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Militants in Punjab

January 16, 2015

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Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chairing a meeting reviewing prorgress on the implementation of National Action Plan at the PM House. -INP Photo
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chairing a meeting reviewing prorgress on the implementation of National Action Plan at the PM House. —INP/File
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chairing a meeting reviewing prorgress on the implementation of National Action Plan at the PM House. -INP Photo Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chairing a meeting reviewing prorgress on the implementation of National Action Plan at the PM House. —INP/File

LONG in denial about Punjab’s militancy problem, the PML-N appears to finally be waking up to the dangers in its home province.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan briefed the prime minister on steps taken under the National Action Plan against militant groups and extremists operating in Punjab and even the scant details offered to the media make for sober reading: 14,000 individuals hauled up for investigation; 341 allegedly involved in hate speech; 1,100 warned for misuse of loudspeakers; and 41 shops closed for distributing hate material.

Also read: 95 banned groups active in Punjab

Those numbers though surely represent only a fraction of the militancy and extremism in Punjab. Consider just a few factors: the population of Punjab is in the region of 100 million; the province has a vast mosque-madressah-social welfare network operated by multiple groups — some of them household names, others unheard of outside the sub-regions of Punjab; and virtually nothing has been done in over a decade to clamp down on extremist and militant outfits in the province.

That is perhaps why the number of proscribed groups operating in the province has soared to 95, according to the interior minister’s presentation to the prime minister on Wednesday.

However, for all the attempts by the PML-N leadership to get serious about problems in its home province, the revelations by the interior minister indicate a continuing unwillingness to be as forthright as possible.

Statistics are important, but should not be a substitute for meaningful details. To begin with, which groups comprise the proscribed 95? That number is well above the nationally proscribed 72 groups that the interior ministry itself has listed, so which are the additional groups active in Punjab?

To expect the names of proscribed organisations to be shared is the bare minimum. Who are the leaders of these groups? Where do they operate? What is their reach? Who funds them? Which madressahs, mosques or religious networks are they tied to? What attacks have they carried out? And, perhaps most relevantly, what type of attacks are they suspected of planning?

Worryingly none of these details were provided. That would inevitably lead to speculation about the true identities of the individuals targeted and whether the state is simply indulging in a cover-up.

Consider that according to the interior minister’s own claim, of the 14,000 individuals rounded up in Punjab since the NAP implementation has begun, a mere 780 have had some form of preliminary charges drawn up against them. What about the rest?

Have they been wrongly scooped up? Where are they now? What about the hardcore terrorists and militants who do exist in Punjab — have they been allowed to slip out of the province undetected?

Encouraging as it is that the PML-N is willing to acknowledge a militancy problem in Punjab, defeating the militant threat will require a great deal more transparency and determination by the state.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2015

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