Pakistan: Terror wears a political hat

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Terror wears a political hat

“Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak

When power to flattery bows? To plainness honour’s bound

When majesty falls to folly.” — Shakespeare: King Lear

 

NA 120 results may or may not have established definitive swings in the fortunes of competing political parties, but it has brought the scourge of terror to the fore wearing a political hat.

PMLN lost and PTI gained some space in a hotly-contested election on September 17, but the shocking emergence of two terror mindsets garbed as religious political parties is a real cause of concern. While this bye-election has also provided the burial grounds for the PPP in Punjab, a bag of 5,822 for Milli Muslim League (MML) and 7,130 votes for Labai’k Ya Rasool Allah (LYRA) rings alarm bells, more so because of the manner in which these parties have sprouted forth and the dangerous machinations and motives at work in the act.

It is the former Lashkar-e-Taiba turned Jama’atud Dawa (JuD) that now wears the hat of a political party — MML. Members of LYRA are the proponents of the cause of murderer Qadri who was handed down the capital punishment and whose mausoleum in the outskirts of Islamabad attracts a growing number of devotees with the state languishing around as silent spectator.

Understandably, these parties are not even registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), but their functionaries were most active in the constituency promoting the cause of the candidates they were supporting. They reached the polling stations well before the workers from other political parties arrived and were also distinguishable because of the intensity, even combativeness of their electioneering.

This new and grave contradiction is likely to further escalate the theatre of conflict between Pakistan and the rest of the world. In due course, this will be referred to as yet another attempt by the state to continue using terror as an instrument of policy, be it India-centric or Afghan-centric

The use of the mosque is an important component in the promotion of these terror outfits. According to a recent study conducted by my friend Sarwar Bari, who was personally present in the area before and on the day of the bye-election, there are around 250 mosques in the constituency representing the Deobandi, Barelvi and Salfi factions. Each of these mosques has a managing committee comprising 12-15 people. That makes a minimum of 3,000 to 4,000 committed voters of these parties. Add to that members of their immediate families and one may end up with a figure around the cumulative number of votes polled by these two parties. These mosques are also being used for collecting funds to spread one or another kind of extremist ideology.

The question that arises is whether making mosques the centres of political activities is a legitimate exercise and whether what is being preached there in the political context reflects the collective will of all those people who visit these places of worship to say their prayers?

There is also the question whether a proscribed organisation can be allowed to operate under any garb. Article 7 of the National Action Plan (NAP) reads: “Banned organisations will not be allowed to operate under another name”. So, by what stretch of logic has the LeT been allowed to change its spots and transition to become a political outfit? And what are the motivations behind allowing the promoters of murder in the name of religion to operate as a political party?

This development appears to be an important keg in the larger project for mainstreaming terrorist organisations in the country. The instance to humanise Ehsanullah Ehsan in the recent past, who was given full two hours of prime-time television to state his case and rationalise reasons why he was involved in countless heinous acts of terror and murder and that he was repentant over his deeds, is a case in point. Can anyone tell me which criminals would not be repentant of their act/s if they, too, were given the promise of forgiveness? The effort to humanise the likes of Ehsanullah Ehsan is virtually tantamount to dehumanising humanity. If he is to be treated in this manner, would the state retain even a shred of its legitimacy to impose its writ and hold its citizens accountable before law? By effectively eliminating the difference between a hard-core terrorist and a peace-loving citizen of the country, the state is actually working on abnegating the law, thereby providing comfortable space to everyone to act as one may please.

This is extremely dangerous. Pakistan is already reeling under the international scanner where it is dubbed as a protector and promoter of terror. This is a direct fallout of the jehad project. Its friends and foes alike have recorded their concern, even protest in this regard. Instead of eliminating terror without discrimination, if the state initiates a project aimed at mainstreaming its perpetrators, it will have no way left for escaping severe international censure and, ultimately, some form of action. It also runs the dire risk of banishing the prospect of peaceful existence from the country.

This new and grave contradiction is likely to further escalate the theatre of conflict between Pakistan and the rest of the world. In due course, this will be referred to as yet another attempt by the state to continue using terror as an instrument of policy, be it India-centric or Afghan-centric. Further argument will be made that when the state cannot eliminate terror completely, or it discriminates between brands of terror as friendly and unfriendly, it leaves space for these extremists and their networks to continue operating under one guise or the other — and this argument will not be without merit!

Pakistan has been in denial for a long time, and continues to remain so. Unfortunately, this pretence has not redressed its multifarious challenges. On the other hand, initiatives like project mainstreaming terror by facilitating it to wear a political hat are likely to further complicate its problems. History provides incontrovertible proof that extremist elements use democratic means to capture power before unleashing a wave of violence on their opponents.

There is a need for a serious rethink — and an urgent one. It is impossible for the state to survive with growing conflicts and an increasing gulf between its proclamations and ultimate delivery. This has resulted in it losing its credibility. Regaining it is the first challenge the state faces. Project mainstreaming terror is hardly an appropriate way for doing so.

 

The writer is a political and security strategist, and heads the Regional Peace Institute — an Islamabad-based think tank. Email: raoofhasan@hotmail.com. Twitter: @RaoofHasan