Faizabad inquiry debate

Published April 21, 2024
The writer is a security analyst.
The writer is a security analyst.

THE Faizabad sit-in inquiry report is another chapter in the country’s probe commission history. However, it falls disappointingly short of fixing responsibility or uncovering substantial evidence.

Like its predecessors, the report has stirred controversy but has not reached a concrete conclusion. Key figures are now surfacing with ‘new facts’, suggesting that further investigation may be warranted. However, any such endeavour will likely meet the same fate as the report.

One significant critique of the report is its notable failure to address the Supreme Court’s explicit directive concerning the timing of and rationale behind the submission and the withdrawal of review petitions about its judgement.

Specifically, in its ruling on Nov 13, 2023, the Supreme Court anticipated that the inquiry commission would thoroughly investigate the factors contributing to the failure to implement the Faizabad dharna judgement and examine the context surrounding the submission and withdrawal of the review petitions. The report’s failure to adhere to this directive raises concerns about the thoroughness and impartiality of the investigation. The report risks its credibility and effectiveness by neglecting to address such a crucial aspect of the Supreme Court’s instructions.

The recommendations, outlined in the report, as conveyed by the media, lack exclusivity, having been previously suggested and incorporated into policy documents concerning the mitigation of violent extremism and internal security. Emphasising a ‘zero tolerance’ stance towards violent extremism, the report urges the government to reassess its policies and target the underlying causes of this threat. It advocates for enhanced coordination among the law-enforcement agencies, Pemra, and the interior ministry to monitor social media for content that breaches legal standards.

Furthermore, the commission identifies shortcomings in implementing the National Action Plan and proposes reforms within the criminal justice system to bolster the anti-terrorism agencies. In its concluding remarks, the report directs both the federal and provincial governments to actively monitor and prosecute individuals promoting hate, extremism, and terrorism.

The leaked report neglects the imperative for state institutions to abandon the use of religious and extremist groups for political purposes. The rise of the TLP exemplifies this trend, as its popularity is fuelled by emotional rhetoric rooted in radical ideology and its manipulation by state entities for political goals since 2018. Despite losing backing from these institutions in 2024, the TLP managed to amass even more votes, reaching 2.89 million, compared to the 2.2m votes it garnered in 2018. This highlights the urgent need to confront the fusion of extremist factions with political interests. Addressing this issue is crucial to safeguarding the integrity of political processes and preventing further entrenchment of radical ideologies within the political landscape.

There is an urgent need to confront the fusion of extremist factions with political interests.

The TLP’s support base remains steadfast, primarily due to its leadership’s effective utilisation of religious narratives, a practice the state has been unable to curtail. The influence of the leadership of banned groups, including sectarian outfits, has left its imprint on even the official counter-narrative strategy called Paigham-i-Pakistan, in which alterations have been made to appease the TLP leadership.

The TLP has never acknowledged this official narrative, nor has the state effectively employed its counter-narrative in the public sphere. The TLP has capitalised on the state’s inadequate response, refining its tactics and presenting itself as ‘modern’ by including the protection of religious minorities’ rights in its manifesto. However, it remains staunch in its core agenda regarding blasphemy.

Meanwhile, state institutions cannot combat ideology solely through administrative measures; instead, they must permit moderate religious scholarship to emerge in the country, offering a counterbalance to toxic narratives.

In his book The Fallacy of Militant Ideology: Competing Ideologies and Conflict Among Militants, the Muslim World, and the West, author Munir Masood Marath argues that ideology serves as the “centre of gravity” for terrorism and extremism, emphasising the importance of understanding militants’ belief systems to counter these threats effectively. Marath, a police officer, contends that societal and state perceptions of religious narratives are often oversimplified. Religious institutions play a pivotal role in shaping and propagating these narratives, with seminaries influencing students and local clergy (ulema) outside the formal education system, influencing society as a whole. This “informal religious indoctrination” arises from the marginalisation of religious education, leaving the secular population reliant on less qualified imams.

The state still needs to devise a comprehensive strategy to address the challenges of radical groups like the TLP effectively. State institutions believe they can manage extremism through engagement and disengagement tactics. However, genuine innovation arises only when academic campuses are granted the freedom to explore ideas, with the state as a guardian of this freedom. Otherwise, groups promoting exclusivity find favour with state institutions.

It is worth noting that sometimes these groups become overly confident and challenge the state’s authority or undermine its interests, as the TLP has done, making it tough to maintain smooth relations with the Western world.

The state institutions must acknowledge that despite the existence of 40,000 seminaries, 500 public and private religious institutions, and a vast network of religious groups and parties, Pakistan still needs to cultivate scholarly minds comparable to those found elsewhere.

Without addressing this deficiency, the state will continue to bow to radical groups, as in 2021 when the TLP took to the streets to pressure the government to expel the French ambassador. Despite efforts by police and paramilitary forces, they struggled to control the fanatical elements. Under pressure from the TLP, the government opted to remove several TLP leaders, including Saad Rizvi, from a terrorism watch list and rescinded the group’s proscribed status.

The sit-in commission report has brought attention to these compromises without holding anyone accountable, exonerating almost everyone involved in the 2017 sit-in. Consequently, this report has once again thrust the TLP into mainstream discussions as it seeks to garner attention in the mainstream media.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2024

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