Sunday, May 2, 2010

Deobandi leadership still shies away from denouncing suicide bombings in Pakistan

For a brief historical background of the rise of extremism in Pakistan, see here; for current political dynamics, some bits could be seen here. It's interesting that for this story DAWN chose a picture with people protesting the clashes between two Sunni sectarian groups (see below link). For a little behind-the-scenes of those clashes, see here

Still shying away from condemning suicide bombings
By Nasir Jamal, Dawn, May 2, 1010

LAHORE: The Deobandi leadership in the country has for the moment refused to give a consensual nod of disapproval to suicide attacks and other acts of militancy — despite efforts by some members to reconcile the school to new realities.

A meeting held here recently was part of this initiative for reconciliation. Rising above their political and factional disputes, around 150 leaders representing different Deobandi groups, seminaries and political parties from Karachi to Bajaur converged in Lahore on April 15 for a rare meeting.

Over three days they shared space at the Jamia Ashrafia, one of the oldest and influential Deobandi institutions in the city.

Many participants are known to have links with Pakistan’s visible and invisible establishment. They included moderates such as Mufti Rafi Usmani and hardliners such as Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi of the banned Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan.

Big names in politicis — Maulana Fazalur Rehman, Hafiz Hussain Ahmed and Maulana Samiul Haq, whose Darul Aloom Haqania in Akora Khattak in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is credited to have given birth to Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, were also there along with heavyweights such as Maulana Saleem Ullah Khan and Hanif Jallundhry, who manage the Deobandi seminaries and education system in the country.

The objective of this rare Deobandi gathering, according to some participants, was to deliberate on terrorism, debate its causes, discuss impact on the economy and politics and suggest solutions and work together to stem the menace.

“The basic goal of this conference was to organise the movement for enforcement of Shariah through peaceful and democratic means, and discuss the reasons for terrorism in the country,” Qari Hanif Jallundhry told this reporter from Multan by telephone.

“The other objective was to draw public attention towards the need for defending Pakistan’s sovereignty and security.” More parochially, the organisers of the meeting were worried that growing militancy in the tribal backwaters of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and increasing incidence of terrorism in the cities in the rest of the country are exclusively being seen as a Deobandi phenomenon and has the potential to discredit the movement among the masses suffering because of it.

After all, the tribal fighters engaged in a pitched war with the military and killing its soldiers in the north-west or suicide bombers carrying out operations elsewhere in the country are either graduates of the Deobandi seminaries or are linked with Deobandi groups and organisations.


Qari Hanif conceded that militancy and terrorism could harm the Deobandi movement. “If terrorism can impact upon the economy and add to the troubles of common citizens of this country, how can we escape its effects,” he wondered.

Others say the meeting was organised at the behest of the government (read establishment), which is desperately looking for wider support from Deobandi pockets against militants fighting the army in the tribal areas. “The most important objective of those who arranged the assembly was to somehow convince the participants to issue a fatwa or religious edict censuring militants involved in terrorism and fighting the army and urging them to renounce violence at the behest of the government,” a participant from Balochistan told Dawn by telephone.

He said “a part of our leadership is under pressure (from the establishment?) to help evolve a wider consensus among all the Deobandi groups and organisations against the militants’ attacks on our soldiers and military installations as well as terrorist raids within the country”. If that was what the meeting aimed to gain, it was only partially achieved.

Maulana Ludhianvi and Hafiz Hussain Ahmed are said to have “turned the tables” on the organisers and forced them to restrict themselves to issuing a joint communiqué that was soft on militants and harsh on government and, obviously, the United States.

“Neither a fatwa triggered this war nor will it help stop one. If a fatwa could stop this war, we would have peace in our tribal areas and the rest of the country now,” another participant, who also refused to give his name, said. “Whatever is happening in Pakistan or Afghanistan today is a reaction to the American policies, its increasing influence and interference in Pakistan and our government’s inability to understand this fact and side with the West.”

The same source said a majority of the participants agreed that militancy and terrorism would continue to haunt this nation as long as the factors and causes responsible for forcing people to take up were not removed. This was exactly what the joint communiqué says. It blames the government’s policy of ‘toeing the American line’ on Afghanistan for growing terrorism. “..militancy and terrorism continue to haunt this country in spite of wide denunciation of such acts (suicide bombings and subversive activities) by all patriotic people as well as use of organised military force. The situation calls for a dispassionate analysis of the fundamental causes (of this situation). In our view it is the consequence of the foreign policy that Pervez Musharraf pursued (in the aftermath of 9/11) and the incumbent government continues to follow. We demand that the government separates itself from the war in Afghanistan and stops pursuing pro-American foreign policies and providing logistics support to foreign forces (for military operations in Afghanistan,” the communiqué says. The opponents of an edict against militants were vociferously supported by the participants from Swat and Bajaur and other tribal areas. “They are the people who are actually suffering at the hands of Americans and their allies in Pakistan. They are the people who have to bear the brunt of military action and drone attacks. How could they support pro-government edicts and decrees?,” the participant from Balochistan quoted above argued. Nevertheless, the communique did urge the militant groups to pursue peaceful means to achieve their objectives of enforcement of Shariah and expulsion of Americans from the country.

The paper calls for an end to all kinds of terrorist and subversive activities (by militant organizations). “If the government is following erroneous policies, it does not mean that we set our home afire. We, therefore, confidently and honestly believe that only peaceful struggle is the best strategy that can help enforcement of Islamic Shariah in Pakistan and secure it from the foreign influences.

The use of violence is contrary to Islamic teachings and detrimental to our objective of enforcement of Shariah in the country and efforts to expel Americans from this region. Rather, it is helping the United States deepen its influence in this region,” it argues.

Speaking to Dawn about the objectives and outcome of the meeting, Maulana Samiul Haq said: “We must avoid saying and doing anything that helps the evil forces (America in this case). And terrorism is helping the Americans.”

He made a distinction between what is going on in Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal regions. “What is going in Afghanistan is essentially jihad. They (Afghan Taliban) are fighting for the freedom of their country from foreign occupation. Some of our people (Pakistani Taliban) also want to go there and help their brethrens in their war for freedom.” He pointed out that certain elements who have entered the ranks of Pakistani Taliban and are killing innocent civilians and soldiers, are responsible for obliterating the distinction between jihad and terrorism. “The present situation is quite worrisome for us because it can build up pressures against our seminaries. But, the Maulana said, it is wrong to expect that the use of force can stop the militants from carrying out their operations or stem terrorism from the country. “The only lasting solution to the issue lies in talks. If the government is willing to talk (to the militants) on some solid, concrete points, we are ready to act as a bridge and mediate between the two parties. But before proceeding in that direction the government has to distance itself from the American policy objectives. You cannot stop suicide attacks and terrorism as long as you are seen to be standing side by side with the United States,” he contended.

Another JUI leader said it is important for Pakistan to bring the militants to the negotiation table. “The Americans are talking to Taliban, the Afghan regime is talking to Taliban. Why can’t our rulers?” He was perturbed that Washington “ignored” Islamabad as it began peace talks with the Afghan Taliban in spite of the fact that we are the ones providing it logistics support and cheap oil for its operations there. The communique too urged the government to “realise that the lasting solutions to internal insurgencies lay in peace talks. It, therefore, should review its foreign policy in the light of recommendations of the in-camera session of the parliament and effect necessary shift in its policies.” A participant conceded that the moderate Deobandi leadership is worried about its loss of influence and control over younger graduates from the seminaries. “This loss of influence on younger generations is pushing them towards militancy. The communique particularly addressed the younger students of Deobandi seminaries and advised them to follow the opinion and views of ulema to stay on the right path.”

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