admits that the government has absolutely no influence over 868 of the total 957 mosques in the federal capital. The government also spends approximately 60 million rupees annually to cover the salaries and utilities of 89 mosques. This does not include the cost of 722 policemen deployed at mosques and imambargahs in Islamabad to monitor orations of firebrand demagogues.

One major reason behind the government’s urge for a negotiated dispersal of the recent dharna mob could be to avert any violent retaliation from these seminaries strewn all around the capital city. Islamabad is too vulnerable to endure any morbid mob.

Islamabad cannot be insulated by erecting concrete structures, installing cameras and sprinkling heavily guarded check posts. Without clogging the supply conduits, the city will continue to kneel before rudderless flocks. The exigencies of terror-related violence demand some drastic and decisive measures to stamp out militancy in Punjab.



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