The terrorist attack at Bacha Khan University in Khyber Pakhtunkha’s Charsadda town on Wednesday, in which 21 persons were gunned down and several others suffered injuries, has again revived the debate on terror groups of many denominations operating in Pakistan. While the current discourse is focused on the Geedar group of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is supposed to have carried out the attack, there’s a view in Pakistan that the government there is turning a blind eye to the real breeding ground of terrorism. So long as they remain active, nothing is going to change.
Earlier supported by the state, a few mosques and madrasas have become powerful centres on their own and the government has little control over them these days. Some of them have been taken over by militant groups who openly challenge the government and the military.
These mosques, according to Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, noted nuclear physicist, essayist and national security analyst from Pakistan, have become so powerful that no Pakistani musters the courage to raise a voice against them. For instance, following the December 2014 Peshawar Army Public School attack, which left more than 140 dead, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had promised that his government would regulate such religious establishments to bring them under its control. It was widely criticised, described “impossible” and dismissed despite the fact that these power centres reject the Constitution of Pakistan and threaten the government and the Army.
Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa, an extremist all-girls seminary, are the best examples of such powerful religious bodies. “Rebounding after a siege in July 2007 in which over 20 people died, the mosque, barely a mile from Pakistan’s seat of government, runs a parallel government. In 2007, it openly rejected Pakistan’s Constitution and demanded Sharia law. Around 100 religious leaders who were called from across the country held a meeting and pledged in the same year to shed lives for Islam and the implementation of Sharia. The clerics of the mosque even issued a threat to the government through an FM broadcast from the mosque’s own radio station. They said “There will be suicide blasts in every nook and cranny of the country. We have weapons, grenades and we are experts in manufacturing bombs. We are not afraid of death….”
They also threatened to abolish co-education from Quaid-i-Azam University, which according to them has become a brothel. They warned female students to wear hijabs, otherwise they would pour acid on their uncovered faces,” said Hoodbhoy, who is the chairman and professor at the Department of Physics at Forman Christian College University in Lahore.
On 10 July, 2007 when 164 commandoes of the Pakistan Army Special Service Group stormed into the mosque, the heavily armed defenders put up a fierce resistance. Madrasa students were seen firing at the government troops. After the security forces got control over the mosque, its chief Abdul Aziz was held while he was trying to flee in a burqa (veil). Surprisingly, he along with his wife Umme Hassan – who headed Jamia Hafsa – were exonerated. Ignoring all evidence, the court ruled the prosecution could not prove heavy possession of weapons. Aziz still lives in Lal Masjid and has threatened to unleash a force of 8,000 students from nearby madrasas if he is again arrested.
Students of Jamia Hafsa, which is connected to the Lal Masjid, reportedly made and circulated a video in support of Islamic State (IS) and its chief Baghdadi besides asking the Pakistani militants to join hands with IS fighters. Aziz was detained and questioned about the video. Instead of disowning the video, he is learnt to have said, “I don’t know why these boys are reluctant to say that we support the organisation which wants to implement Islamic system.”
“How many other Abdul Aziz's does Pakistan have? Clerics who propagate Taliban and Daesh (Islamic State) views to their followers and who, like Aziz, are unmoved by the Peshawar massacre? No one knows even the number of mosques in Pakistan, where they are located and most importantly what their khutbas (sermons) contain. This must change if Pakistan is to make any progress towards containing religious violence,” said Hoodbhoy who was in the national capital to speak at a programme titled ‘India And Pakistan: What Next’ organised by the Centre for Policy Analysis (CPA).
He said the state must act decisively to restore its right to regulate religious activities. “Otherwise, the people of Pakistan shall continue to suffer terribly,” he added.
He said Pakistan must punish those who engineered the terror attacks in Mumbai on 26 November 2008. “Pakistan has to get its priority right and know the enemies lie within. Jaish, Lashkar, Daesh and all other terrorist organisations must be banned because they are hurtful to Pakistan’s national interest and, of course, hurtful to India as well. The terrorists who carried out 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes had come from Karachi. Their call details show their handlers were sitting in Pakistan. Their chief was Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. It is the responsibility of the Pakistani government to punish them. The very fact that Saeed is allowed to be on television is a disgrace. Lakhvi should not be protected at all by the state,” said Hoodbhoy.
The reaction of Indian and Pakistan governments to the Pathankot attack, he said, was “mature”. “Earlier, there was a state of denial where we used to say that all terrorists are coming here from India. It is India which is seeking to harm us but that notion has disappeared especially after the Peshawar Army Public School attack where those who killed the young people acknowledged themselves as being Muslims,” he said.
Asked why the issue of Kashmir is always raised by Pakistan when effort are taken to hold talks, he said, “Any discussion on terrorism without taking Kashmir into consideration is apparently not possible because terror outfits like Lashkar, Jaish and Hizbul Mujahideen are competing to recruit students to join the so called jihad in Kashmir. Pakistan should stop supporting them. It can respond diplomatically and politically.”
Asked about his position on the struggle for separation in the valley, he added, “An independent Kashmir is not viable. But let the people decide. The place has suffered a lot. Let it breathe first.”