WEB DESK: Needing a cause to assert their power religious parties and groups of different persuasions have been staging protest demonstrations during the recent weeks over the execution of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer’s self-confessed assassin, Mumtaz Qadri. They even attacked media houses for not getting the desired media attention to their demonstrations. Finally, on Sunday they managed to use Qadri’s chehlum ceremony to create a situation that could not remain unreported.
Even though the event was to be held in Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh, charged mobs of religious zealots marched on the capital, Islamabad, ransacking everything in sight on the way to the Parliament House, destroying a metro bus station, damaging vehicles as well as public and private property. The Army had to be called in to control the situation and secure the Red Zone. As these lines are being written the sit-in at federal parliamentary lodges remains.
Their ability to gather large crowds was never in doubt. All that the religious parties/groups have to do is to order their respective madressahs to mobilise students. Belonging to different schools of religious thought they may be fighting one another under normal circumstances (some of them have been attacking Sufi shrines revered by the Barelvis who are at the forefront of pro-Qadri protests) but when it comes to self-interest, as their charter of demands shows, they have no qualms about making a common cause. Since they had come out on the Qadri issue, the protesters demanded that the Punjab governor’s assassin be declared a national martyr.
Surely they are aware that there is no way the government can put aside the law of the land to lionise a self-confessed murderer. Another demand was that all Sunni clerics imprisoned on ‘various charges’ be released forthwith. In other words, they are challenging the political consensus-based National Action Plan under which intelligence-based operations are in progress against purveyors of religious hatred and bigotry. Their major shared concern, nonetheless, is about one of the 20 NAP points that calls for regularisation and reform of madressahs. For if and when it is implemented they will have to reveal the size and sources of funding – something they have been fiercely resisting since the Musharraf government’s days for the obvious reason of losing huge sums of unaccounted for money.
What is happening in Islamabad should serve as an eye-opener for the government of Punjab from where bulk of the protesters travelled to the capital, and which so far has been in a state of denial about the existence of violent extremist elements – in spite of abundant evidence to the contrary – in the province. As if to underscore the issue, the same day activists of religious groups were challenging the writ of the state in Islamabad, a suicide bomber, reportedly a seminary student from southern Punjab, carried out a horrific terror attack at a Lahore recreation park, killing over 70 innocent people, mostly women and children, and wounding nearly 300 others. It is an open secret that Punjab is home to a huge number of seminaries which provide foot soldiers to religious militants.
According to official figures, there are as many as 10,000 (unofficial reports say the number is 13,782) seminaries in the province, at least 1000 of them, as per Punjab Police’s -understated – revelation, are foreign-funded. Yet after over a year since the announcement of NAP the Punjab government has shut down only two madressahs while Sindh has taken action against as many as 167 seminaries for suspected militant links. The reason for a higher success rate in Sindh is that there the Rangers have been carrying out indiscriminate crackdown on all forms of militancy. After what has been happening in Punjab it is clear that the provincial government either lacks the will or the ability to deal with the scourge of terrorism. The events of Sunday amply demonstrate that there is no room for further obfuscation. A Sindh-like Rangers operation needs to be carried out to rid the province of terrorist sanctuaries as well as the seminaries nurturing violent extremists.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2016