Action against extremism: the clock is ticking


by Ailia Zehra
The writer is Assistant Editor, Daily Times
Inter Service Intelligence (ISI)’s report submitted to Supreme Court on Monday that termed extremist cleric of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Khadim Hussain Rizvi a ‘corrupt person with unsatisfactory reputation’ did not add anything new to what the court and public already knew. A clip of the cleric losing his temper at an anchor on being asked about his source of income and whether he pays taxes went viral shortly after the Faizabad sit-in in November last year. Anyone who has been following Rizvi’s public engagements would know that not only has he been inciting violence against minority communities but also has a habit of using derogatory language against opponents. Therefore, the ISI report is hardly a revelation. It is important to note that the intelligence agency failed to find out Rizvi’s source of income, and the apex court expressed dissatisfaction over it, terming the report unsatisfactory. Justice Qazi Faez Isa was right in saying that we should fear for Pakistan because the cleric destroyed properties worth millions yet no one knows what his background is.

An anti-terrorism court in Islamabad issued arrest warrants for Rizvi and three others in case pertaining to unrest during the Faizabad sit-in, but the law enforcement agencies are yet to respond to the development.

Religious minorities, politicians and even judges were on the receiving end of Khadim Rizvi’s abusive outburst during the Faizabad sit-in. His followers brutally tortured policemen and damaged public property, but were treated respectfully by the authorities who even distributed cash among them after the sit-in. The authorities had adopted an apologetic tone and major demands of the protesting parties were accepted. Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s whom the protesters held responsible for initial deletion of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath from the Election Bill was made to resign and he also issued a video reaffirming his and his family’s belief in the finality of prophet hood. Despite involvement in several unlawful activities including hate speech and torture, the participants of the protest were given a clean chit.

The government’s failure to act against the Faizabad protesters for the violations they committed clearly indicated that it was afraid of the extremist group. How come a newly formed group headed by a little known cleric managed to gain limelight all of a sudden? Its involvement in the political process would not have been possible without at least some backing from the establishment. And this can be explained in terms of military spokesman General Asif Ghafoor’s statement, a few days before the Faizabad sit-in, announcing that a plan to bring extremist groups into the mainstream society was underway.

As revealed by the ISI, Khadim Rizvi was supported by some political and religious elements. Sheikh Rasheed of the Awami Muslim League (AML), Pakistan Muslim League — Z (PML-Z) leader Ijazul Haq, religious scholars from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s Ulema wing and head of a media group have been named by the ISI as facilitators of the Faizabad protest who provided support to the protesters. Those who facilitated the group knowing very well the disastrous path that it planned on adopting under the garb of ‘protecting finality of the prophet hood’ are just as dangerous. In a country where the menace of violence in the name of religion has claimed countless lives over the years, any politician who supports or facilitates this kind of mind-set needs to be called out and boycotted. In this regard, PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s continuous attacks on the government for amending the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath from the Election Bill, despite the issue being settled, is concerning to say the least. A national leader and aspiring prime minister must know that toeing the line of religious extremists and supporting their bigotry just to score a few brownie points against the government may have dangerous consequences. But the developments that took place in the country in the past few months, from overnight alliances for Senate elections to political engineering, suggest that principles hold little importance in politics today and undemocratic forces call the shots.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ordered the authorities to resubmit the report detailing the source of funding of Khadim Rizvi and adjourned the hearing for two weeks. Whether or not the country’s intelligence agency will be able to find out his source of income is yet to be seen. In any case, the government’s reluctance to act against the group will likely continue because elements using the name of religion to fuel public sentiments have always been given a free hand by the authorities. This needs to change if Pakistan is to eradicate extremism.

Moreover, since Pakistan has once again been grey-listed under Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the threat of black-listing in June looms large over the country. In an ‘off-the-record’ briefing to a group of select journalists, that later became public, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa reportedly held former finance minister Ishaq Dar responsible for the FATF debacle. There is no denying that Dar’s flawed policies resulted in a number of economic losses for the country including debt crises and falling imports, but the COAS would do well to realise that the grey-listing had more to do with the unrestricted terror financing. And it is something that can only be stopped if the security policy of protecting terror groups on basis of their ‘good’ or ‘bad’ status is ended. Among the reasons why the international community doubts Pakistan’s sincerity in war against terror are the impunity enjoyed by groups such as Milli Muslim League (MML), a political party formed by extremist figure Hafiz Saeed who is believed to be backed by the establishment, and the active engagement of Khadim Rizvi’s group in the electoral process. It appears that the ‘Bajwa Doctrine’, a term coined by the military itself to describe the COAS’s vision for Pakistan, tends to ignore the need for acting against banned terror groups. Needless to say, it is about time any and all efforts to ‘mainstream’ banned groups and using them for so-called jihad in other countries are halted. Such experiments have not only failed but badly backfired in the past and we have no reasons to believe they will work this time around. Pakistan needs to act against extremist organisation regardless of their inclinations and sectarian identities not to satisfy the international community, but because the same is in our own interest.courtesy Daily Times.