PESHAWAR, Aug 19: The scene wasn’t much different from last year - a horde of beggars lining up along the entry and exit gates of Bagh-i-Naran, women clad in burqas and men spreading out their chadors and shawls asking for alms. Some of these faces are recognisable. This is commonplace and not restricted to Eid days only.
What also was not unusual was groups of jihadi organisations, seeking donations to help wage ‘jihad’ against the United States in Afghanistan. Jamaat-ud Da’wa and Al-Badr Mujahideen activists holding printed material handouts and banners were using megaphones to attract attention and donors.
Also present were some activists of what it called the Deobandi Jaish-i-Muhammad making pronouncements in their easily distinguishable Afridi dialect. It was not clear if this was some new outfit or it was the one banned by the federal government in 2002.
Amid this din and clamour for donations for the jihad, an apparently vigilant policeman stood guard looking instead at the double road that passes along the sprawling Bagh-i-Naran., except he did not see or choose not to see what was going on at his back, drawing one to conclude that either this activity had the official sanction or the policeman on duty was not too bothered about who was collecting what and for what causes.
Those frequenting prayer congregations on Eid festivals or frequent some of the city’s big mosques are not surprised either. “What is new in this?” retorted a bewildered citizen, when asked about the open activity of these outfits. “This is usual”, he added, probably to allay the irony his first inquisitive answer might have caused.
It is another thing that most men just walked past the donation-seeking young men, without dropping a coin or a banknote into the spread-out sheets.
This could be true. Some of these outfits – not the banned ones, routinely visit mosques and use the pulpits to invite people to join the holy war in Afghanistan. “Recruitment” in mosques in Peshawar’s peripheral areas and other districts continue.
Rarely are the bodies of those volunteers, who lose their lives “in the way of Allah” are brought back. Instead, a group of militants visits and informs the family of the ‘good news’ that their beloved son or brother has embraced sha’hadat and that they should be proud and not sad.
A young boy who had just recently grown stubble and used to wash car, had also volunteered and the next thing his family knew was that he had been killed along with seven others while taking part in the “jihad” in Afghanistan. So, the recruitment goes on, unchecked.
There were times when militant outfits would operate freely and openly, not only raising funds but also recruiting young people for the “Jihad” in the Indian-held Kashmir but also for Afghanistan. Wall chalking and graffiti would openly invite volunteers to join their training camps. These outfits had their offices and bases and no one asked question, in fact, no one was supposed to ask questions.
There were times that some outfits had begun to recruit volunteers to take part in the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over their dispute at Nagorno Karabakh in the early 1990s, not to mention the war in Bosnia. A Chechen resistance leader had made a whirlwind countrywide tour to raise funds for the war in Chechnya and spoke at mosques before the foreign office woke up and ordered him to leave.
Under international microscope, Gen Musharraf changed tacks, initially urging militant organisations to go underground and lie low for a while, turning training camps into so-called rehabilitation centres with an aim to bring militants into mainstream. Most disgruntled militants, feeling having been abandoned and betrayed, left to form their own splinter groups, others joined more violent and out-of-control outfits -- and this explains Pakistan’s present situation.
Whether tacit permission, or negligence and oversight, allowing such activities in full public view creates a perception that perhaps things are back to square one. The difference between extremism and terrorism that Gen Kayani so spoke about at Kakul last week would remain mere lip service unless the government follows through on its word and acts and not just speaks about curbing such activities.