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

4 responses to “Resurgence of SSP/LeJ shows Pakistani State’s new priorities – by Arif Jamal”

  1. Core of national discourse
    Immediately after Pakistan’s creation,
    Khatm-e-Nubuwat squeezed itself out of the
    epistomic confines of the ‘theological’ and entered the realm of the ‘political’
    By Tahir Kamran

    Namoos-e-Rasul (honour of the Prophet PBUH) has constituted the very core of our national discourse for the last many years. The proportion of impregnability that it has assumed in Pakistan warrants a dispassionate analysis from the prism of history.

    The concept got wider currency in the wake of the publication of Salman Rushdie’s controversial book Satanic Verses, in the late 1980s. Incensed mob converged on the American Embassy in Islamabad rendering state apparatus virtually helpless. The historical memory of sacrilege to the Prophet of Islam by the West goes as far back as the crusades but it does not concern us here.

    While focusing on the subject in the particular perspective of Pakistan, one may find the conceptual underpinnings of Namoos-e-Rasul resting in an organisation called Majlis-e-Tahaffuz-e-Khatm-e-Nubuwat (MTKN) that came into existence January 12-14, 1949, in Lahore. Ata Ullah Shah Bokhari, a renowned Ahrari leader and orator par excellence, was its Amir and Muhammad Ali Jallundhri, its secretary/Nazim-i-Alla. Qazi Ehsan Shujabadi, Lal Hussain Akhter, Muhammad Hayat and Taj Mehmud were the main leaders of MTKN.

    That organisation sprang up into existence by bisecting Majlis-e-Ahrar, a pro-Congress party known for its political activism in the 1930s, particularly against Ahmadis, which was thoroughly discredited because of its outspoken opposition to the Pakistan demand. Ahrar was averse to any geographical or ethnic solution to the communal problem that India was confronted with. Their slogan of Hakumat-e-Ilahiyya (rule by Allah and Prophet PBUH) proved nothing but a damp squib as Ahrar failed to secure even a single seat in 1945-46 elections.

    The newly founded Pakistan came to them as a shock, disillusioned them with regard to their ideology and finished them as a political party. Thus, the Ahrar were divided into political and proselytising groups with the latter focused entirely on Khatm-e-Nubuwat. Its principal aim was to exclude the Ahmadis from the pale of Islam because they allegedly violated one of the fundamentals of Islam (faith on the last Prophet) on which the theological edifice of the Islamic faith rests.

    Khatm-e-Nubuwat assumed remarkable salience as a theme of religious debate among Muslim sects during the late 19th century in North India. The controversies entailing the establishment of Ahmadiyya Jamaat in 1889 brought the issue of Khatm-e-Nubuwat to the centre stage of religious polemic or munazara as known in the classical parlance. Tenuous relations continued among Ahmadis and Sunnis in particular, though the tension remained circumscribed to the domain of the munazaras only.

    However, immediately after Pakistan’s creation, Khatm-e-Nubuwat squeezed itself out of the epistemic confines of the ‘theological’ and entered the realm of the ‘political’. That happened because Ahrar, as it is widely believed, wanted to secure a foothold in Pakistan’s political mainstream, in which it was successful.

    Under the over-arching banner of MTKN, Ahrar leadership despite its Deobandi orientation managed to unite almost all the sectarian denominations including Shias, in its bid to exert pressure on the government to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims. Sunni Barelvi, Abul Hasnat Qadri, was made its President.

    Forging unity among the divergent Muslim sects was no mean feat. Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan, the first foreign Minister of Pakistan, an Ahmadi by faith, was the central focus of MTKN diatribe. Besides, Ahmadis were branded as “Khud-Kashta Pauda” of the British (a plant implanted purposely by them) to undermine Muslims. The government of Khawaja Nazimuddin showed extraordinary resilience to withstand the pressure. It was despite the support Punjab Chief Minister Mian Mumtaz Daultana was lending to MTKN to destabilise the Nazimuddin government at the Centre. One is led to agree with Feroze Khan Noon who, in his autobiography, contends that Daultana wanted to get into power in the Centre.

    The state of affairs in Lahore and Karachi became so grim that eventually Martial Law was declared in Lahore to quell the insurgency. With the intervention of the Army, order was restored. Nevertheless, the Nazimuddin government was dismissed.

    The usual conclusion drawn from the 1953 movement based largely on the findings of the Munir Report is that it revealed a weakening of the power of the Ulema. This undermined opposition to the adoption of a constitution which was liberal if not completely secular. As Leonard Binder says, the ministers sympathetic to Khatm-e-Nubuwat, Abdur Rab Nishter and Fazlur Rehman, were removed and Zafarullah Khan was retained in the newly constituted cabinet. However, a careful perusal of the post 1953 events of Khatm-e-Nubuwat does not fully support the argument.

    The controversy around the contested status of Ahmadis remained alive until 1974. MTKN (Naqsh-i-Sani, second birth) bounced back with renewed vigour on September 13, 1954, in Multan, as a regular political party. Besides, a new breed of Ulema bequeathed the legacy of political Islam by the 1960s. Apart from Abu Ala Maududi and Mufti Mehmood, people like Abdus Sattar Niazi, Yusuf Banori, Ahmad Shah Noorani and Manzur Chinoti were well equipped to carry on the struggle. Not only did they see to it that Ahmadis were excluded from the fold of Islam, but subsequent to it the legitimacy of sects like Zikris, Shias and Ismailis was also suspected as they too did not fit the narrow confines of faith as these Ulema interpreted it.

    One can posit that the very act of enforcing the infamous blasphemy law in 1982 and, later, the inclusion of the clause of XX in 1986 by Ziaul Haq were conceptually underpinned by the exclusionary streak embedded in that very concept. Not only the religious minorities but the followers of the Shia sect have also been subjected to the exclusion, the proponents of whom are the exponents of Khatm-e-Nubuwat. Militant outfits like Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and its offshoot Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-i-Muhammad and Harkatul Mujahideen were the subsequent versions of MTKN.

    I have shown in my research on sectarianism how much influence Ahrar and Ata Ullah Shah Bokhari had over leaders like Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. Bokhari indeed deserves far more scholarly attention which he has, so far, not received.

    To conclude this narrative, all these militant groups have virtually held the state of Pakistan hostage; extricating it from their clutches does not seem likely unless liberal sections assert themselves with all valiance at their command.

    The author is a noted historian, currently the Iqbal Fellow at the University of Cambridge

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