Closet Taliban?

It is a matter of extreme concern that a provincial law minister has been seen pandering to a banned organisation’s senior leader. Rana Sanaullah, who happens to be Punjab’s Law Minister, either forgot his own designation during his recent visit to Jhang or was suffering from amnesia when he took Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) leader Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi on a ride in his car. He also visited the banned organisation’s madrassa. Is it not ironic that the law minister gave full protocol to a sectarian outfit’s leader, an organisation that has officially been banned by the government? Thus it was all but inevitable that there was an uproar over Rana Sanaullah giving official patronage to Ludhianvi in the National Assembly.

Mr Sanaullah was on a by-election campaign for a provincial assembly seat in Jhang, but it cannot be said with certainty if he paid a visit to the seminary for electoral purposes or deep-rooted extremist linkages. Even if it was for purely electoral purposes, should the law minister have taken along a sectarian leader with him on an election campaign? According to a report, ‘Pakistan: The Militant Jihadi Challenge’ by the International Crisis Group published in 2009, “The recent upsurge of jihadi violence in Punjab…demonstrates the threat extremist Sunni-Deobandi groups pose to the Pakistani citizen and state…Punjab-based radical Deobandi groups like the SSP and its offshoot Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) provide weapons, recruits, finances and other resources to Pakistani Taliban groups…The SSP and LJ are also al Qaeda’s principal allies in the region.” Being a provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah should have all this information. He should take effective measures to curb extremism and sectarianism in Punjab. Instead he opted for hobnobbing with the leaders of such militant outfits. Some lawmakers from Punjab had raised this issue in the National Assembly last year as well, protesting that the activities of banned outfits in Jhang were going unchecked. Just last month, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed addressed a seminar in Lahore. The Punjab government needs to be reminded that the JuD is just a new name of the banned terror outfit, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT). In January 2002, General Musharraf banned some jihadi outfits and launched a crackdown, but it was a complete failure as most of these groups renamed themselves before the ink had even dried on the proscription papers. JuD is a classic example. To let its leader address a seminar in Lahore is a grave violation of the rule of law. The judiciary should also take note of this as the Indian government has accused Hafiz Saeed of masterminding the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008.

The Punjab government has long been in denial over the presence of terror outfits in Punjab, particularly South Punjab. The audacity of the PML-N to call itself a ‘progressive’ party – at best, it is a centre-right party – when it is pursuing such policies should serve as a wake up call for the people of Pakistan. If we want to rid our country of extremist ideology, our lawmakers should set an example instead of giving official patronage to terror outfits. An appeal to the Punjab government: stop living in denial and take effective measures to make our country safe from extremist elements.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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