Inamullah Marwat and Aminah Suhail Qureshi
Pakistan is a hard country to understand. This is not what we are saying rather this is the perception of British author, Orwell Prize-winning journalist, and policy analyst: Peter Paul Anatol Lieven. In his book entitled “Pakistan: A Hard Country,” originally published in 2011, he says, “Trying to understand Pakistan’s internal structures and dynamics is complicated; for if there is one phrase which defines many aspects of Pakistan and is the central theme of this book, it is ‘Janus-faced’: in other words, many of the same features of Pakistan’s state and government which are responsible for holding Islamist extremism in check are at one and the same time responsible for holding back Pakistan’s social, economic and political development.”
The thesis put forward by the author can be corroborated by unfolding of recently-held PP-78 by-election in Jhang that will be made clear in the following passages of the op-ed, in which Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi, a Fourth Scheduler sectarian bigot from a defunct outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), proscribed on 29th January 2002 via S.R.O 71(1)/2002, got elected to become a legislator of the largest province in Pakistan, the Punjab, through the platform of reincarnation of SSP, Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), also banned via S.R.O. 257(1)/2012 on 15th February 2012, as an independent candidate. Mohsin Raza Malik, in his op-ed for the Nation entitled “House in disorder” says, “Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, the slain father of newly-elected Masroor Nawaz, laid the foundation of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) in mid-1980’s. It was the first sectarian-cum-terrorist outfit in Pakistan which was essentially based on the ‘Takfirism’- an ultra-conservative violent sectarian ideology whose adherents readily declare others Muslims as Kafir (infidel) strictly in accordance with their self-devised theological touchstone. So the hate-mongering activists of SSP openly started calling the Shia Muslims as Kafir. Later, this anti-Shia sectarian movement instantly took to a violent expression of dissent, giving rise to an unending series of sectarian violence and terrorism in Pakistan. So far, thousands of Shia Muslims have lost their lives in various acts of terrorism in the country.”
The result of the by-election in Jhang has brought into spotlight once again the elephant in the room, government’s disposition towards National Action Plan, that had been framed without mincing words in the aftermath of the APS attack in which it had been pledged through plethora of measures that Pakistan would leave no stone unturned in wiping out militancy inclusively. Contesting elections on the part of figures like Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi, who has a murky past, and the ease with which such figures find a way to the power corridor by tapping the loopholes present in the overall governance system in place talks volumes of how much government is really walking the talk that it talked to walk in the aftermath of APS attack.
Survival of militant groups like Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ), which is an incarnation of SSP, would not have been possible had they been on their own. Tracing the history of their survival through various group identities after they were being cracked down post-9/11 shows that mainstream political parties were hands in glove with these militant outfits either to win the election through mass support or to defeat their rivals in collusion with them. Muhammad Jibran Nasir, a civil rights activist, in his op-ed for ‘The Nation’ entitled “Sleeping with sectarianism: How militants are becoming a political force in Pakistan” writes, “In an interview given to Gharida Farooqi on Samaa TV, the then General Secretary of ASWJ, Khadim Hussain Dhilon, revealed that Shahbaz Sharif and Javed Hashmi sought their support in 2008 on PML-N’s ticket. Shahbaz Sharif, in fact, formed an official alliance making the ASWJ Bhakar President, Abdul Hameed Khalid, to withdraw in his favour helping Sharif win the by-election in Bhakar unopposed on his way to becoming Punjab’s Chief Minister.”
From the case story of ASWJ and its election victory in Jhang, the author’s thesis is verified by the fact that those who are at the helm to contain militancy, as they have pledged to through the implementation of NAP, are the very ones who are the biggest obstacles in not letting us consolidate NAP.
Overall, if objectively studied, the discourse with respect to countering militancy is quite vague in Pakistan. While on one hand, where failure to counter militancy is attributed to military for nurturing “Good and Bad” Taliban for protecting their strategic goals across the border, on the other civilian leadership cannot be absolved of its share of festering militancy when it goes hand in glove with militant outfits, as has been the case with ASWJ, for either vested electoral victories or to defeat rivals through their mass support. Moreover, the party left, citizens, that is at the receiving end of shenanigans of those in power and severely hit by militancy, have also joined the party, it seems. This is reflective of the support that ASWJ garnered among masses in Jhang despite its record of the ruthless ethnic cleansing of Shias. Here it can be inferred that common citizens in Jhang are very much complacent with the militant approach of ASWJ vis-à-vis Shias and with the development of militant outfits stepping into the political spectrum.
With this vague approach towards countering militancy, this can be quite correctly inferred, as has been suggested by the author through his book title, that Pakistan is a hard country to make sense of.