Punjab’s Funding JuD Is Funding Militancy

Over one year ago I wrote about the growing problem of militancy in Punjab. Based on details of the budget tabled in the Punjab Assembly on Monday, that problem is likely to only grow worse.

According to a report in The Times of India, Shehbaz Sharif’s budget includes millions for Jamaat-ud-Dawa.

Besides a grant-in-aid of over Rs 61 million for the JuD centre known as ‘Markaz-e-Taiba’, the provincial government has allocated Rs 350 million for setting up a ‘Knowledge Park’ at the centre and other development initiatives.

Details of the allocations were presented in budget documents tabled in the Punjab Assembly on Monday by the PML-N government led by chief minister Shahbaz Sharif.

Militant sympathisers will rush to parrot the lie that JuD is a simple ‘charity’ organisation, and note that the funds have been given for JuD’s schools, dispensaries and hospitals in Punjab. But even setting aside for a moment the laughable lie that Hafiz Saeed is another Edhi, let us ask a more important question about the issue of governance. Namely, why the Government of Punjab is unable to provide schools, dispensaries and hospitals itself but must give the tax payer’s funds to militant groups to it for them?

It is also not valid to say that these funds are only for ‘welfare services’ because of the economic property known as ‘fungibility‘. Fungibility means that something is interchangeable. By giving JuD funds to pay for their welfare services, the Government of Punjab frees up the other funds that the organisation raises to be used for less charitable purposes such as militant training camps and weapons.

If the Government of Punjab would stop funding JuD’s welfare services, they would have less funds to pay for militancy. Because JuD has to provide welfare services in order to justify its existence, forcing them to pay for their own welfare services would have the added benefit of maintaining those programmes while eliminating the group’s militant operations, which would be better for everyone.

Already the Government of Punjab has a bad history of funding militants. As was reported in 2011, Punjab had been giving payments to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terror kingpin Malik Ishaq. This sympathetic attitude towards militants by the Government of Punjab has served to embolden the terrorists in our midst. Reports in the international media expose Taliban ‘openly raising funds’ in Punjab. And Jamaat-ud-Dawa is no different.

Hafiz Saeed’s statement on Monday that attacks inside Pakistan do not qualify as jihad actually concluded with a call for greater militancy: “Our strength is in unity and not in infighting among us. However, Muslims will have to continue jihad to maintain their freedom.” Obviously this is no surprise to anyone who is paying attention since the JuD Amir has openly raised funds for militancy under our very noses for years. This year we voted for change. Let’s begin by ending our funding for militants.



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?

Roti ki koi shehriat nahi hoti

Red Cross office where gunmen kidnapped aid workers

Two items in the news this week should be dominating the discussion of current events. First is that 100 people in Lahore have now died from contaminated drugs. Adding insult to injury is that fact that, according to Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif, the victims tended to be the poor who received the drugs for free. The second news item that should be driving the public discussion is the rising number of kidnappings of foreign aid workers.

It infuriates me when I hear people like Imran Khan talk about refusing all foreign aid. The wealthy celebrity Imran Khan has never wanted for anything in life and will never have to humbly accept aid to feed himself and his children. If foreign aid is refused, his comfortable life will not be affected. But that doesn’t mean that nobody’s lives will.

Last year, Government of Punjab chose to turn down an American offer of $127 million for health care. It was a purely political move by the Pubjab government who hoped to woo voters by acting tough on America after the Abbottabad operation. Shahbaz Sharif said the decision was taken to “get rid of the foreign shackles”. But what was the real outcome? Hospitals could not afford critical supplies and schools could not be built. It was the poor who suffered.

There are two common excuses for being against foreign aid. The first is that foreign aid workers are secretly intelligence agents trying to destabilise Pakistan. To believe this is to believe that a 70-year-old man with heart disease is CIA’s top secret agent. If this is the case, we should be rejoicing. What do we have to worry about?

The second excuse is that foreign aid workers are just trying to win ‘hearts and minds’ and that they are not sincere in their charity. Why else would they print USAID on things if it wasn’t just a public relations campaign to spread sympathy for the West? But can’t the same be asked of groups like Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation who never fails to cover everything in sight with their name and logo? Isn’t FIF just a PR wing of Hafiz Saeed’s ‘other’ groups? Get some food, hear a lecture on the glorious Kashmiri jihad.

I’m a firm believer that aid is not the solution to the country’s problems, and that increased trade and private investment are what is really needed if we are going to be able to work our way out of the economic hole that we find ourselves in today. But I am not so blind and uncaring to believe that some aid is not absolutely necessary for the time being. And letting the poor starve or die from lack of medication will not improve my ‘self esteem’.

Militants are treating the poor as their hostages. They don’t have to hold a gun to the poors’ heads. Their weapons are the food and medicine that the poor need to live. The poor don’t ask about a food’s nationality. They don’t ask medicine where it prays. They don’t care if the person helping them is Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Pakistani, American, or Italian. And we shouldn’t either.

When will our patience run out?

As I sat watching last week’s events unfold before my eyes via satellite from Mumbai, I found myself in that dreaded but all-too-familiar place – praying that it not be Pakistani who has committed this awful act. We feel the dread coming on whenever some tragedy takes place (please don’t let it be a Pakistani) not because of any conspiracy against Pakistan. We feel the dread because we get up and read the newspaper and see Malik Ishaq laughing at us from the page, once again set free to slaughter innocent people.

Malik Ishaq laughing

Sadly, I was not at all surprised by the court’s action as courts in Punjab have a strong record of freeing terrorists. And even when they are behind bars, they are getting support from high places. No, I am not referring to any foreign hand or conspiracy by national agencies, either. I’m talking about terrorists being given taxpayer money by Punjab government.

Malik Ishaq enjoyed Punjab government’s financial assistance ever since the Sharif’s came to power in 2008, officials on condition of anonymity told The Express Tribune.

The accused terror kingpin belonging to banned Sunni outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), nominated in 44 cases in which 70 people were killed, allegedly received a monthly stipend, during imprisonment, from the Punjab government.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah confirmed the disbursement but clarified that it was given to Ishaq’s family, not him, as per orders of the court. However, upon further investigation, it was revealed that nor was there any such disbursements during former president Musharraf’s tenure, nor was there any court order pertaining to the matter.

Sri Lankans may be disgusted by this latest move of the courts, but it is our own people who will suffer the worst.

As a matter of fact, most of the major terrorist attacks carried out in Pakistan since 9/11 appear to have a common grandmother – the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi or the Army of Jhangvi – an anti-Shia Sunni-Deobandi sectarian turned anti-America jehadi organisation which is currently the group of choice for hard-core Pakistani militants who are adamant to pursue their ambitious jehadi agenda. Launched in 1996 as a Sunni sectarian group, the Lashkar today has deep links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban and is considered to be the most violent terrorist organisation operating in Pakistan with the help of its lethal suicide squad. As with most Sunni sectarian and militant groups, almost the entire LeJ leadership is made up of people who have fought in Afghanistan and most of its cadre strength has been drawn from the numerous Sunni madrassas in Pakistan.

Besides receiving sanctuary from the Taliban in Afghanistan for their terrorist activities in Pakistan, the LeJ operatives used to fight alongside the Taliban militants. Being part of the broader Deoband movement, the LeJ secured considerable assistance from other Deobandi outfits.

The LeJ also has an effectual working relationship with other Deobandi religio-political and terrorist organisations at a personal level, if not at the organisational level. Also, Pakistani intelligence findings show that al-Qaeda has been involved with training of the LeJ members, and that the Lashkar militants also fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance troops in Afghanistan.

Asad Munir noted recently that the Taliban do not recognise Pakistan’s sovereign borders.

The Taliban never recognised the Durand Line, and in fact laid claims to parts of Mohmand Agency, Binshahi in Dir and Angoor Ada in South Waziristan. Pakistan, for internal security reasons, should not insist on a Taliban government in power in Afghanistan, because they export Talibanisation to Pakistan. Efforts should be made for a broad-based, friendly government in Afghanistan on the withdrawal of US forces.

Pakistan’s army is under unprecedented pressure from both inside and outside the country. The Pakistani urban middle class and media who are largely anti- US are furious at the US carrying out the operation in Abbottabad which killed Osama bin Laden, and at our armed forces’ failure to react appropriately. Internationally, the situation is not in favour of Pakistan. Most of the world perceives Pakistan as a safe haven for terrorists. In case we do not act to eliminate these sanctuaries, action by foreign forces will remain a threat.

For all the hue and cry about ‘sovereignity’, it is not CIA that is executing our security forces and releasing videos to brag about it. And the notorious LeJ hitman, paid by government Punjab and freed by the courts, tells Geo that he will continue his work of terror.

An editorial in The Australian last week says that the world’s patience is wearing very thin with regards to terrorists groups in Pakistan. The question is, when will our own?

Heading For Divorce?

Our elected representatives and our people must realise that it is not the drones or national sovereignty or American aid that is the main issue. It is that termite of the extremist mindset that kills Muslims in mosques that has permeated our society and converted it into the rotten mess that it is in today. It will take a concerted effort at de-weaponising house by house and legislators, civil society and the media to galvanise and work tirelessly for decades on a thought revolution to ensure the extermination of extremism and the preservation of Pakistan.

Dr Mahjabeen IslamCaught sleeping on the job, the Pakistan government has turned its machinery to bite the hand that feeds its face. Nations evolve, and one would have thought that rousing nationalistic songs and hot-button phrases like “invasion of sovereignty” would have been dropped in favour of unvarnished facts. Time was that dictators spewed nonsense and one yearned for democracy and a wonderful array of elected legislators who would arm themselves with data and speak with accuracy and vote with conscience. But our kismet is crossed with parliamentarians who come with their own personal agendas.

The two things that galvanise Pakistanis of all hues are cricket and the kursi (chair). Strange bedfellows and stranger sums of money exchange hands for both. It is in times of crisis that a person and a nation’s mettle are tested. A la Goebbels after the in-camera session of parliament, the Information Minister stated that the ISI chief had “surrendered” himself to parliament. We have now taken to messing with the nation’s psyche. The parliamentarians got together and drew up a 12-point agenda, the primary thrust of which was to stop the drones or else the NATO supply lines would be cut and to initiate an independent inquiry commission with regard to the bin Laden fiasco.

Around the same time, US Senator John Kerry visited Pakistan; and interestingly he roared in like a lion and left quite the lamb. For it seems that soon after the bin Laden fiasco, American and Pakistani voices questioned their union in the fight against terrorism. The slur of infidelity was thrown around and both sides felt violated: $ 3.2 billion in aid, screeched US Congressmen and media, what is going on in Pakistan? In the depth of the night, in all of 40 minutes, with helicopters and Navy SEALs, Osama and all multimedia files are gone, wondered the whiplashed Pakistanis.

The Pakistani media went into overdrive. Only a minuscule few honed in on the actual invasion of sovereignty that has occurred over the last quarter of a century in Pakistan and one that we have accepted with gratitude and smiles for this invasion came laced with money and religion. We welcomed Uzbeks, Chechens, Arabs, Afghans and more. It is alternately sad and stupid to realise that the real serpent that has permeated and become one with the fabric of our society is so completely ignored and like petulant children we are kicking and screaming at the US.

Extremism is born and perpetuated by poverty and unemployment. The hungry, disenchanted teenager is much more likely to be ensnared by the charms and monetary temptations of the radicalised. And when the radicalised are your neighbours, your servants, your co-workers, your teachers, or essentially anyone, and you collapse your economy further, you simply guarantee extremism.

Ensconced in ultra-luxury, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has decided that the Punjab province shall refuse the American dole. While it is true that Pakistan has not accounted for its billions in aid appropriately and a good part of it has not made it to its intended purpose and has probably lined many a private pocket, it is factual that American aid is used for a large number of governmental and non-governmental educational, administrative and developmental projects. These projects will simply dry up as the aid does. Chucking charity is not as simple a choice as the ghairat (self-respect and pride) of Shahbaz Sharif might dictate.

Perhaps it was this Punjabi indignation or the graphic posters displayed by protesters in front of the in-camera parliamentary session that caught the eye of the Americans, for now their tune is decidedly different. Senator Kerry may have wagged his finger at Kayani behind closed doors but in public the story is conciliatory. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that this is not the time for the US to flex its muscles at Pakistan, rather it should withhold judgement. Senator Mitch McConnell says that disengaging with Pakistan now was not a good idea. And most surprising is the statement by House Speaker Richard Boehner, who said that Pakistan was a real asset and had lost more troops and more individuals in the fight against terror than the US.

The US-Pakistan partnership has been one of those uncomfortable but necessary alliances for both parties. So analogous to human relationships when you realise with this gnawing deep inside that you share little now except an interwoven past and an inextricable convenience.

Our hypocrisy must stop. The drones fly from Pakistan’s airfields and we have given our express permission for this. Our president does not even think the non-extremist civilian deaths are collateral damage. Regardless of American intelligence, drones do not rain down on Iran, Turkey or Malaysia. They do not froth at the mouth about “national sovereignty”; they protect it by simply refusing.

Our elected representatives and our people must realise that it is not the drones or national sovereignty or American aid that is the main issue. It is that termite of the extremist mindset that kills Muslims in mosques that has permeated our society and converted it into the rotten mess that it is in today. It will take a concerted effort at de-weaponising house by house and legislators, civil society and the media to galvanise and work tirelessly for decades on a thought revolution to ensure the extermination of extremism and the preservation of Pakistan.

The writer, Dr Mahjabeen Islam, is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. This article was originally published in Daily Times on 20 May 2011.