The Punjab government, surprising many, has withdrawn the prosecution charges of riots and vandalism at The Mall, Lahore, against different clerics. On February 14, 2006, two persons were killed during looting and plundering by a mob protesting against blasphemous cartoons.
The act of the government, which seems a move to please Sunni clerics following attacks on the shrine of Syed Ali Hajveri (Data Darbar), is likely to reduce Sunni organisation’s pressure on Shahbaz Sharif-led Punjab government. Shahbaz Sharif is reportedly seeking ‘cooperation’ of the Islamic and fundamentalist groups to hold peace in the Punjab — a province which is, according to independent analysts, a hub and nursery of extremism. Punjab’s southern part has been the launching pad for extremist movements like Majlis-e-Ahrar and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, now an offshoot of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
February 14, also Valentine’s Day, of 2006 turned violent after thousands
of extremists marched on Pakistani roads against the blasphemous caricatures by European newspapers, especially a Danish newspaper. However, the kind of plundering and vandalism seen in Lahore when religious groups went on rampage was never witnessed before.
Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz, a front of religious groups formed to defend the dignity of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), arranged a series of protests on February 4, 2006. Activists belonging to (now) banned Jamatud Dawa (better known as Lashkar-e-Taiba), Islami Jamiat Tulaba, Shabab-e-Milli and many political workers also participated in the violent demonstrations. The demonstrators ransacked buildings and set shops on fire with petrol bombs and inflammable chemicals.
Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) cases along with other criminal charges under Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) were lodged against scores of people including many Sunni clerics. These clerks are protesting against attacks on shrines these days.
After a meeting of Sunni clerics with Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the Punjab government, last week, issued a notification withdrawing cases against certain clerics.
Those against whom prosecution charges have been withdrawn include Allama Ahmad Ali Kasuri, the sitting chairman of Quran Board and a noted Sunni cleric, Mufti Muhammad Khan Qadri, central leader of Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz which was formed by late Dr Sarfaraz Naeemi, Syed Mustafa Ashraf Rizvi, a cleric who runs a seminary in Lahore, Syed Shahid Hussain Gardezi, central secretary information of Aalmi Tanzeem-e-Ahl-e-Sunnah, Qari Mushtaq Qadri, Maulana Abid Jalali, Maulana Manzoor Ahmad Jamati and Hafeezullah Soharwardi.
The Punjab government notification reads: “The facts of the cases against the aforementioned accused persons in the First Information Reports (FIRs) have been considered and it has been found that the prosecution of these cases is no more required.”
“The demand for withdrawal of these cases was raised by Sunni clerics in different meetings with the CM,” provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah tells TNS. “We have found these clerics innocent and there is no proof against them,” he says, adding, “Nobody found guilty of violence will be set free.”
“These cases were not true and we did not commit any violence,” says Shahid Gardezi, one of the accused who is free now. Accusing secret agencies of triggering violence, he claimed, “All the religious activists marched peacefully and we have no link to the violence.”
Gardezi tells TNS that after attack on the Data shrine, the CM met with Sunni clerics and sought their cooperation. “Sunni clerics had demanded the CM withdraw the February 14 cases against certain clerics. Last week, the CM again held a meeting with clerics and accepted their demand by withdrawing the charges.”
“The Punjab government has been cushioning extremism and does not recognise extremism as a real problem,” views Hassan Askari Rizvi, prominent political analyst, while talking to TNS. “The PML-N has intellectual and ideological leaning towards extreme political right.”
According to the 2010-11 budget documents, the Punjab CM, using his discretionary powers, sanctioned two separate grants to the banned JuD. The Punjab government granted Rs79.77 million funds for six organisations of Markaz-e-Taiba that is under the control of the Punjab government. The documents also mentioned special ‘grant in aid’ of Rs3 million in favour of Al-Dawa School System in different districts of Punjab.
“The PML-N wants to keep its sway over Punjab intact by coddling extremist elements. The little political support they had in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was lost in Hazara on the issue of renaming the province,” says Rizvi. “That is why they woo clerics as their ally to grab votes. These militant and extremist groups are strong in Punjab. It is a very dangerous trend, but unfortunately civil society also supports such elements in the Punjab.”
Source: The News