The Peshawar incident could become a turning point of in history only if the state institutions demonstrate their commitment to change of narrative. Anything less than that would mean moving in circles and waiting for next tragedy.
The government has launched a national plan of action with tall promises and fresh commitment to confront the menace of terrorism. More than a month past, the plan has yielded a number of meetings, press conferences and mounting figures of rounded up suspects. Meanwhile hangings of previously convicted criminals have become more conspicuous, encounters are on rise and it is being repeatedly asserted that the government will not discriminate between good and bad Taliban. This would be a major shift from the past if happens at all.
Newspaper reports, however, suggest that the purpose-built good Taliban still enjoy safe havens and not much has changed on ground. Some of the recently reported incidents indicate that a complete dissociation with good Taliban is not imminent even if there is a serious will to do so.
Sources in the Interior Ministry revealed that the ministry is contemplating a ban on Haqqani group and Jamaat-ud-Dawa. It is customary in Pakistan that the banned outfits continue their operations unhindered by just adjusting to a new innocuous title.
With a simple change of brand name, leaders of such outfits stand absolved of all the previous baggage. As long as they fall under the category of good warriors of security establishment, they can operate with a new license. Some two dozen such outfits enjoy complete impunity in Pakistan. Most of them have their sanctuaries in Punjab where state apparatus lacks both courage and will to lay hands on them.
The same attitude explains inaction against the Lal Mosque cleric Mullah Aziz, who openly challenged the jealously guarded writ of the state. A court has issued his non-bail-able warrants that he brazenly defied by saying he will neither seek bail nor will he surrender before the law.
The state apparatus that recklessly dumps mutilated bodies in Balochistan and Sindh to secure writ of the law, becomes spineless when it comes to religious fanatics. Few days back an incident was reported in newspapers that narrate the degree of patronisation enjoyed by sectarian elements.
The PML-N represents a wider sentiment among Punjabi middle class that enjoys a negotiated peace on its land at the expense of bloodshed in other parts of the country.
On the evening of December 31, a leader of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (AWSJ), was arrested by a joint patrolling team of police and Rangers. The cleric who is a proclaimed offender was heavily guarded. His guard also included a properly armed policeman. According to the newspaper reports, the cleric received a VIP treatment at the SHO’s office. He was ceremoniously released even before the magistrate of the area came to grant him bail.
As the news story appeared in leading newspapers, the Interior Ministry found a scapegoat and a competent police officer, SSP Asmatullah Junejo was suspended. Internal inquiry conducted by senior police officers revealed that the release orders of the cleric came from IGP office yet an honest police officer had to bear the brunt of departmental action, enough to demoralise a handful of honest and committed officers in the police department. The police inquiry is silent on who deployed a police guard to protect a proclaimed offender and who actually ordered his release. This single incident reported in Islamabad is enough testimony that the narrative of good Taliban is immune to the current wave of action.
In September 2014, Maulana Asmatullah Muawiya, head of TTP Punjab announced that his faction would no more carry out attacks in Pakistan. Muawiya however unequivocally mentioned that his group will continue his activities in Afghanistan. He subsequently surrendered before military officials in Miramshah. The episode was trumpeted as a great success of the military operation without narrating details of the heinous incidents of terrorism that he perpetrated. A long list of barbaric acts is attached to his credit. No action has been heard against him and his aides so far. The newspaper reports confirm that he has been allowed to return to his hometown in Punjab. No one knows about the deal that erased all the blood stains from his hands.
According to findings of the interior minister, Islamabad is infested with religious seminaries, mostly illegal. The small town with a population of about two million, houses some 401 seminaries compared to only 422 government schools and colleges. It includes illegally functioning 160 madarassas and 72 Quranic institutions that are not registered with any government authority. Number of seminaries’ students in the capital territory is 31,769 that include 14,377 non local students. Most of these seminaries are located in Sihala, Bhara Kahu, Shahzad Town and Margalla Town, located barely few miles away from the Interior Ministry offices.
Intelligence agencies have been reporting about their involvement in dubious activities.
Other cities and towns of Pakistan have much higher number of seminaries and students. Many of them operate illegally and possess tentacles to mobilise financial resources without much effort.
While the Interior ministry finds it hard to track their financing, channels funneling money into these seminaries are not too veiled. Both charitable and illegal sources of their income are well known to those who matter. However, most of these resources are not availed through formal methods and hence cannot be regulated through banking channels and tax authorities.
Religious parties that openly coddle madrassas are not too naïve about the streams of resources flowing into these seminaries and the education being imparted in these institutions. Madarassa reform is an anachronistic prescription that has never worked in the past. Just tweaking their curriculum and introducing modern subjects would not suffice anymore. Their number has swollen beyond the regulatory capacity of government bodies. Proselytization of unimaginable proportions is being practiced in these seminaries and the narrative has been intelligently aligned with the ideology of state.
According to one study conducted by noted scholar Dr Tariq Rehman, when seminary students were asked priorities for Pakistan, 99.2 per cent answered conquering Kashmir whereas 97.7 per cent students wanted enforcement of Sharia law. This is only tip of the iceberg. Extremist jihadi literature is widely taught in many seminaries and young minds are openly indoctrinated. Much before conceiving any action, the government is apologetic on madarassas issue.
The interior minister dutifully keeps issuing clean bill of health to more than 90 per cent seminaries without revealing details about the remaining ones. Media reports indicate that the government is completely confounded and bereft of clarity on how to tackle madarassas issue.
The PML-N’s soft corner and ideological tilt towards extremist groups is no more a secret. The PML-N in fact represents a wider sentiment among Punjabi middle class that enjoys a negotiated peace on its land at the expense of bloodshed in other parts of the country. However as these terrorist groups are spinning out of their centre of gravity, this aperture of peace is shrinking at a faster pace. It is practically not possible to regulate militancy beyond a certain limit.
Once for all, civilian and security establishment has to take an unambiguous position against terrorism in all its forms. A three-sixty degree policy shift is inevitably required to retrieve peace from the knife-edge.