The banned organisations, which were once strategic assets of the state, have nurtured the narrative of destruction. Review of their literature and objective statements lays bare their sectarian motives and ambitions for achieving an ultra-orthodox theocracy in Pakistan
The Punjab government has once again banned 17 militant organisations, which have repeatedly resurfaced under new names, after four previous bans â€” in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2008. The latest ban has been ordered following the carnage in the July 1st bombings at the shrine of Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh in Lahore. The previous bans came into effect amid a spike in sectarian killings in Pakistan, the 9/11 terror attacks in the US, an upsurge of Taliban activity in Pakistanâ€™s tribal areas and the November 2008 terrorist attacks in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai. However, these successive bans have made little impact on the militant organisationsâ€™ ability to operate. Banning the banned organisations seems little more than a device to deflect international and domestic criticism after the government once again came under pressure to take meaningful action against the militants.
Following earlier bans, the banned organisations resumed their activities once the pressure eased on them. The courts freed their leaders and their publications â€” an important tool in promoting radicalisation and generating resources in the garb of charities â€” resurfaced.
Most banned organisations have many covers for their operations. The first response of the banned organisations is to start operating under a new name. Changed names of charities also mask their links with militant organisations. The proscribed Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant group is now active as Tehreek-e-Khuddam-ul-Islam, while collecting funds and campaigning as Al Rehmat Trust, the charity wing of the organisation. Similarly, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (Let) renamed itself as Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and is carrying out its activities as Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, while Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq oversees the groupâ€™s charitable projects and funds collection.
Who does the government seek to ban now, and how? The question gains added significance since the government has also been found to be allocating funds to the charities of banned organisations, as has been the case with JuDâ€™s charity wing, to which the Punjab government allocated funds in its 2010 budget.
The new official list of banned organisations has counted several militant organisations operating under changed names as different organisations. Jaish-e-Mohammad and Tehreek-e-Khuddam-ul-Islam are different names for the same organisation. The same is the case with Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Tehreek-e-Jafaria Pakistan, which had changed their names to Millat-e-Islamia and Islami Tehreek respectively to continue operating despite previous bans. The new official list of proscribed outfits counts them as separate organisations. Many of the banned organisations wear political hats as well. Tehreek-e-Jafaria has remained part of the right-wing Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and Sipah-e-Sahaba was an ally of the Pervez Musharraf-led PML-Q government. Both organisations remain involved in promoting sectarian hatred, intolerance and extremism.
Furthermore, the militant landscape of Pakistan has become considerably more complex than it was when the first ban was ordered. Banning a few organisations is unlikely to serve the purpose anymore. The groups involved in terrorist activities across Pakistan are largely splinter groups of banned organisations, in addition to a few new groups that have emerged recently. The banned organisations, which were once strategic assets of the state, have nurtured the narrative of destruction. Although their emphasis was initially on ridding the people of Kashmir, Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world of tyrannical rule, review of their literature and objective statements lays bare their sectarian motives and ambitions for achieving an ultra-orthodox theocracy in Pakistan.
However, realisation of those ambitions was the â€˜secondary agendaâ€™ of militant organisations, once they had achieved their objectives in Kashmir and Afghanistan. The splinter groups, however, have taken those secondary agendas, prioritised them and started pursuing them through violent means, which has, throughout, been the militantsâ€™ singular means to pursue their objectives. These splinters have cut off ties with the banned parent organisations, declaring them puppets of official agencies, and have developed coordination with the Taliban and al Qaeda militants based largely in the lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
In this context, nothing suggests that the latest ban will achieve anything more than the previous bans.
A coherent counter-terrorism or counter-militancy policy and the requisite vigilance by government agencies continues to remain absent, causing the security situation to deteriorate, accumulating in the loss of human lives, economic downturn and destruction of the socio-cultural fabric of society. In the absence of a comprehensive long-term strategy, the government is mainly relying on a â€˜fire-fightingâ€™ approach, by confining its actions to banning organisations, suspending police officers and convening conferences of scholars after major terrorist attacks. Even this fire-fighting approach lacks commitment and implementation has been far from impressive, until recently. The chances of success of a counter-terrorism strategy have further been minimised as the federal and Punjabâ€™s provincial governments have tried to exploit terrorist attacks for political point scoring and seeking to shift the blame on one another rather than making coordinated efforts to curb extremism and terrorism.
Pakistan today faces a growing threat of urban terrorism, which requires better coordination among intelligence agencies and effective policing by a well-trained and appropriately equipped police force. But that remains little more than a dream. The militants clearly have an advantage as they are often better trained, almost always better equipped and are usually more motivated than the police force. Rather than improved training for the police, standards have recently deteriorated; for example, the duration of the training programme for police constables has been reduced from nine months to six in Punjab due to lack of resources. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police faces a similar dilemma as, despite being on the frontline of the Taliban militancy, it lacks proper training and equipment, even though the government has made numerous promises to improve standards.
A one-size-fits-all security approach will not work in Pakistan any more simply because the security challenges in the tribal areas and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are inherently different from those in Punjab and urban Sindh. The tribal areas are in the throes of an extremist militancy, which has local and regional context, and the militants have resorted to violent terrorism as a tactic against the security forces. In mainland Pakistan, however, terrorism has its roots in the ideological, political and sectarian narratives developed by the religious parties, militant groups and, at times, by the state itself. The disparate nature of threats calls for an equally diverse approach to counter them. Many of the banned militant organisations are not involved in violence in Pakistan. Concentrating on banned organisations alone rather than their splinters, over which the parent outfits have no control, misses a trick and could trigger the emergence of further splinters among these organisations, complicating the counter-terrorism effort even more. The need to adopt more refined and threat-specific approaches is pivotal to the counter-terrorism effort. At the same time, an alternative narrative is vital to refute the banned militant organisations and radical political parties.
Muhammad Amir Rana is the editor of a quarterly research journal, Conflict and Peace Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org