NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 7

Surrendering to extremists

Every state is established to protect its existence and people by establishing peace, economic prosperity and the rule of law. Every state has supreme authority over its groups, factions, sections and parties of society. No state can allow a group to challenge its power and sovereignty through protests, violence and armed power.

Unfortunately, two incidents, removing the Tehreek-i-Labbaik (TLP)’s name from the list of proscribed organisations and talking to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), clearly show that the government has not dealt with extremist groups properly. On November 7, the interior ministry issued a notification to announce the revocation of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) proscribed status. The interior ministry’s notification said: “The Punjab cabinet has considered the request of the organisation (TLP) and in view of the assurance and commitment by the organisation, it is of the opinion that the outfit shall abide by the Constitution and law of the country, and therefore, keeping in view the larger national interest and long-term perspective to ensure that such incidents do not recur in future, the government of Punjab has proposed to the federal government to consider revoking the proscription of the TLP. Therefore, the federal government is pleased to remove the name of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan from the First Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act as a proscribed organisation.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan approved the submission of the ministry’s summary to his cabinet on November 6. So far, several leaders of the TLP have been granted post-arrest bail by an anti-terrorism court. In April, the PTI government had declared the TLP a proscribed outfit under the anti-terror law after countrywide violence by the group. Imran Khan’s PTI government has again taken a U-turn from its decision by removing the TLP’s name from the list of proscribed organisations.

The government has not made public the terms of the agreement with the TLP. However, it clearly shows that the government has again succumbed to the group by accepting its demands. The writ of the state has again been compromised.

In the past five years, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has brought the state to its knees many times. It has become very powerful by the alleged support of some religious and political leaders. In the 2017 sit-in case ruling, Justice Qazi Faiz Isa has thrown some light on the role of some institutions in encouraging the TLP mob to weaken the then federal government.

The group was allowed to take part in the 2018 elections. It won some seats in the Sindh assembly while becoming the fourth largest party in Punjab in terms of the share of votes. It has galvanised Barelvi extremism by making inroads into the urban and rural lower-middle classes, traders and other Islamic parties.

Analyst Zahid Hussain writes: “Apparently, the government has agreed not to pursue criminal cases against TLP activists allegedly involved in the killing of policemen and destroying state and public properties. It also appears that the government will not pursue the legal process in its decision to proscribe the group. The deal came through after the prime minister’s meeting with a group of clerics, most of whom are considered ideologically close to the TLP. The deal has legitimised a banned terrorist group. The crisis is far from over. Emboldened by their latest triumph, the radical clerics will soon be back with new demands. The country remains hostage to a terrorist band threatening to tear apart national security.”

On the other hand, the government’s talks with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are also moving ahead to seek an agreement and broader peace. The terms are known yet. However, President Arif Alvi and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi have already said that TTP militants could be pardoned. Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced that talks with the TTP are underway.

Many analysts believe that the government’s policy on the important issue is confused and problematic. According to analyst Fahd Husain, “The TTP has not waged a bloody war just against the government, but against Pakistani society. In this bloodletting, no place was spared — office, school, mosque, shrine, and bazaar; and no one was spared — officers, politicians, women, old men, children and toddlers. The wounds run deep. They are raw, yet. Time heals, but not so fast. Forgive those who bathed this society in blood? The momentous decision cannot be taken behind closed doors by shadowy figures armed with a rationale that has not been nourished by public opinion. The real issue here is not whether Pakistan should accord such forgiveness to the TTP — no ladies and gentlemen, not at all — the real issue is whether the government has the moral right to do so without hearing what the people of Pakistan have to say about it”.

According to Dr Huma Baqai, “The state is again more for accommodation than prosecution. The TTP wants to use the truce as a breathing space so the Afghan Taliban won’t take action against them. They are comparatively docile and complacent right now. Their ideological thrust is not pro-Pakistan. If they are allowed breathing space, a terrible situation could be created.” Baqai stressed that the talks set a “terrible” precedent. “There are over 250 religious outfits in Pakistan and the truce sent out the message: “Violence is the greatest bargaining chip. If you can shut down the town, you can be accommodated.”

She writes, “The country’s image was damaged by the agreement with the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and it would be further damaged by a deal with the TTP. We have been pitching for so long that we fought against terrorism. This is literally a reverse of that.”