Resurgence of SSP/LeJ shows Pakistani State’s new priorities – by Arif Jamal

The protests and riots on September 21 changed the sectarian scene in the country. September 21 was another dark day for Pakistan. Death and destruction ruled the streets of Pakistani cities as Islamist and jihadist parties protested the allegedly blasphemous film Innocence of Muslims.

The protests and riots seem to have been meticulously planned in advance. Nothing was left to chance. Unlike in the past, when the Friday protests started after the day’s main prayers in the afternoon, the protests started in the morning. The protesters knew their targets well. Those who were to rob ATMs were well equipped with the right tools. Those who were to set buildings on fire had enough petrol and lighting material. The batons the rioters carried seemed to have been prepared particularly for this occasion. The same type of wood seemed to have been used for them. The batons were of the same size.

The protests and riots on September 21 changed the sectarian scene in the country, which is, interestingly, apparent from that fact that the riotous protesters were carrying the flags of the parties they belonged to. If we go by the number of flags, the majority of the rioters belonged to the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and its armed wing, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). The Jama’at-e-Islami (JI) appears to be trailing behind the SSP/LeJ. The role of the JuD seems to be minimal, if any. The TV footage makes it abundantly clear that the both SSP/LeJ and JI wanted their presence recorded and felt. SSP chief Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi had been appearing on TV shows to incite the public and his workers prior to September 21 riots.

The Deobandi parties and JeI lost the state patronage in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States. Both the Deobandi parties and JI took aggressive positions against the Musharraf regime’s decision to support the US-led coalition. Some of the Deobandi groups crossed all limits as they carried out multiple attempts to assassinate General Pervez Musharraf. Resultantly, the Pakistani state withdrew most of its support from them. The JI and those Deobandi groups which played good Taliban including the SSP/LeJ remained suspicious in the eyes of the Musharraf regime. Consequently, the JuD became the favourite of the state. In the second half of the 2000s, the JuD was the leading Islamist politico-religious party.

The JuD won the state patronage by not vehemently opposing the military regime and the popular support by sheer hard work. In December 2001, the Markaz Dawat wal Irshad renamed itself as the JuD. They claimed that the JuD had become a politico-religious party on the lines of the JI while the Lashkar-e-Taiba had separated from them to work exclusively in Kashmir. The JuD has worked hard to become a popular politico-religious party in the last decade or so. It has run several sustained populist Islamist campaigns. It has used all populist Islamist issues to garner popular support. In 2003, it ran the anti-Iraq war campaign. In 2005, it took initiatives and gathered a number of Islamist parties and groups under its umbrella to run Hurmat-e-Quran and Hurmat-e-Rasul campaigns up to this day. In between, it used several other issues to garner popular support. In mid-2000s, it opposed the Musharraf regime’s decision to involve the Aga Khan University-Examination Board to hold high school examinations. It again took the lead to run an anti-US campaign when a CIA operative, Raymond Davis, killed two men who were apparently his detail. Throughout this period, the JuD played the lead role.

However, it seems to have lost the lead role with the formation of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC). In spite of being a numerically stronger party, the JuD is not in the driving seat of the DPC. Instead the SSP/LeJ seems to have replaced the JuD in the decision-making of DPC structure.

In recent months, the SSP/LeJ has become more active in politics. That SSP/LeJ has become the more favoured one of the Pakistani state was apparent the way LeJ founder Malik Ishaq was released from jail and let resume political activities. Malik Ishaq who has become the number two in the SSP is poised to play a big role not only in Pakistan but also in Afghanistan in the post-2014 period. In Pakistan, Malik Ishaq will help the SSP/LeJ win votes in the next elections. However, he will have a bigger role in Afghanistan where he would try to win back the disillusioned Afghan Taliban.

It is premature to speculate whether the JuD would take it lying down. The safest bet is it would not resort to violence at least to regain its lead role in the Islamist politics. However, the SSP/LeJ may not play role the Pakistani state wants it to play, neither in Pakistan not in Afghanistan. On the contrary, the SSP/LeJ will play its own game. The SSP/LeJ is likely to further muddy the sectarian scene in Pakistan. This is more than evident from the big increase in the sectarian violence in Pakistan since the release of Malik Ishaq.

The writer is a US-based journalist and author of ‘Shadow War — The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir’

Source: The News

Video: SSP-ASWJ militants’ role in anti-Islam film protests



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