PESHAWAR: Maulana Sufi Mohammad of the banned Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi had once many supporters and sympathisers in native land but that is no more the case.
Unlike the past when the radical cleric declared Western democracy un-Islamic, the people of Malakand division are actively campaigning for their favourite election candidates.
During a visit to the region, especially Maidan tehsil, hometown of the Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi founder, the people told Dawn that the cleric’s followers were mostly elderly people.
Family members of ex-TNSM activists actively taking part in politics
They said most TNSM activists had gone into hiding after their leader’s detention in 2009.
The seminary near Kumber Bazaar (Maidan), around 35 kilometers from Timergara, Lower Dir, where they used to meet is in ruins. Also, the mosque standing next to it has no visitors anymore. There exists the residence of Sufi Mohammad close at hand but it is now used by people as a passageway.
The residents said Sufi Mohammad had lost the confidence of his supporters as he sent hundreds to Afghanistan to fight against the US-led allied forces but most of them didn’t return.
They said 90 per cent of senior TNSM activists had passed away, while young members of their families were not interested in following a man (Sui Mohammad), who always violated the law and misguided uneducated people to take on a super power in an alien land with traditional arms.
The activists of political parties in their election offices told Dawn that young family members of the former Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi leaders had become political activists and that they accused Sufi Mohammad of misleading people.
They claimed that there would be no ‘warm welcome’ for Sufi Mohammad in hometown as the people didn’t like him.
Wearing black turban and sitting along a road in Kumber bazaar, elderly man Fateh Rehman said he and his relatives had supported the cleric’s slogan for enforcement of Islamic laws.
He said at that time Sufi Mohammad enjoyed a wide respect and people thronged his public meetings and rallies in Malakand division.
The elderly man claimed that though released from Peshawar prison, Sufi Mohammad had been kept in a Peshawar house with people having no access to him.
According to the locals, the Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi was formed in 1992 but its activities were limited to the Kumber village.
Associated with the Jamaat-i-Islami, Sufi Mohammad worked as the party’s member in Lower Dir district council in 80s. However, he later began a campaign to stop people from taking part in elections.
The TNSM was publicly introduced when its activists blocked the Malakand-Peshawar Road on Malakand Top in May 1994 for one week and linked its reopening to the enforcement of Islamic laws and establishment of Qazi courts in the region.
The people said the Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi always worked as pressure group, while its activities had taken many lives, including those of law-enforcers.
When Sufi Mohammad was arrested in July 2009 in Sethi Town of Peshawar, he was charged with terrorism cases.
Most of these cases were registered over two decades ago after the Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi activists occupied several government installations in Swat and other areas and attacked police stations.
The people said initially, Sufi Mohammad was arrested in Kurram Agency in Dec 2001 on his return to Pakistan from Afghanistan, where he had gone heading around 10,000 poorly-armed persons to fight the US forces.
They said Maulana Sufi, who was also the father-in-law of banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan former chief Mullah Fazlullah, was freed from the Peshawar Central Prison in January 2018 after the imprisonment of over eight years.
Fazlullah was reportedly killed in a recent drone attack in Afghanistan.
Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2018