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Seeking Action Against Banned Outfits Is Not Treason

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Pakistan is under pressure by the international community to stop terror financing and dismantle the network of extremists. And we need to do it not to please the international community or escape sanctions, but because the same is vital to our own stability and security. Banned terror outfits and their hateful ideologies put the security of our own citizens at risk, argues Ailia Zehra

It is unfortunate that Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto’s statement raising doubts about the government’s seriousness in acting against banned terror outfits was termed anti-Pakistan by his rivals. Instead of explaining the serious allegations levelled by the PPP chairman about government officials supporting extremists, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has accused him of supporting the ‘Indian narrative’.

The case of TLP is a reminder of our extremism problem 

Truth be told – if Pakistan’s track record over the past few years is anything to go by, no government in has shown willingness to take a decisive action against extremism in the country. Extremist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) head Khadim Hussain Rizvi was taken into protective custody in December, weeks after his group’s leaders called for mutiny in the armed forces and incited violence against state officials while protesting a Supreme Court (SC) verdict acquitting blasphemy accused Aasia Bibi. But the government did not seem to have a legal plan to deal with Khadim Rizvi and his group. That the extremist cleric was merely taken into ‘protective custody’ indicated that the action against him was poorly-strategised and was taken in a haste. It’s been three months since Rizvi was arrested and a crackdown against the TLP was initiated, but nothing significant has come out of it yet.

A blanket ban on his outfit and their activities on ground and on social media should be placed to stop them from preaching violence. Governments over the years have always turned a blind eye to online platforms that incite violence and represent these violent groups. Instead, all energies are invested in taking down or banning accounts and pages on social media that are critical of government and the establishment.

In the wake of the recent Indo-Pak conflict after the Pulwama attack in India, the voices within Pakistan demanding the authorities to put our own house in order to avoid being isolated internationally were dubbed traitors. It is frustrating that even after losing so much to the menace of terror and extremism, we refuse to be clearheaded in our approach towards dealing with the issue. Those seeking an end to the policy of differentiating between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists are termed anti-state.

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Hafiz Saeed’s organisation Jamaat ud Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation are banned by the state under the law, but if one demands action against them, they are accused of furthering the ‘Indian narrative’.

Bilawal, the new ‘traitor’

It is therefore not surprising that Bilawal Bhutto’s call for action against extremists and banned outfits has been met with hostility and allegations of supporting India. In the wake of the Pulwama attack and India’s accusations, when the government placed a fresh ban on the Jud and FiF, the groups’ charity activities did not come to a halt. The said groups’ officials were quoted as saying in a report that they will only be required to change their name once again to avoid being targeted under the potential crackdown on banned outfits.

Further, sectarian groups like Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) are also free to operate and spew venom despite their leaders being on the Fourth Schedule of Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). The ‘banned’ status of these groups does not stop them from continuing their activities. Members of these sectarian terror groups also participated in the July 2018 elections under newly-formed platforms. The Election Commission and other relevant institutions took no notice of the electoral involvement of these banned groups even after their attention was drawn towards the issue by civil society activists.

The killing of former Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) MNA Ali Raza Abidi was termed sectarian in nature, and the slain politician’s friends suspected Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP)/ASWJ’s involvement in his murder. Even after a high profile murder, the authorities did not investigate ASWJ’s involvement in faith-based violence and leaders of the outfit continue to address rallies and engage with public. Ali Raza Abidi’s father has recently expressed dissatisfaction over the pace of inquiry, lamenting that the government officials who assured him that justice would be served have now forgotten the case.

Pakistan is under pressure by the international community to stop terror financing and dismantle the network of extremists. And we need to do it not to please the international community or escape sanctions, but because the same is vital to our own stability and security.

Banned terror outfits and their hateful ideologies put the security of our own citizens at risk.

Bigotry continues to endanger Pakistani lives

Moreover, going by the recent incidents of violent extremism, bigotry is on the rise in Pakistan. Last week a student at a Bahawalpur university killed his professor because he opposed the arranging of a non-segregated welcome party. When asked if he regretted his action, the murderer expressed no remorse, and said he was satisfied that the professor is dead.

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The case of Mashal Khan, a Mardan University student who was lynched to death by a violent mob comprising his fellow students is another example of how bigotry leads to violence and bloodshed.

The state’s response (or lack thereof) to such incidents has been a part of the problem. Following the brutal killing of Mashal Khan in 2017, instead of doing something about the rising cases of mob justice, the then Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar directed Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to be vigilant and act against ‘blasphemous content’ on social media. The FIA had then sent a public message asking people to report blasphemous content they may find on social media. The same kind of spinelessness was shown when Khadim Rizvi brought Islamabad to a standstill in 2017 for over 20 days, while protesting against the PML-N government for the removal of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (finality of prophethood) oath from the Election Law – an act that was later reversed. The new government of PTI is hardly any different.

From Atif Mian’s unfair removal from the Economic Advisory Council due to his Ahmadi faith to the handling of TLP protests against Aasia Bibi’s acquittal, the PTI government shied away from taking a stand against extremism and bigotry.

Forging a civil-military consensus 

Since militias have once been a part of Pakistan’s security policy, governments have to be on the same page as the military to be able to take a decision about such groups. The PML-N government and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were certainly not on good terms with the army, but the PTI does enjoy the military’s support, as has been suggested by the army chief himself on one occasion.

The PTI government should therefore use this consensus to reach a decision about the fate of such groups once and for all. Banned outfits are a threat to Pakistan’s security and the policy of patronising them for vested interest must be brought to an end for good.

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