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Punjabi Taliban give up ‘armed struggle’

September 14, 2014

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Asmatullah Muawiya
Asmatullah Muawiya

PESHAWAR / LAHORE: Maulana Asmatullah Muawiya, head of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Punjab, said on Saturday that his group had decided to abandon its armed struggle in this country and instead would focus on “peaceful struggle” for the implementation of Sharia.

A statement purportedly issued by the Punjabi Taliban to media quoted Maulana Muawiya as saying that jihad would continue against the enemies of Islam. But it did not mention the region or country where the group would carry on its struggle against what it called anti-Islam forces.

“This decision was taken in the interest of Islam and Pakistan,” the statement said.

It added that the group had taken the decision after consultations with ulema and other elders and keeping in view the prevailing situation in the country. “This decision was inevitable for Islam and is in the interest of the people of Pakistan,” the statement quoted Maulana Muawiya as saying.

The term “Punjabi Taliban” is generally applied to distinguish Pakhtun and Afghan fighters from mainly Punjab-based Deobandi militants who are, or once were, involved in sectarian violence or focused on jihad in India-held Kashmir. According to analysts, sometimes the term is also loosely used to include the Urdu-speaking, Kashmiri and even Bengali fighters. Some groups which are part of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Punjab are closely linked to Al Qaeda, they say.

The term was first used exclusively for ethnic Punjabis associated with Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islam (HuJI), whose leader Qari Saifullah Akhtar went to support Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s government in Kabul during the mid-1990s. It, however, was used more commonly after retired General Pervez Musharraf banned some militant and sectarian groups which had a strong support base in Punjab. These factions had roots largely in the southern and western districts of the province.

The action by the government forced them to move to the tribal backyard of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to seek safe havens and establish new camps. The Punjabi Taliban are mostly former students of madressahs and maintain a political constituency across the country, according to a security analyst.

Maulana Muawiya had renounced violence a few months ago when the government started formal talks with the outlawed Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The TTP criticised the statement of Punjabi Taliban, declaring that he had been expelled from the group.

A native of Vehari, Muawiya is known to have close relationship with Al Qaeda and is considered an influential militant leader. Credited with the establishment of the TTP in Punjab, he is said to have remained a member of the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan and to have taken active part in the Kashmir and Afghanistan fighting as part of the Jaish-i-Mohammad before founding his own militant group, Janood-i-Hafsa, after the Musharraf government’s crackdown in Lal Masjid in July 2007.

Unlike other militant outfits, TT Punjab, which has affiliation with the Sajna group, a breakaway faction of TTP, had not been put on the list of proscribed organisations under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

The Saturday statement appealed to the government and militant outfits in Fata to come to the negotiating table, try to realise the sensitivity of the situation and foil the “growing conspiracies in our region”.

Asmatullah Muawiya called upon the government to take immediate steps for the rehabilitation of displaced persons in North Waziristan Agency and payment of adequate compensation.

He also appealed to the tribal people who have taken refuge in Afghanistan in the wake of military operation in the North Waziristan Agency to return home. He called upon the government at the same time to facilitate their return.

Published in Dawn, September 14th , 2014