PML-N’s Sipah-e-Sahaba group and its cost to Punjab

The pattern of by-elections in Jhang and PML-N’s alliance with Sipah-e-Sahaba is a worrisome development. However, this is not the first time that PML-N has established alliances with terrorist organisations. Only a few days ago (in February 2010), PML-N forged an alliance with a terrorist Mullah Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid (the spiritual father of all suicide bombers in Pakistan) in order to grab a few dozen more votes in Rawalpindi. The alliance with Mullah Abdul Aziz was facilitated through the notorious pro-Taliban journalist Hamid Mir (of Geo TV):

Some civil society observers monitoring the polling went aghast when they saw strong Lal Masjid brigades in the afternoon of that fateful day taking positions inside most of the polling booths, driving out the PML-N candidate Malik Shakil Awan’s opponents’ polling agents and later stuffed the ballot boxes to their will, ensuring PML-N’s veiled agenda of patronizing terrorism within Punjab for their political hegemony at all costs.

Lal Masjid Maulana Abdul Aziz taking credit for Shakil Awan’s victory later said that Sheikh Rashid never came to him for apologizing being part of the Musharraf government that had launched military operation.

It may be recalled that about a week ago Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah having ties with the leader of Jamaat Ahl-e-Sunna (formerly Sipah-e-Sahaba) was spotted touring Jhang with the chief of this terrorist organization in an attempt to gain votes, which later also led to a heated debate in the national assembly, where the members angrily shouted shame, shame for blatant patronization of terrorism by an overtly democratic party.

While the members of the civil society kept wondering what lies in store for the nation and the country, especially when a mainstream party like PML-N fully unveiling itself has come out openly harboring and patronizing terrorist organizations under a game plan aiming at try capturing power by all means.

Apparently, what we are currently witnessing may be termed as the (re-)emergence of the PML-N’s Sipah-e-Sahaba group.

It may be noted that PML-N’s Sipah-e-Sahaba group has in the past attacked Christians, Shias and Barelvis in various parts of Punjab, particularly in areas surrounding Faisalabad, Jhang and Sargodha. For example:

Daily Telegraph reports: “Pakistan faces Christian protest after eight people ‘burned alive’”

– “Missionary schools across Pakistan closed on Monday in a three day protest against the deaths of up to seven Christians who were burned alive in clashes with Muslims”
– “Two children – a brother and sister aged six and 13 – their parents and 75-year-old grandfather were among those killed in violence that broke out in Gojra in Punjab province on Saturday”
– “One report said that six Christians died in flames, while two were killed by gunshots”
– “Muslims torched Christians’ homes following unsubstantiated allegations some of them had desecrated the Koran. Some 40 homes were burned down.”

— “They protested against attacks on their houses and burning alive of seven members of their community by a mob”
— “Violence had broken out in a Gojra village on Thursday after an alleged incident of desecration of the Holy Quran during a wedding ceremony”
— “The arrested men include Qari Abdul Khaliq Kashmiri, a leader of the banned Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan”

In the following article, Shafiq Awan offers an excellent analysis of the cost of Jhang elections to Pakistani nation:

The cost of Jhang by-poll

By Shafiq Awan

Ronald Reagan once said politics is supposed to be “the second-oldest profession … I have come to realise that it bears a very close resemblance to the first”.

Just as the first profession welcomes everybody – whether a gentleman or a cad, a lawmaker or a law breaker, a rich man or a poor beggar, a labourer or an industrialist, an intellectual or an illiterate – politics is also following a similar rule. In fact, it is a step ahead. The Punjab government’s recent handshake with the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) for the Jhang by-polls may have been aimed at mustering a few thousands votes, but it has also achieved something else: the administration’s move has pumped life into the banned outfit in Punjab, especially Jhang. Members of the organisation are moving freely and being welcomed and accommodated by provincial law-enforcement agencies, police stations and other government offices. All were previously no-go areas for the outfit.

When Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah led a rally, along with the banned outfit, in Jhang, what message did he want to send to the administration? Obviously, the PML-N government in the province has a new ally and the support would not be limited to by-polls. The administration was clearly directed to accommodate the SSP.

Why does the law minister always find himself in the middle of such controversies? While the Sharifs have bigwigs in their fold, Sanaullah is an easy prey. The perception is he often crosses the limits to please the bosses who order him. His treatment of the Interior Ministry’s warning over a possible terrorist attack in Lahore to the Punjab Home Department is an example.

Commenting on the information, Sanaullah said he could not trust the Interior Ministry. Had he taken the information seriously, the loss in the Model Town blast could have been limited, if not averted altogether. There have been reports that suspected terrorists Talib alias Qiamat and Siddiq alias Jappo – who were released a few weeks ago – were also kept at the Model Town office of the Special Intelligence Agency that was targeted.

A PML-N grey head disclosed that the SSP leaders met the party leadership in Raiwind, as they wanted some guarantees for long-lasting relations. Defending the meeting, he said it was a political strategy to have a new political ally: the argument was while an organisation could be banned, the thousands of followers and voters could not. He said the party leadership was only convincing the followers of the organisation to vote for its candidate. But he conceded the process was being routed through the banned outfit’s leadership. He said even during the local government elections, the SSP would be a PML-N ally – “whenever and wherever required”.

In the next general elections, the PML-N would adjust seats with the organisation in Jhang. He dispelled the impression that the PML-N government decided not to confront the SSP after an assassination attempt on Nawaz Sharif in 1997. Then prime minister, narrowly escaped an attempt on his life when a powerful bomb exploded on a bridge he was due to use.

The SSP was accused of planting the bomb, but no proper action was taken against the outfit. The PML-N official admitted that the Sharifs were careful, as during their last regime, Gujranwala SSP Ashraf Marth was assassinated by SSP assassin Riaz Basra. Marth was married to then Punjab Assembly speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi’s sister and was the brother-in-law of then interior minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. Then SSP chief Azam Tariq was charged and arrested for involvement in Marth’s murder.

Ironically, the case was not pursued, and Azam Tariq was released. A senior government official, defending ties with the SSP, said orders had been given to “deal with the outfit with a soft hand … they are to be introduced in mainstream politics”. But is it the job of government officials?

The organisation is even being consulted for demarcation of constituencies and other arrangements for the next local government elections. While the officer refused comment, he did not deny it. The Punjab government’s blatant support to the SSP could further widen the sectarian gulf in the province. The other sects feel insecure and deprived.

They say they have been shocked by the Punjab government’s support for the group. The recent violence at an Eid Miladun Nabi procession in Faisalabad by a subsidiary of the SSP and Punjab government’s view of the case speaks a lot about the relationship between the outfit and the PML-N. The party may win the Jhang by-poll, but at what cost?\03\10\story_10-3-2010_pg7_15

Finally, it seems that the federal government has taken note of PML-N’s links with sectarian and jihadi terrorists. However, not much will happen we know as the PML-N and Sipah-e-Sahaba are two important organs (two sides of the same coin) of the most powerful right wing establishment in Pakistan.

Govt won’t let banned outfits work: Malik

Friday, March 12, 2010
By By our correspondent

LAHORE: Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik has admitted that banned militant organizations are still working in Pakistan, warning the outfits to wind up their network, otherwise, strict action would be taken against them.

He expressed these views while talking to the media at the Horse and Tattoo Show organized at the Lahore Race Club on Thursday. The Interior Minister stated that he had convened the meeting of all Home Secretaries in next week to make a policy to deal with the banned militants. He expressed his anguish over the hoisting of flags of Sipah Sahaba and other militant activity in Jhang during the campaigns of by-polls, adding the activity would also not be allowed in future.

When will you wake up, Punjab?



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