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Action against extremists

Action against extremists

Author: M. Ismail Khan
Publication: Dawn, Karachi
Date: November 29, 2001

Sufi Mohammad is back from 'Jihad-i-Afghanistan' and has walked straight into Dera Ismail Khan jail. The Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) chief, who had gone to Afghanistan with thousands of his armed supporters trailing behind, keen to fight a holy war against the United States, lost no time in heading home when tables against Taliban began to turn. His 'Jihad' was not against the United States only, it was against all those who supported the international coalition, including the Northern Alliance.

What made Sufi Mohammad change his mind and instead hurry back is too obvious. His zeal had evaporated into thin air once he saw he could no longer return triumphantly after fulfilling his ambitious dream of defeating the Americans on the Afghan soil.

He returned and went quietly into incarceration, without making any fuss about it. He is a shrewd man and knows that while in prison he would not have to answer questions of hundreds of anxious families whose near and dear ones he took along to Afghanistan and who are still unaccounted for.

This is the man who is responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent Pakistanis who followed him unwittingly with the blind faith that their Amir would lead them to the heaven. Instead they found themselves trapped in parts of Afghanistan among the bloodthirsty warlords. He should be thankful to the government for having saved him from the ire of his people.

He has more than one reason to be grateful to the government. First, he was allowed to assemble thousands of armed people, making a mockery of the government's deweaponization campaign and then, he was allowed to cross over into Afghanistan in total disregard of the international conventions on cross-border movement. In fact Governor Iftikhar is on record as saying that those who wished to wage a 'Jihad' were free to do so and that his government would facilitate those who wished to go to Afghanistan for the purpose.

The government obviously had its own interest in seeing the back of these people rather than allowing them create a law and order situation at home. Can the government acquit itself from the responsibility of the deaths of hundreds of Pakistanis? It is the responsibility of the state to protect the lives of its people. But knowing that the Taliban could not withstand the US fire power, also knowing that the days of the Taliban were numbered the government allowed its citizens to cross over and face what looked like imminent death. The government cannot extricate itself of the charge. Perhaps its guilt is more than the crime committed by Sufi Mohammad.

But the government will not put itself in the dock. There is no such precedence. What it could it certainly has done - putting the TMSM Amir behind the bars for three years. This is not a conviction or a sentence, the secretary home & tribal affairs told us. Sufi can come out any time he wants upon furnishing an affidavit of good conduct in future. Does this mean that Sufi would be allowed to walk free and return home after giving an undertaking that he would not lead the innocent Dirojis again into death traps? Detention of up to three years for the death of hundreds of people! Has life become so cheap in Pakistan?

Sufi Muhammad has always been a pain in the neck. Government after government have tried and failed to tackle the TNSM Amir whose campaign for the enforcement of Islamic laws in Malakand division first resulted in a bloody rebellion and later on took the shape of an annual ritual of disrupting the tourist season. Political governments had their weaknesses and compulsions and at times out of political expediency looked on helplessly succumbing to the dictates of the TNSM Amir. What is it with the present government? Does this government also find itself as weak as its predecessors?

Don't blame the common man if he does not take the government's orders seriously. What happened to the deweaponization campaign. The paramilitary forces looked on helplessly when the TNSM activists drove past the check points with guns mounted on their vehicles. Why should the common citizens believe this government when it says that it would take concrete steps against religious extremists and then buckles under such pressures, and withdraws plans to bring about procedural amendments in the controversial blasphemy law.

Mere tough talk will not convince the people. Action speaks louder than words. How will the government liberate the 'great majority of moderate Pakistanis' held hostage by a minority of religious extremists when it cannot liberate itself from the extremists. People remain unconvinced. They say that the establishment has not divorced its religious allies altogether. This is just a separation. There will be a re-union once the situation cools down in Afghanistan. It will continue to need the support of the religious extremist groups for as long as Kashmir issue remains unresolved.

Notwithstanding their present hibernation, the Jihadi outfits would continue to operate, along the holy war in Kashmir. They would continue to push political goals in Pakistan as well.

The government says the extremists stand exposed and that it plans to unveil an action plan against them in the next three weeks or so. The taste of the pudding is in eating it. Time will tell how sincere is the administration in taking on religious extremism.

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