Either our Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is out of touch with reality or prefers to see things as he wants them to be seen rather than as they are. Why else would he defend violent sectarian groups?
Last week, he came under criticism in the Senate – in the wake of justice Qazi Faiz Issa Commission report on the terrorist attack in Quetta that left over 100 people dead, a majority of them lawyers – for having held a meeting at the Punjab House inside the Red Zone with Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, head of three proscribed sectarian organisations – Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Millat-e-Islamia. The Senators who had objected to the meeting were not prepared for his response. Flaggergasted by what they had to hear they staged a walkout. The minister has since repeatedly been justifying the meeting and making incredible arguments too in support of all sectarian organisations.
Chaudhry Nisar had argued – and continues to argue – that sectarian organisations could not be equated with terrorist groups. Distinction needs to be made, he said, between organisations that are ‘purely’ terrorist and those involved in sectarian clashes -no matter if the outcome of sectarian terrorist groups’ actions is the same: decimation of innocent lives. Hence, he went on, there should be separate laws for organisations that are proscribed on the basis of terrorist links and those banned on sectarian basis.
Which begs the question, if the sectarian outfits are not committing any crimes why ban them in the first place? As Interior Minister responsible for internal security, he surely knows what we all know: That over the years, sectarian outfits have massacred almost as many men, women and children as the TTP terrorists, killing people in mosques, imam bargahs, at funeral processions, and in all sorts of other public places; that they have murdered countless Shia Hazaras in Quetta; that all provincial governments go on high alert during Muharram observances because the sectarian terrorists have been attacking them; that sectarian outfits, such as Laskhar-i-Jhangvi (LeJ), its offshoot the Sipha-i-Sahaba, and the latter in its subsequent reincarnation as ASWJ, have had a longstanding nexus with the Taliban terrorists; that they have been killing people long before the advent of the TTP which came into existence post-2001; and that the notorious terrorist Riaz Basra who had the blood on his hands of many Pakistanis belonged to the much dreaded sectarian outfit, LeJ.
The minister also claimed that Shia-Sunni conflict is an unfortunate reality that goes back 1300 years, thereby suggesting sectarian violence should be acceptable as something inevitable. Chaudhary Sahib is not a good student of history; otherwise he would have known that despite the old sectarian schism and some initial conflicts, for many, many centuries Sunnis and Shias lived side by side in peace and amity until the recent deliberate incitement of sectarian sentiments by certain Mid-Eastern powers. More to the point, he is old enough to remember that until not too long ago, sectarian killings were unheard of in Pakistan. Sectarian bloodletting in this country started when it became a battleground of the Gulf States proxy war. It is no secret that certain Gulf countries have been liberally financing sectarian clerics and seminaries for the advancement of their respective agendas. These seminaries purposely poison young minds with sectarian hatreds to produce violent religious extremists.
As reflected by the National Action Plan (NAP) there is a political consensus on that sectarian organisations and seminaries are involved in terrorism and need to be tackled effectively. Among other things, the 20-point NAP calls for dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists, and registration and regulation of seminaries as well as choking funding of terrorists and terrorist organisations. It’s been two years since the NAP was decided, yet none of these points has been implemented. Which is hardly surprising considering the thinking of the minister responsible for the task, as reflected by his consistence stance on all and every issue related to violent extremists.
It will not be an accusation to say that he has a soft spot for these elements. Doubters need to consider a few facts: Chaudhry Nisar’s was one of the loudest voices that opposed military action against the TTP terrorists. He condemned the elimination of TTP commander Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike as a ‘murder of peace’. He is a staunch supporter of the Lal Masjid cleric, Abdul Aziz, who challenged the writ of the state that necessitated the 2007 military operation, pays allegiance to the Taliban, and supports the IS. Yet the minister continues to protect Aziz, citing lack of evidence. Furthermore, he is rejective of madressah reforms (in spite of the NAP demand), professing that they are doing a great social service, while the truth is that unlike the traditional seminaries, which concerned themselves only with the provision of mainstream religious education and shelter mostly to destitute families’ children, these new places, run by Takfiri outfits are expressly designed for the propagation of sectarian hatreds and violence.
The way he has been acting makes one wonder as to what does our Interior Minister want to achieve by seeking lienent treatment for sectarian mercenaries at the expense of peace and stability of this country? Needless to say, the Zarb-i-Azb military operation in the tribal areas will not bring lasting peace unless the government undertakes good faith efforts to eliminate violent religious extremists’ support bases. Going by Chaudhry Nisar’s attitude, that is unlikely to happen in the immediate future.