ISLAMABAD: The tragic incidents of terrorism and the Zarb-i-Azab military operation had allowed friction between Ahmed Ludhianvi-led Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) and the Malik Ishaq-led Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ), the banned militant outfits, to go unnoticed.
However, the July 30 killing of Malik Ishaq in an encounter with police has highlighted these differences and observers have noted that the Ludhianvi’s ASWJ showed no reaction to the event as it has neither condemned the killing nor announced any protest against it. The only noticeable protest against the killing reported by the media was held in Quetta where some protesters were detained by law-enforcement personnel.
“It is the policy of Chairman Allama Ahmed Ludhianvi and of ASWJ to not support arson, terrorism and aggression,” said Oneeb Farooqui, the spokesman for the ASWJ’s Islamabad chapter.
Take a look: ASWJ unlikely to protest Ishaq’s killing
He argued that apart from minor demonstrations, his party did not take any step that could have caused any damage or discomfort to the public even after the party had lost 20 of its members to target killings in Rawalpindi-Islamabad alone.
For some observers this silence is merely a cosmetic measure. Critics felt that the desire of Ludhianvi and his party to be accepted in the mainstream is far stronger than their need to protest against the killing of Malik Ishaq.
However, this is not the entire picture. In fact, differences between Ahmed Ludhianvi and Malik Ishaq are said to be a reason for the former’s silence.
Though office-bearers of both the parties acknowledge the differences between the two men, they do not want to take them on record. It appears that Malik Ishaq and his supporters were not happy with Ludhianvi.
This friction began following Malik Ishaq’s release on bail in July, 2011, after serving 14 years in prison. Ludhianvi went to the prison to welcome him and they both later addressed a rally.
However, Ludhianvi’s hopes of transforming Malik Ishaq into a political leader as he imagined for himself dashed quickly as the LJ chief had made it clear to many what his interests were.
Among those who met Malik Ishaq just prior to his release was well-known cleric, Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi.
“When Malik Ishaq’s bail was approved by the then chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry I tried to persuade him to shun his old activities,” Tahir Ashrafi said, adding that “he agreed but later his old company, the land mafia which showered him with money, and the leaders of the defunct Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) convinced him to go otherwise again.”
“My last meeting with Malik Ishaq was in 2013 and I clearly told him to renounce LJ and fight the ASWJ leadership politically,” he added.
Indeed, the infighting between the group led by Malik Ishaq, along with his trusted aide Ghulam Rasool Shah of Bahawalnager, and the ASWJ was not a secret.
Mufti Awais, a former member of Taleemul Quran Action Committee, who belongs to the JUI-F, when asked about the rift, acknowledged that this had been discussed among religious circles.
“We all heard that there were serious threats from Malik Ishaq as he and his supporters wanted to take over key mosques and madressahs in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.”
Earlier, Malik Ishaq and his men were able to wrest control of mosques in south Punjab.
“By 2012 almost 70 to 80 per cent of mosques and madressahs affiliated with the defunct Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan were under the control of the Malik Ishaq group, mainly in Bhawalnagar and Raimyar Khan region, and he moved with a large number of gunmen,” said Gulzar Ahmed Chaudhry, president of the Bahawalnagar Press Club.
As the differences deepened, the group also made significant inroads into Jhang district and the son of SSP leader Azam Tariq also joined Malik Ishaq, in early 2013.
However, the Malik Ishaq group had lost to the Ludhianvi group in the intra-party polls held in May, 2013.
The nominee of the Malik Ishaq group for the key post of the president of Punjab chapter of ASWJ was Muawia Azam, the son of Maulana Azam Tariq, but he could not get more than a dozen votes against 1,200 votes by Shamsur Rehman Muawia, who was shot dead in Lahore in December, 2013.
After Muavia’s death, Malik Ishaq was expelled from the ASWJ. For those watching the developments, he was thrown out because the top leadership suspected his involvement in the killing.
Tahir Ashrafi differs with the notion that the killing was due to the defeat in the party elections.
“It was more to do with money as they wanted to cut deals with the same individuals in the land mafia,” he said. Some other observers also agree with this assessment.
Sheikh Waqas Akram, a political rival of ASWJ from Jhang, said that the control over the party and resources has created many groups in the party but the most prominent ones were the one led by Malik Ishaq and by Ahmed Ludhianvi.
“Soon after the release from prison, Malik Ishaq and his former accomplices started claiming that the strength of the party was due to the sacrifices rendered by militants,” Sheikh Waqas said. “But Ludhianvi and his group maintained that they have been running from pillar to post to protect the party from complete collapse,” he added.
Some go even further and claim that the rivalry between the two men led to some killings.
Even intelligence officials claim that ASWJ office-bearers had been hit by their own old comrades, who had joined hands with the Malik Ishaq group.
“There was and possibly is a serious threat to ASWJ president Aurangzeb Farooqi which is why he was arrested,” an intelligence officer told Dawn, pointing out that the charges for which Farooqi was arrested were unclear.
Aurangzeb Farooqi was arrested along with members of his family near Taxila, on June 5 and he was accused of violating a ban on his entry into Islamabad.
However, he had acted as the chief guest at a public gathering in Aliot area of Murree just a day earlier and had been moving in the Rawalpindi district for some days.
“Apart from a few hours long protest on the night he was arrested, the party has not pressed for his release nor they are pursuing the matter seriously in courts to get a bail for him – two months after his arrest,” the intelligence officer said, adding that “the party knows what is going on”.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the ASWJ’s Islamabad branch acknowledged that Malik Ishaq was told by the chairman Allama Ludhianvi to leave the party in December, 2013, due to his inclination towards militant ways that were against the current party lines.
The LJ was founded by Riaz Basra, Malik Ishaq, Ghulam Rasool Shah and Akram Lahori in January, 1996. Three of them have been killed, and one, Akram Lahori, is on the death row in a Karachi jail.
Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2015