THE decision by the country’s civilian and military leadership to take action against Jamaatud Dawa and its charity wing, Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation, is significant.

On Thursday, the National Security Committee, with the prime minister in the chair, took the decision, with the Prime Minister’s Office later saying that the state cannot be allowed to “become hostage to extremism”.

The JuD is of course an avatar of Lashkar-i-Taiba, one of the many jihadi groups that dot this country’s landscape. However, making an announcement about the group’s proscription is not enough; if the state has evidence of the outfit’s involvement in militancy it should present the facts and pursue the legal course so that JuD’s leadership can face justice.

As has been witnessed for nearly two decades now, the state moves to ban militant outfits, but, in very little time they are back, up and running, with new names and the entire structure of violence intact. For example, in 2002 the Musharraf regime banned a host of jihadi and sectarian groups, yet this effort had little practical effect because with a mere change of nomenclature, the groups continued to peddle hate and violence, making a mockery of the proscription.

Moreover, the establishment’s attempts to ‘mainstream’ violent actors — eg presenting them as legitimate religious scholars or relaunching the jihadi lashkars as political parties — have also failed to steer these groups away from violence and hate. For example, a sectarian party has been repeatedly allowed to take part in general elections, but its senior leaders have failed to cease spewing venom.

History has shown that while low-level jihadi and sectarian party cadres perhaps can be deradicalised and mainstreamed, their leadership is committed to the ideology of violence and can only be silenced through the legal path. These parties’ fundraising, communications and organisational systems must be targeted to put them out of business; imposing mere ‘bans’ is futile.

In the delicate post-Pulwama period, Prime Minister Imran Khan must be praised for saying that those who use this country’s soil to attack others are enemies of Pakistan. The government has now started to take action. For instance, reports emerged on Friday that a key madressah associated with Jaish-e-Mohammad in Bahawalpur — another militant outfit accused of orchestrating cross-border attacks — was taken over by the Punjab government.

These moves indicate that the leadership has perhaps realised that taking half-baked steps against violent actors is dangerous for Pakistan’s internal security, as well as its external relations. Now the elected leadership and the military establishment must take this campaign — as envisaged under NAP — to its logical conclusion by ensuring that non-state actors are not able to raise armed militias, and that those spewing hatred against other countries or spreading sectarian views are prosecuted.

It was unwise to allow these outfits to operate in the past, and efforts are needed to shut them down permanently.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2019

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