ISLAMABAD: “We are opposed to establishment of military courts in principle – but we are prepared to explore possibilities in this regard that are within the constitutional ambit,” Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), said on Thursday.
Speaking at an ulema conference jointly organised by his party and Wafaqul Madaris al Arbia – the body responsible for overseeing the affairs of seminaries affiliated with the Deobandi school of thought – the JUI-F leader lauded the army’s role in the fight against terrorists. However, he warned that this fight should not in any way undermine democracy in the country.
“We recognise that the army has a key role in the war against terrorism, but we cannot support handing over the reins of the country to the army chief for two years,” he said.
JUI-F, Wafaqul Madaris and ASWJ deplore anti-madressah sentiment
Mr Rehman supported the decision to end the moratorium on the death penalty, but warned that authorities were disorganised and past governments had inconsistent policies when it came to dealing with terrorism.
The conference seemed to be an effort to counter policy statements issued by the government. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had implicitly conceded at a recent press briefing that at least 10 per cent of madressahs had some sort of links with terrorist groups and in his address to the nation on Wednesday night, the prime minister also stressed the need to register and regulate religious schools.
The JUI-F chief stressed that madressahs were not involved in terrorism and said that a recent accusations against seminaries were “part of an international conspiracy against Islamic religious schools”.
“These madressahs have produced about 200,000 to 300,000 religious scholars. All of them can’t be declared terrorists,” he said. “Even I obtained my education at a madressah, but does that mean someone can call me a terrorist,” he asked, rhetorically.
But he did say that if a seminary was found to be involved in supporting terrorist networks, the government should allow religious organisations such as the Wafaqul Madaris to act against them.
Other speakers at the conference, hailing from various Deobandi groups, also denied allegations levelled against seminaries, saying that those blaming madressahs for supporting terrorists were only trying to please America and the West.
The speakers included leaders from the JUI-F, Wafaqul Madaris al Arbia and other allied groups. But conspicuous by their presence were members of the proscribed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), formerly known as the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan.
Traditionally, the ASWJ has been closer to the JUI’s Samiul Haq faction, and has also had differences with Mr Rehman over his role in the 2007 Lal Masjid operation.
But nearly all those present expressed profound grief and sorrow over the Peshawar tragedy.
Mohammad Hanif Jalandhri, secretary general of the Wafaqul Madaris, also called on the government to hang those who had killed clerics and seminary students.
He also demanded action against international NGOs and educational institutions with foreign links and warned that any decisions made by the government unilaterally would not be accepted by the madressahs.
It was telling, however, that none of the speakers attempted to defend the controversial Lal Masjid cleric Abdul Aziz, nor did he show up at the gathering, which was attended by most other prominent Deobandi ulema.
Dr Khadim Hussain Dillo, central secretary of the banned ASWJ, claimed that his party had always stood for the safety and security of Pakistan. “Even though scores of our workers and office bearers have been killed, we have never resorted to violence and arson,” he said.
He even went as far as to say that his party wanted to eliminate the mindset that had sparked differences between Shias and Sunnis.
Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2014