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Analysis: Pakistan's militant 'rehabilitation’ problem

Updated December 30, 2014


Maulana Asmatullah Muawiya.—AP/File
Maulana Asmatullah Muawiya.—AP/File

THE Islamabad High Court’s decision to suspend the detention of Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, does not mean the former senior commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba will be a completely free man. In addition to the IHC’s decision of not allowing him to leave Islamabad, he is also bound, as a prominent member of a jihadi organisation, to adhere to the relevant sections of Pakistan’s anti-terror law (1997 amended 2002): most notably sections 11-E, -EE and -EEE. The onus for this lies on the government, but if past experience is any guide this is unlikely to happen.

In this regard, the most prominent recent case is that of Maulana Asmatullah Muawiya — head of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Punjab — who announced in September that he and his faction would no longer carry out attacks in Pakistan. A day after this was met with scepticism, Muawiya actually did follow through on his declaration and surrendered to military officials in Miramshah in North Waziristan.

Also read: Punjabi Taliban give up ‘armed struggle’

The immediate reaction from our frenzied TV channels was remarkably understated; just a couple of lines on how this showed the success of the ongoing Zarb-i-Azb operation. Little was said on the background of the man in question, and almost nothing on the nature of the deal that led to Muawiya becoming one of the ‘good’ Taliban.

For that is exactly what he had become as a later Taliban video illustrated. It also explained how Muawiya would now devote his resources to fighting Nato forces in Afghanistan, as well as being involved in ‘Dawah and Tableegh’ in Pakistan. Security and legal experts point out that, even for an ordinary surrendering militant, these should have been impossible as the above-mentioned ATA sections describe how the government is supposed to deal with banned organisations and their members involved in acts of terrorism. For a start, as ‘security for good behaviour’, the names of such persons will be put on a list known as the fourth schedule.

During the period that they are on the list, the law states that the militants are prohibited from travelling outside their neighbourhood. In addition, they must not visit public places (a detailed list is provided) and must not participate in or even attend public meetings — like Dawah and Tableegh. The law states that once a person’s name is placed on the schedule, it cannot be removed before sixty days, and that too if the government judges that the person has been rehabilitated. Generally, a name is not removed from the schedule before a period of 12 months.

Putting this in the context of Muawiya, it is a source of astonishment to those who have followed his career that the ATA limitations have not been prescribed for him. What was even more amazing was that no one stood up to question that — having being rather generously pardoned — Muawiya has been allowed to carry on his activities.

For Muawiya is no ordinary militant. Perhaps more than any other in recent times, he has been singularly responsible for the rise in militant violence in Pakistan in the aftermath of the Red Mosque siege. In particular, he is said to have laid the ideological ground for making the military and security forces the number one target for the militants.

From the GHQ attack, to Kamra, to the suicide bombing of ISI buses in Rawalpindi, the Manawan siege in Lahore and numerous targeted attacks on top security personnel, Muawiya’s name has been on the top of the list of those responsible. In addition, investigators point out that evidence collected in attacks on civilian targets, such as the Moon market attack in Lahore in 2009, also point to the involvement of the Punjabi Taliban.

Even if one accepts that Muawiya has truly renounced violence (which he hasn’t as he himself declared that anything outside Pakistan — especially in India or Afghanistan — was fair game in his surrender video) the fact that he was actively engaged in anti-Pakistan militant activities till September 2014 means his mindset is unlikely to have changed.

Letting an ideologue like Muawiya freely roam the country indulging in his brand of proselytising, a much watered-down version of which we have heard through Maulana Abdul Aziz, raises huge questions on the practical steps being taken to control militant leaders and facilitators. Such actions can only dent the credentials of those calling the Peshawar attacks a game-changer for the country.

According to the Punjab police, there are nearly 40,000 Taliban and sectarian militants active in the province. Only 2,000 of these have been placed on the fourth schedule; the reason many point out is the continuing close relation between many in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s and the mainstay of extremism in the Punjab, the Ahle Sunnah Wal Jamaat formerly known as the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan.

Recent events regarding the treatment of undertrial or detained high-profile militant leaders have once again illustrated this. Apart from Lakhvi’s case, there is the matter of Malik Ishaq, founder and head of Pakistan’s deadliest Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) militant group.

On Dec 23, a Lahore High Court bench held a review on his detention.

Ishaq, who was been released in 2011 after being acquitted in dozens of murder cases pending against him, has only been in detention since March 2014. This is despite the fact that his release eerily coincides with the rise in sectarian and militant attacks by the feared LJ. While he was placed on the fourth schedule, the militant leader was easily able to move around and address public gatherings for two years before being detained.

With banned terrorist organisations repeatedly allowed to operate freely across the country with slightly altered names, the government needs to ensure that such outfits — and their leaders — feel the full force of the ATA’s strictest sections. It’s about time that the party ends for the militants. Period.

Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2014