SPEAKING in Kohat last week, Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi, in reply to a question, said the government was evolving a mechanism to prevent leaders of banned outfits from taking part in elections. Considering Pakistan’s many problems with militancy, this is a welcome announcement and it is hoped that a foolproof mechanism is formulated by the civil administration and the military establishment to prevent militants and their sympathisers from reaching the elected houses. Loopholes in the law, and the apathy of the state, have allowed notorious hatemongers to become elected representatives of the people; in fact, both dictators and democrats have pandered to these elements for votes and support at different times. However, if Pakistan is to take effective and long-lasting action against jihadi, sectarian and other types of militants, stronger steps are needed to prevent the militant infrastructure from flourishing.

Since at least the Musharraf era the state has talked about banning militants. But what has been happening so far is that outfits are proscribed on paper, yet they play a strange cat-and-mouse game with the state, merely changing names, while leaders of supposedly banned groups freely travel the country (and abroad at times) and keep spewing hate. If an organisation is banned, then its leaders and cadres must not be allowed to operate freely, its fundraising abilities need to be neutralised, while its organisational capabilities also need to be checked. There was some resolve in the aftermath of the APS Peshawar tragedy to tackle the militancy scourge; yet that resolve seems to have dampened. It is hoped that the federal government and the provinces work out a coordinated plan to check the operations of militant groups. As Friday’s atrocity in Quetta has shown, the militant infrastructure very much exists, and if the state remains complacent about the threat, more havoc is likely. Therefore, those who champion violence and hatred, and those who provide them political support, must all face the law.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2019

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