Govt retreats before jihadis in Sindh - TFT
Salman Hussein - says the federal government has backtracked on the issue, leaving the Sindh government with egg on its face
Following orders from the provincial home department, directing all jihadi organisations to remove signboards from their offices and the fund-raising kitties on shop counters that have now become such a common sight in Karachi and elsewhere, there was administrative confusion when the federal interior minister, Moinuddin Haider, shrugged away responsibility for the order, saying it was "an old order and no new order has been issued". Major General Rashid Qureshi, spokesman for the military regime, took the same line, denying the government had contemplated any action against the jihadi outfits and their fund-generating methods.
The Sindh home department found itself on the back-foot. The situation forced it to clarify its position and regret the mix-up. The confusion also caused it to stop the ongoing operation against the banned sectarian parties.
Was there indeed a mix-up? The answer is no. The fact is that on August 20 the home department did issue a "new written order" expressing concern over reports that the jihadi organisations were continuing to raise funds in the public. The operative part of the order said that a decision had been taken to not allow any jihadi outfit from "today onwards" to collect funds in public or display their signboards.
In fact, when the home secretary Brigadier Mukhtar Sheikh went to Islamabad on August 21 to attend an important meeting at the interior ministry, he was praised for giving the orders to curtail the activities of the jihadi organisations. Sources say the order was part of the government's plan to crackdown on "all militant organisations" * jihadi, sectarian and ethnic.
"The orders came from Islamabad and were part of the third phase of the deweaponization campaign," says a top official. Brigadier Sheikh returned from Karachi on the same day and presided over a high-level meeting of police and administration officers. At the meeting, which was held at the office of SSP, South, Sheikh briefed the officials about the government's plan. "The meeting decided that the law enforcement agencies would begin enforcement of the home department's order from the early hours of August 22," an insider told TFT.
All SSPs were informed that the action would be taken under clause 11-E of the Anti-Terrorism Act which, as it later turned out, was meant for outlawed groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Sipah-e-Mohammad. In the next couple of hours, over 200 activists of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Al-Badar were detained. Besides, their kitties were seized and signboards were removed.
Sources say the large-scale arrests without any legal cover caused a major embarrassment to the government. For their part, none of the jihadi groups resisted police action. "Removing their signboards should have been enough," says an official. There was total confusion among the police who did not know under what law the jihadi cadres were being arrested. The ensuing hue and cry only made it more difficult for the government to hang on to the arrested activists who were released on August 22 and 23.
Then, on August 23, to save face, Minister Haider said that: "All jihadi organisations have agreed to surrender weapons after a nine-hour meeting with the government." This was a true red-herring. The jihadi groups immediately refuted the minister's statement. The Al-Badar leader went on to say: "If we surrender the weapons it means the jihad has ended." In fact, the jihadi organisations in the Punjab had a meeting on August 28 in which it was decided that they would resist government efforts against the jihad together.
Again, on August 23, the government changed the direction of the operation and picked up about 25 activists of Tehreek-e-Ja'fria Pakistan and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan following raids on ten mosques and imambargahs. The police also claimed having recovered some weapons from their possession. However, come night, they were quietly released and since then no further raids have been conducted.
The government has been making noises about religious intolerance, sectarianism and militancy since Musharraf's speech at the Seerat Conference on 12th Rabiul Awal. Analysts say Sindh was made a "testing ground" to gauge the possible reaction of the jihadis whose actual base is in the Punjab and the NWFP.
In the end, both the jihadi as well as sectarian groups are freely operating. "What is going on now relates to transforming social ethos more than just a law and order problem. And that mind-set has evolved over two decades," says a social scientist.
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