LAHORE: “The use of lathi (force) is a relic from the past”: The peace message makes one wonder as it comes from a member of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), the new face of defunct Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), assembled around militant Malik Ishaq, at present incarcerated for delivering hate speeches.

“Times have changed. Now the door to anarchy (fasaad) should be closed; talks must be given a chance,” says Ghulam Rasool Shah, a close aide of Malik Ishaq, seeking to bring forth a new image of the radicals in the ASWJ which is accused of targeting a certain sect.

If this hints at some kind of change, Shah puts it down to the danger anarchy poses to the country. He asserts the Sunni-Shia problem can be solved through talks.

“Make (Shia leader) Sajid Naqvi and (ASWJ emir) Ahmed Ludhianvi sit on a table and do not allow them to leave until they have come up with some good news for the nation,” he says. “We’re ready for the talks on any forum, including the media.”

Shah accuses the government of not taking the initiative. “Had there been any threat to Nawaz Sharif’s government, all the available force and institutions would have been mobilised. But none is ready to come forward for the cause of establishing (sectarian) peace.”

Notwithstanding this talk of peace, Shah is one of the ASWJ members who are considered extremists by their colleagues. They are the ones who have been demanding tough stance in talks with the government over issues such as the recent one about the ‘chehlum’ route in Rawalpindi.

“There are elements in our party who talk (in terms of) extremism,” ASWJ General-Secretary Khadim Husain Dhillon says, referring to the demand of the group about changing the procession route.

But Shah rejects extremism remarks as sheer propaganda by “those (party leaders) who wish to cover up their own weaknesses”.

The issue has led to re-emergence of differences between the ASWJ leadership and the radicals, with Dhillon being the radicals’ main target.

“We’ve differences on the procedure of the party’s working,” Shah admits, but denies it means no-confidence in the leadership. “We accept Maulana Ludhianvi as party emir.”

But he accuses the general secretary of not taking care of the party activists languishing in various prisons as their cases are not being properly pursued.

Disowning the Ishaq group as “not working under party discipline”, Dhillon denies the allegation, saying he is acting upon the party’s policy and is taking care of each and every person who is following a peaceful path and acting within the bounds of the constitution and law.

The two groups had earlier been reconciled by some Deobandi elders, including Pir Saifullah Khalid (Jamia Manzoorul Islamia) and Abdul Hafeez Makki (Khatme Nabuwat Movement) around a year ago.

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