OF the 72 banned militant groups in Pakistan, many are of the religiously inspired variety — precisely the category that the National Action Plan focuses on. But, according to a report in this newspaper yesterday, the interior ministry is drafting a plan to focus on a very small sub-set of the banned groups.

The immediate question: why? The political and military leadership has, particularly after the Peshawar massacre, been clear that the era of differentiating between militant groups operating on Pakistani soil is over.

No more good Taliban/bad Taliban, no more good militant/bad militant, and no difference between those attacking state and society today and those who harbour designs to eventually do so.

Take a look: Govt to act against ‘violent banned outfits’ only

Even as the leadership made those statements, there were doubts whether they had the will to follow through on them. Now, it appears, the doubts were well founded and possibly true.

The report in this newspaper yesterday quoted officials in the interior ministry as having claimed that in the so-called first phase action would only be taken against groups that have taken up arms against the Pakistani state.

Consider the many reasons why a narrow focus on a sub-set of religiously inspired militant groups is a bad idea. To begin with, if each of those militant groups in that particular category does not represent a threat to the Pakistani state and society, why is it on the banned list in the first place?

Surely, when the classification was originally made, it was done because each of those groups was either directly implicated in violence or was advocating violence.

After the Peshawar massacre, with a national consensus against militancy and terrorism, what reason could there be to delay action against groups that embrace violence and operate on Pakistani soil?

Perhaps an argument could be made that operationally it is preferable for the law-enforcement apparatus to start at the top of the list, with the very worst offenders, and then methodically make its way down.

However, there is a danger in that approach, specifically that delaying action at this stage will translate into no action later. Given the very large number of militant organisations here, there will always be a reason to delay action against certain groups.

It is also the identity of the banned groups against which action may be delayed that is revealing. Anti-India and pro-Kashmir groups with long-standing links to the army-led security establishment may not have a reason to take up arms against the state, but they are still very much incubators of hate and extremism.

With vast networks of mosques, madressahs and welfare organisations, those groups have penetrated deep into society, from where they pump poisonous ideologies and hateful messages into the bloodstream of this country.

Consider also the reality that in the not too distant past, most of the leadership of the banned TTP and likeminded groups was not considered a serious threat to the Pakistani state. If Pakistan is to win the fight against militancy, all militant groups must be dismantled.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2015

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