Ulema Council’s Qualified Condemnation of Militancy Highlights Double Standards

Pakistan Ulema Council

Pakistan Ulema Council issued a condemnation of IS militants on Friday as reports of infiltration by the jihadi terrorist group across the country. This condemnation of IS militants by the respected clerics is welcomed, but the qualified statement highlights dangerous double standards toward extremism and militancy that must be addressed.

The PUC statement only addresses one group (IS) and includes the following qualification:

“The PUC appeals to people and youth in Islamic countries to not cooperate with any violent group whose teachings or actions are against the teachings of Islam and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).”

The problem with this statement is that it gives a free pass to violent groups who do believe their teachings and actions are in line with Islam and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). In other words...all of them.

Freeing Pakistan of the scourge of extremist violence requires a comprehensive, unqualified condemnation of militancy. No exceptions. Until then, qualified condemnations will not only be fruitless, they will continue to provide an ideological justification for terrorists of all stripes.

Shia Hunting Season

Shia mourn in Pakistan

When Raymond Davis infamously gunned down two Pakistani men in broad daylight, hypernationalists and their conspiracy walas pointed to the incident as proof that American agents were waiting in the shadows to kill with impunity. Novelist Mohsin Hamid described the situation as ‘hunting season‘ for American gunmen.

The affair has brought home what should have been obvious to us Pakistanis for a long time. Pakistan has become a game preserve, a place where deadly creatures are nurtured, and where hunters pay for the chance to kill them.

Here in the game preserve, money flows to the hunt. Pakistani extremists are funded, armed and trained. And American hunters, whether far away at the remote controls of Predator drones or on the ground in the form of men with the shooting skills of a Raymond Davis, operate under paid immunity. Want a blanket tribal area hellfire missile licence? That might set you back the price of 18 new F-16s. An all-Lahore Glock licence to kill? Perhaps double-oh-seven billion in development aid.

Over two years later, however, the specter of Pakistan as hunting ground for American agents has not come to materialise. There are many things to worry about in Pakistan, but being shot by an American is pretty low on the list.

That’s not to say that Mohsin Hamid’s terrifying scene was wholly fictional, though. If we have learned anything from events of the past week, it’s that Pakistan has become a hunting ground – only it’s not Americans that are doing the killing.

We have a lot of excuses for killings. When Pakistanis are killed in Balochistan, it is the fault of foreign agents trying to break up Pakistan. When Pakistanis are killed in FATA, American drones are to blame. When Karachi erupts in violence, it because of uncontrolled criminal elements. But who do we blame when innocent Pakistanis are being systematically targeted and gunned down in the streets of Punjab?

Some in media have tried to summon the foreign bogey as responsible for the violence that erupted in Rawalpindi a few days ago, but nobody is believing it. Nobody believes it because the hunters are not in the shadows this time. The hunters who killed University of Gujrat Professor Syed Shabbir Hussain Shah this morning may remain ‘unidentified’ by name, but we know who they are because they proudly told us: “The note was signed, ‘Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’.”

Conspiracy walas will shriek about invisible CIA agents. The Supreme Court will take notice of target killings in Karachi. Imran Khan will threaten to shut down NATO supply lines to protest drones. But to borrow another phrase from Mohsin Hamid: Widespread reports that our country has produced a more-than-previously-estimated 100 nuclear warheads will do nothing to decrease the number of jihadis with Shia hunting permits.

Suicidal Silence

silenceProtests are breaking out over killing of Muslims in Myanmar, not just on social media but on the streets. International human rights groups like Amnesty International are taking notice, and even the United Nations has sent an envoy to investigate. Meanwhile, another group of Muslims is being systematically slaughtered, and their plight is being met with silence. I am speaking, obviously, of Pakistani Muslims killed by none other than other Pakistani Muslims.

The most obvious case are the ongoing attacks against Shia. Newspapers in Pakistan carry headlines that read ‘Burmese Muslim losing hope’ and also ‘Hope fades away for Hazaras of Pakistan’. But you will find no protest marches here. Instead, you will find Lashkar-e-Jhangvi chief Malik Ishaq sitting on a stage next to Hamid Gul and Hafiz Saeed spreading messages of militancy and intolerance.

It is not just militants, though, who are preaching these messages. Our electronic media too is a teaching these lessons to the point that none other than al Arabiya is asking ‘is Pakistan’s TV evangelism sprouting a dangerous creed of intolerance’? Even the national heroes among us are erased from history if their personal religious beliefs do not conform to someone else’s standard.

Yesterday, media reported a pair of journalists were beaten for having soft drinks in their car during daytime. According to the reports, the policemen accused them of committing sin by not fasting during Ramazan.

Since when did we have religious police to enforce Sharia? Actually, we don’t. What we have are self-appointed religious police. They aren’t ghazis, they are narcissistic psychopaths whose murderous rampages are given sanction by a public that is too scared, too apathetic, or too complicit. How else does a guard turn his gun on his own ward only to find himself showered with petals by the very people who claim to be guardians of rule of law?

Supreme Court Advocate Feisal Naqvi warns that we are slipping down a dangerous slope, where atrocities are committed, and nobody cares.

We are headed for a stage where even the people who attend fashion shows and rock concerts are becoming increasingly comfortable with the fact that it is okay to kill people either for being non-Muslim or for being the wrong sort of Muslim.

Think I’m wrong? If so, think again. In the last six months alone, we have seen multiple incidents in which people have been killed, in the most brutal of ways, for belonging to the wrong religion or the wrong sect. The one act of terror I have been unable to wipe out from my memory is that of the Balochi Shia pilgrims on their way to Iran. Their bus was stopped at a deserted spot and each of the Shias was then shot at close range and their bodies heaved out of the bus like so many sacks of grain. Of course, we know all of this because one of the murdering bastards used his cellphone to record the massacre and then uploaded the video on YouTube.

And yet, where is the outrage?

Outrage is there, but it is pointed outward. We are outraged by human rights violations in other countries, but not our own. We support ‘self defense’ for occupied people, but we are unwilling to defend ourselves against the occupation of extremism. We brave the hot sun to march against ‘hidden hands’, but we don’t lift a finger against the grip of intolerance that is strangling our culture and society. In our silence, we are dying by our own hand.

Punjab’s Growing Militant Problem

Anti-Ahmadi rally in RawalpindiBanned militant groups were out in force again in Punjab. In Rawalpindi, a rally supposedly against ‘unconstitutional activities’ of Ahmadis turned into a demonstration of sectarian hate as speakers demanded that Ahmadis stop all religious activities including worshipping in their own properties. Participants sent a loud message of hate and violence as they waved the flags of militant groups and carried posters of convicted murderer Mumtaz Qadri. Despite being attended by banned militant groups, the rally took place in the shadow of GHQ.

In Multan, another militant rally took place. At this one, militant groups and religious parties stood shoulder to shoulder and even threatened to attack parliament if their demands are not met. This event was attended not only by militant leaders like Hafiz Saeed, founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, but Punjab politicians like Sheikh Rasheed and even a former DG ISI, Hamid Gul.

In December, an illegal rally took place in Lahore under the banner ‘Difa-e-Pakistan’. The rally included banned militants groups that preach hatred for minorities and carry out sectarian attacks against innocent Pakistanis. This rally was no surprise. It had been planned for weeks, publicised openly with banners and posters alongside flags of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Where was the Punjab government then?

One of the key organisers of the Difa-e-Pakistan movement is the founder of banned sectarian militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Malik Ishaq. The extremist militant leader has been in and out of jail, but even when he is behind bars, he has received a monthly stipend from the government of Punjab.

Punjab has a growing militant problem. This is not a problem of hyper-conservative or even extremist views growing in the province. It’s not even a problem of extremist groups starting to organise in Punjab. Those problems have come and already past. Extremists have been organised, and now the organisations are boldly taking to the streets in the shadow of GHQ. They are recruiting and demonstrating in the backyard of Punjab Provincial Assembly. Each time banned groups hold another rally, another recruiting drive without receiving the slightest remark from Punjab authorities, the message they receive is that they are not only tolerated, but silently approved.

A common refrain at political rallies is the need to defend the nation’s sovereignty. These remarks are typically followed by demands to close NATO supply lines, to reject MFN status for India, or to take some other action against a perceived external threat. Even the internal threats are typically discussed as ethnic groups like MQM or BLA. Meanwhile, extremist militants are holding rallies and spreading messages of sectarian hate and threatening to ‘besiege’ the state if their demands are not met. These same groups are carrying out armed attacks against innocent Pakistani citizens. Their leaders are receiving support from politicians and former intelligence officers. This is the real threat to the nation’s sovereignty. When will we take notice of it?