THE Iranian President Dr Hasan Rouhani was in Pakistan on Friday (March 25). It was his first visit to this country after the lifting of the decade long sanctions against Iran. On the same day Pakistan claimed it had in its custody a very high value Indian spy belonging to the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’ premier intelligence agency. Intriguingly, it was further claimed that the Indian spy had a valid Iranian visa. On Sunday in Lahore a park full of holidaying families including those celebrating Easter were dealt a devastatingly deadly blow by a suicide bomber that took a toll of about 74 lives and over 300 injured, many seriously. At about the same time when Lahore, the heart of Pakistan, was bleeding profusely a few thousand misled people marched on the capital taking the city administration seemingly by surprise.
Let us try to make sense out of some of the above mentioned four developments that occurred within the last three days of the preceding week.
To start with, let us first see how and why the Chellum of Mumtaz Qadri, hanged on the orders of the Supreme Court for murdering the late Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, had turned into an ugly protest march ending in dharna in front of the Parliament building located adjacent to the Supreme Court building on the Constitutional Avenue.
Perhaps the huge turn-out on the occasion of Qadri’s burial services which was held on a Sunday had seemingly inspired some overambitious political clerics wanting to increase their own political stature and enhance their personal nuisance value to exploit Qadri’s Chellum services for their own selfish political benefit.
So, despite having given a written assurance to the Rawalpindi administration that they would advice their followers to disperse after the Chellum services, these clerics led those few thousand who had been taken in by the propaganda that Qadri had achieved ‘martyrdom’ without questioning its religious veracity, towards the country’s capital. Most of those who went along were perhaps already persuaded by these ambitious clerics that like Qadri they would also go straight to Janaat in case they lost their lives trying to do what they believed to be the calling of their religious school of thought.
The Islamabad police and the administration for once acted prudently. Tear gas was the only ammunition that was used along the way to stop the misled people from entering the Red Zone. The decision makers perhaps thought that the embarrassment of being seen retreating in the face of an onrushing small but unruly crowd was too small a price to pay than being accused of shooting at the unarmed people and killing some of those who had been brain-washed by the vested interests into believing that they were laying down their lives for the glory o Islam.
On the second day of dharna the protesters had issued a set of 10 demands under the banner of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool (SAW). The accompanying statement claimed that Pakistan’s Islamic identity was being threatened and that “an agenda to secularise Pakistan is rapidly taking shape”.
The demands included the unconditional release of all Sunni clerics and leaders booked on various charges, including terrorism and murder; the recognition of Mumtaz Qadri as a martyr and the conversion of his Adiala Jail cell into a national heritage site; assurances that the blasphemy laws will not be amended; and the removal of Ahmadis and other non-Muslims who had occupied key posts. They also demanded the execution of blasphemy accused Aasia Bibi, the woman former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was killed for defending.
The government has very rightly refused to accept any of these demands and has vowed to bring to book all those who had wrecked public property including a Metro station and a number of four and two wheelers. The government is also likely to apprehend the clerics who exploited the event to vent hateful rants.
The interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan seems determined not to give in to the black mail of a handful of people subscribing to obscurantism.
Now let us analyze the why and how of the suicide bombing inside Lahore’s Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park. The gory incident has been claimed by the Jamaatul Ahrar (JA), a break- away faction of the Threek-i-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP). The JA had also claimed last year’s twin suicide bombings at churches in Lahore’s Youhanabad area, which killed at least 15 people and sparked violent protests across the city.
One can dismiss this attack as a desperate act of terrorists on the run. Indeed, Zarb-i-Azb has effectively destroyed the terror infrastructure and snuffed out terror hide-outs in the country in the last 22 or so months since it was launched in June 2014. The intelligence wing of the Zarb-i-Azb has also unearthed a number of sleeper cells in the same period. That is perhaps why the frequency of terror incidents has gone down considerably.
However, the bloody Gulshan-i-Iqbal event has brought to the fore the fact that Punjab, the hub of sectarian and terror organizations for decades had so far escaped an operation similar to the one going on in Karachi. More so because terror outfits like the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi; Sepah-e-Muhammad Pakistan; Jaish-e-Muhammadi; Lakhar-e-Taeba; Sepah-Sahaba Pakistan; Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) Ex-banned organisation SSP. Some Lahore based organizations are enlisted under UNSCR 1267— AI-Akhtar Trust; AI-Rashid Trust and; Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Sunni Tehreek is under watch list / observation had sprouted all over the province in the last 30 years. The province also has as many as 10,000 religious seminaries whose staff and students serve as foot soldiers of these terror outfits.
The political rulers of province need to come out of their self-denial mode and open up Punjab for operations by Rangers and the Army. This should not be taken as no- confidence in the Punjab Police or the provincial counter-terrorism department but as a step towards launching of a more effective campaign against the sleeper cells and the facilitators of terrorism in the province. In fact many who keep a close watch on terror incidents believe that you can choke off the terror operatives in the FATA area if you can effectively strangulate the supply line emanating from the fertile terror breeding ground of Punjab.
And just to digress a little. Those who believe that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had wasted the opportunity to address the nation by disclosing nothing about his concrete anti-terror plans for the future ignore the fact that even if he had done so he would have sounded as inane because he is not an effective speaker. He should have let Chaudhry Nisar do the talking as he can keep his audience’s attention for hours without making any sense.
The issues of the Indian spy and the Iranian President’s visit need two separate columns because these issues are likely to impact hugely on our regional policies and the region itself.