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Extremism – Case of Official Patronage

Earlier this month on June 1, an honourable judge of Pakistan Supreme Court remarked that the government was behaving “like the Sicilian Mafia, which threatens judges”. The conscientious judge’s remarks came after a Treasury Senator Nihal Hashmi threatened those investigating PM Nawaz Sharif and family’s corruption cases as pointed out in the Panama Papers.

This is the latest manifestation of Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) culture of intimidating institutions on one hand and patronising terrorism, on the other. Such patronage comes with a high cost – succumbing to extremists’ demands.

On Saturday, May 6, Punjab Police shut down a weekend party in Lahore after a Sunni Tehreek cleric threatened the police of dire consequences. Succumbing to the pressure, the Lahore police abruptly stopped the party at night and forced some 3000 guests to leave the venue immediately. The waterpark entertainment party had been duly approved by the district administration.

Such state of affairs is the result of the government’s sustained policy of patronising extremist outfits for its political survival. When obscurantist elements become powerful enough to dictate governmental agencies, fragile law and order framework is the natural corollary.

The law and order situation in Punjab, the country’s biggest province, has drastically worsened after the appointment as Law Minister of Rana Sanaullah, well known for his opportunism. An erstwhile zealot of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Rana Sanaullah was shrewd enough to quickly abandon it for PMLN when political expediency so demanded. Rana Sanaullah’s support, tacit as well as vocal, for extremist elements is now an open secret.

Sana openly supported Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) which was formed after the government had to ban the anti-Shia Sipahe Sehaba Pakistan (SSP) under international pressure. Snaps of Rana Sana rallying for Ludhianvi are viral on media.Similarly, the ruling PMLN encouraged the rise of Punjabi Taliban, particularly in South Punjab which has been a traditional stronghold of the rival Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The Punjabi Taliban are responsible for numerous gruesome attacks on minorities including Christians, Shias and Ahmadis.

Likewise, after Osama bin Ladin’s death, files confiscated from his compound revealed that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif wanted a peace deal with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) through Al-Qaeda. According to a recovered letter dated July 2010, Bin Laden was informed that the Punjab government was “ready to restore normal relations as long as the Pakistani Taliban do not conduct operations in Punjab.”

In fact, PMLN-Osama Nexus runs much earlier and deeper than that. According to now confirmed intelligence reports, Nawaz Sharif took Rs 1.5 billion from Osama bin Ladin for Afghan jihad and also no-confidence motion against Benazir’s PPP government in 1989. It is also no secret that PMLN government recently stopped the execution of two Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militants after threats from Asmatullah Muawiya, chief of Punjabi Taliban.

The ruling mafia, understandably, does not tolerate any moderate interpretation of Islam. The gory incident of laying siege to Dr Tahir ul Qadri’s secretariat in June 2014, is still fresh in the minds of the victims and families as well as general public. Dr Qadri is an eminent Pakistani-Canadian Sufi research scholar respected worldwide for his true and enlightened interpretation of Islam.Fourteen innocent people including women were killed and more than 90 sustained injuries in this brutal siege operation under orders from the Law ministry headed by Rana Sanaullah. Under public pressure, Sana was made to resign but reinstated after some months when the so-called “official investigation” found him not guilty. This shows how indispensable he is for the governmental apparatus.

Sometimes, voice against PMLN government has been raised from within as well. On July 1, 2010, bomb blasts killed 42 and injured more than 175 devotees at the shrine of the Sufi Saint Hazrat Ali Hajveri, popularly known as Daata Gunj Bukhash, in Lahore. Once again, officialdom showed non-serious attitude in apprehending the culprits; so much so that in November 2010, a sitting MNA of treasury benches, Sahibzada Fazal Karim resigned in protest. Fazal accused his own PMLN government’s Law Minister Rana Sana of having secret contacts with banned terrorist groups, instead of backing the religious school of thought that supported Quaid-i-Azam in the creation of Pakistan.

Hardly a month prior to the Daata Darbar tragedy, terrorists had attacked video centres at Hall Road, dubbing video business as “un-Islamic”. For too long now, Lahore has been a prime target of terrorists. Due to ubiquitous security barriers, barbed wires, pickets and, above all, government’s compromising policy vis-a-vis extremism, Lahore is practically a city under siege.

Just yesterday, June 4, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the April lynching of Abdul Wali Khan University student Mashal Khan, has pointed to official complicity while questioning the role of law enforcement agencies. The JIT report says, “No pieces of evidence regarding blasphemy were found in the investigation. A group incited the mob against the student on the pretext of blasphemy.” The report clearly absolves the lynched student Mashal of all blasphemy charges and vindicates his innocence.

Those at the helm of affairs would have to give up the policy of expediency, and administrative convenience if peace is to return to the province and the country.