Slowly and silently, a new stake-holder has emerged in Karachi: the Ahle Sunnal Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), the new name of the banned Deobandi terror outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) also known as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Their rise to prominence is best reflected in the 2013 polls: despite not grabbing the headlines, they secured significant numbers of votes in each of the constituencies in Karachi where they fielded candidates. Their rise indicates that sectarian militancy now has space in the Pakistani political mainstream one that transcends ethnicity.
The 2013 polls saw two distinct trends emerging in Karachi`s voting trends. The first one, the votes secured by the PTI in traditional MQM constituencies, has been discussed exhaustively. The second, little-discussed trend, is the number of votes secured by the ASWJ, the legal face of the banned sectarian organisation, Sipah Sahaba Pakistan. In most constituencies, the ASWJ hardly had anything to do with the results. But in PS-128, ASWJ candidate Maulana Aurangzeb Faroogi came in direct contest with MQM candidate Waqar Ali Shah al`ter the PPP, Awami National Paarty (ANP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) all boycotted a repolling process.
Contesting elections under the banner of Muttahida Decni Mahaz (MDN), Farooqi ran the eventual victors, MQM, very close but not enough to over whelm them. In the other constituencies where the ASWJ fielded their candidates, they secured more votes than their traditional rivals, JamiatUlema-iIslam Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F). The ASWJ thus emerged as the largest religio-political party of the Deobandi sect.
The original SSP had been disbanded by the Musharraf government in 2002 under the Anti-Terror Act of 1997. It re-emerged as Millat-i-Islamia Pakistan (MIP), but in 2007 befell the same fate as the original. The next year, it adopted the ASWJ name. It also enjoys city-wide permission in Karachi to collect funds and sacrificial animal hides. The ASWJ exploited all space and opportunities created for it, focusing on fortifying existing setups and reinforcing their grassroots network.
In Karachi, their phenomenal rise can be gauged on different levels as their influence has transcended ethnic fault lines, making inroads into the territories associated with the ANP, PPP and even the MQM.
Politics in Karachi through the years has been more about asserting control over territories, making presence felt with flags, banners, graf`liti and signboards around; as well as by showing formidable influenceby shutting down the city on a single call of protest or mouming over killings.
What contributes to ASWJ`s success in Karachi is its employing a more proactive strategic focus on youth in different localities. The young and overzealous Maulana Faroogi is the face of this new ASWJ, that offers a stiff challenge to the JUI-F.
Traditionally, the SSP`s influence has been in ethnic Punjabi and Siraiki constituencies, but not over the Pashto-speaking constituents of the JUI-F. Fluent in Pashto and Hindko, Maulana Farooqi has increased its influence in these communities, which was hardly ever achieved by the SSP in the past. Now ASWJ aka SSP has a significant presence in Deobandi Pashtun communities and areas of Karachi.
Even Baloch localities have not been spared this rising influence, as even various factions of the defunct People`s Amn Committee (PAC) too have been openly using sectarian slogans against each other.
Sectarian and militant groups have also been exploiting the political vacuum that the Lyari violence has created.
In its bid to go mainstream, the ASWJ also adopted a clever strategy of entering small but broad-based and multi-sect conglomerations, of which one was the Anjuman Tahaffuz-i-Haramain-o-Bahrain Tehrik Tahaffuz-i-Haramain O Bahrain http://ummatpublication.com/2011/05/ 07/news.php?p=news33.gif (Organisation for the Protection of holy lands of Makkah and Madina, and Bahrain). Such groups, though insignificant at the time, were formed after political uprisings in the Gulf. The ASWJ is also part of the conglomeration of religious and Jihadi outfits called the Defence of Pakistan Council (DPC) – which was concieved and enacted by the pro-Takfiri pro-Jihadi establishment.
The ASWJ has also proved that it is not scared of going toe-to-head with the established players in Karachi`s matrix of street politics. In the outskirts of Orangi Town, for example, the MQM attempted to restrict the ASWJ`s influence among people of Bengali and Burmese lineage by removing ASWJ flags and white washing their graffiti.
The ASWJ response came from its violent offshoot, the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ); one MQM member of the Sindh Assembly and dozens ol` other workers were gunned down in the l`irst few months of 2013.The extensions of ASWJ to the bordering district of Balochistan and escalation of their activities in Hub, Winder, Uthal towns of district Lasbella too is linked with the Karachi organisation. Some political commentators argue that this relationship is yet another manifestation of addressing political dissent in Baloch territories by radicalising youth and engaging them in Jihadi and sectarian activities.
The rise of the ASWJ as a mainstream political party has serious repercussions, which have been felt with the escalation of sectarian violence in Karachi over the last couple of years. It was originally thought that the ASWJ in the mainstream will help in distancing the LeJand the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), crafted during the time the LJ worked as an extension of the TTP in Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh, especially in Karachi.
The approach has partially worked in Punjab, where acts of terrorism declined. But violence directed at the Shia community, their clerics and professionals, as well as robberies, extortion and kidnappings for ransom continue unabated.Meanwhile, attacks against Shias have increased manifold in Karachi, Baluchistan, Kurram Agency, and have even reached Gilgit Baltistan. This dynamic adds another aspect to the baffling term of target killings in Karachi, which has more to do with numbers than making distinctions and citing underlying reasons.
Irrespective of its electoral performance, the ASWJ`s strategy of operating in Karachi has proved successful. Their growing influence will be more evident once local bodies elections are carried out.
When the date was announced previously, after pressure from the Supreme Court, there was news that many political parties have made contact with the local ASWJ leadership for electoral alliances or seat adjustment. Some even prefer them over the JUI-F and even the Jamaat-i-Islami. A new stake-holder is indeed in town.
Karachi: The Militant Capital
By Ali Arqam
Karachi has witnessed an unprecedented political and ethnic violence in the last three decades. But this erratic situation does not have just one single dimension. The city has been witnessing faith-based killings by violent banned outfits, target killings of opponents and financial crimes by various gangs, including various factions of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), its allies such as Al-Qaeda and sister organisations, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jundullah.
The city has been a traditional stronghold of the conservative religious party, the Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP), and political Islamists, Jamaat-e-Islami, before the rise of the ethno-political party MQM. However, these parties still wield influence among the middle classes. For instance, in the 2002 general elections, the MMA managed to wrest a few constituencies from the MQM. Similarly, PTI has shown significant progress in broadening its support base, winning a couple of constituencies and garnering an impressive number of votes.
Another alarming development is the increase in the number of votes obtained by the candidates of the banned sectarian militant outfit, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), rechristened as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ). It has raced ahead of the traditional religious party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), which enjoys support among the followers of the Sunni Deobandi sect.
The ASWJ re-emerged, when security agencies attempted to break up the deadly alliance between the TTP and the LeJ, that was behind some of the deadliest attacks on the offices of the security agencies and security installations. Subsequently, the leadership of the LeJ was facilitated and released from custody. The name of ASWJ has been exempted from the list of banned outfits and it has been allowed to join the forum of Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), a conglomeration of religio-political and jihadi outfits like Jamat-ud-Dawah (JuD), Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), JUI-Sami-ul-Haq, JUI-N, Ansarul Ummah (former HuM) and ex-military officers with jihadi links such as Hamid Gul.
The target of all the rhetoric and the propaganda material of the sectarian outfit, ASWJ, is the Shia sect. ASWJ would like to get the Shias declared non-Muslims through a constitutional amendment – it would be almost a repeat of the 2nd Amendment against the Ahmadis.
The JuD chief and jihadi leader Hafiz Saeed makes frequent trips to Karachi and addresses Friday congregations, as well as meetings in different parts of the city, at marriage lawns and banquet halls.
Interestingly, in a city where walls, electric poles and roundabouts are divided among political rivals to assert their sphere of influence, there are no restraints on JuD or ASWJ putting up flags, posters, banners and doing graffiti. Flags of both these outfits can be found across the city, from Lyari to Banaras Chowk to Orangi town.
The madrassas of a particular sect from Karachi have been at the forefront in making, amalgamating or breaking jihadi organisations such as the Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM), Harkatul Jihadul Islami (HuJI), Harkatul Ansar (HuA) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM).
Also, the seminaries of Karachi are said to be the driving force behind Islamic banking in Pakistan, and interestingly the Mudariba scandal (the ponzi scheme) too has been traced to a religious seminary, whose administration and teachers are said to be heavily involved in this scam worth billions.
Various factions of the TTP see Karachi as their financial jugular vein, as well as a place for settling scores against opponents from political parties and rivals from their native areas from other groups. Law enforcement agencies such as the police and the Rangers, too, are on their hit list. In the past few months, 160 policemen have been killed in District West, alone. Dozens of political workers from ANP Sindh and from Swat, Buner, Dir, Bajaur, Mohmand and other FATA areas, who were on visits to Karachi for various purposes, have been killed by TTP militants, who fled their native areas during the military offensives.
It is significant that the ASWJ and JuD have extended their jihadi militancy to the neighbouring province of Balochistan, as well as interior Sindh. In Balochistan, the JuD works in the guise of humanitarian work, while the ASWJ has extended its network to the Lasbella district and other parts of Balochistan and is collaborating with various Baloch lashkars, backed by intelligence agencies, to target Baloch nationalist elements.
Karachi has come to serve as a militant capital in this jihadi project. A broad network of religious seminaries, with students enrolled from almost all ethnicities of Pakistan, serves as a recruiting ground for the jihadi affiliates. It provides them foot soldiers, upper and lower tier leadership and an endorsement for what they have been doing through the decades.
Feeding the crocodiles
The recent wave of Shia genocide has sparked a debate criticizing the whole security apparatus for its inability to thwart such attacks or conduct a massive action against these killing gangs. The criticism was responded with apologetic responses penning the details of army deployments and how being a Shia in Pakistan, “you are on your own”.
The focus of the debate is also on the Faustian pact between the PML-N and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) in the form of an electoral alliance for the previous elections as well as seat adjustment for the upcoming ones. Some of the op-ed writers have written on this unholy alliance, while declaring Punjab as the centre of gravity in the wave of anti-Shia violence across the country.
The criticism has some merits, as no one should be allowed to hobnob with hardcore militant organizations by allying with their political offshoots. But it does not stop at the PML-N as the PPP leaders too have approved seeking the ASWJ’s help in electoral process, using the argument that these people too are Pakistanis. And now a delegation of the MQM led by Waseem Aftab has visited the ASWJ Karachi office to discuss matters with their Karachi leadership.
Since the meeting was announced on social media accounts of the ASWJ, it has faced disapproval from the liberal circles as well as members of the disheartened Shia community, who vented their frustration with oft-repeated hash-tags and bylines highlighting the disheartenment over the developments around.
The retrogressive politics in the city has divided suburbs of the city on ethnic lines. The residents of the city have been traumatized to a level that members of different ethnic groups fear each other and look at the other with suspicion and mistrust. Areas are ghettoized on the same lines. Everyday rickshaw drivers, motorcyclists and laborers are killed for violating these boundaries highlighted by the flags and graffiti of political parties. But, it does not worry political players as they derive powers from this divide and the insecurity this causes. One cannot avoid their utter disregard for the misery of the people, who have faced the financial repercussions of the ethnic militancy.
Enter religious militancy, posing a serious challenge to the ethnocentric politics. Killing on the basis of faith and religious ideas has transcended the lines drawn here. The ANP has lost its district president, ex-UC Nazim, workers and student leaders in attacks by the Taliban, mostly ethnic Pashtuns from Swat and FATA. On the other hands, the MQM lost its parliamentarians, supporters and activists of the Shia faith by the hands of the LeJ.
Political gimmickry had barred them from recognizing it, and now the realization has come too late. Now, at a point, when the MQM commemorated a three-day mourning on the death of Bashir Bilour, the ANP delegation joined them in the funeral of the MQM MPA Manzar Imam martyred by the same people who claimed responsibility for Bilour’s assassination.
But, it has come too late, with the ANP overlooking the Taliban threat that has pushed them to the walls. Most Pashtun areas are virtually ruled by the Taliban, where their informal authority goes unchallenged. They conduct jirgas, collect extortion money from Pashtun traders and kill dissenters mercilessly.
On the other hand, the MQM is unable to stop the LeJ from killing people in their stronghold, diluting the impression they have painstakingly created in the last three decades. When Raza Haider was killed, they didn’t realize that plying on the dead body of their Shia parliamentarian will provide a cover up to the killers and strengthen their ability to strike back.
But for the residents of Karachi, the realization will bring little to their advantage, both the ANP and MQM have chosen the way of appeasement. Winston Churchill said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.”