Pakistan still promotes 'good' jihadis: NGO

Painting a bleak picture of the initiatives taken by the Pakistani military and civilian establishments in tackling jihadi groups, an international group has said the case of southern Punjab (which borders India) best illustrates Islamabad’s abject failure to end the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ jihadists.

State sponsorship

The International Crisis Group, an NGO engaged in advocacy to prevent and resolve conflict, in its latest report ‘ Pakistan’s Jihadist Heartland: Southern Punjab’ was blunt in its assessment saying: “Continued state sponsorship remains a source of empowerment for groups that fall under the category of “good” jihadists, such as the Jaish, which has networks across the province.”

After the Peshawar terror attack on an Army Public School in December 2014, in which 151 school children and staffers were gunned down, a shaken military and civilian Pakistani establishment announced a 20-point National Action Plan for countering terrorism.

The plan included measures to prevent banned groups from operating and/or regrouping under new names; preventing terror funding; and dismantling terrorist communication networks among others.

Key region

Explaining the rationale for focusing on Southern Punjab to gauge the impact of the NAP, the report said the region must be central to any sustainable effort to counter jihadist violence within and beyond Pakistan’s borders, given the presence of militant groups with transnational links.

“The region hosts two of Pakistan’s most radical Deobandi groups, Jaish-e-Mohammed, held responsible by India for the January 2, 2016 attack on its Pathankot airbase; and the sectarian Laskhar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which was at least complicit in, if not solely responsible for, the March 27 Easter Sunday attack that killed more than 70 in Lahore,” the ICG report said.

The ICG maintained that in the southern Punjab context, the background and aftermath of the Pathankot airbase attack in India symbolise the impunity accorded to “good” jihadists. Referring to a series of initiatives by both India and Pakistan including the unscheduled visit of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Lahore in 2015, the report said derailing the nascent process was likely the motive for a major attack on the Pathankot base the very next month, attributed by India to the Jaish.

Probe flounders

The probe by Pakistan on the involvement of Jaish in the Pathankot attack has made a little headway. The ICG report notes, “Jaish’s founder, [Masood] Azhar, remains inaccessible to police investigators, reportedly held under informal “protective custody” [that] a retired counter-terrorism official described as “eyewash”. According to an official who keeps abreast of security developments, many Jaish leaders, including Azhar’s brother Rauf, who heads Jaish’s armed wing, remain in the military’s “good books.”

According to the report the group’s infrastructure in Bahawalpur is intact, including its sprawling headquarters at the Usman-o-Ali Madrasa and other mosques and madrasas across the district, many of which were seized by armed Jaish activists from organisations subscribing to the Sunni Barelvi School.

“A federal minister and member of parliament from Bahawalpur said, “the breeding grounds remain; the [sectarian] madrasas are still being financed.” According to local observers, the Jaish also continues to run a prominently-located training cell on a main Bahawalpur road toward Ahmedpur tehsil, which attracts young (often teenaged) recruits from around southern Punjab,” the ICG said.

The ICG has said that more than financial gain, groups like the LeJ, Jaish and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa offer a sense of power, prestige, and purpose, which especially appeals to disenfranchised youth. It said that by allowing such groups to operate and/or failing to bring them to justice, the state in effect makes them an option with high reward and little risk.

“The January 2016 Pathankot attack raised Jaish’s profile considerably in its Bahawalpur home district, as the 2008 Mumbai attacks raised LeT/JD’s. Unless the state prosecutes their leaders and dismantles their networks, it will reinforce the allure of radical Islamist organisations that appear to be above the law”, the ICG has said.

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 10:54:26 AM |

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