Crackdown on the LeJ

Crackdown on the LeJ

Interior Minister Rehman Malik

The interior ministry has finally decided to move against the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), according to reports of a meeting to review law and order and security chaired by Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

The federal government has asked the Punjab government to crack down on the LeJ without further delay, as most cases of sectarian violence have been claimed by the banned organisation. This news would normally be cause for satisfaction, but there are certain troubling questions that linger. For one thing, why the focus on Punjab alone? Most of the atrocities the LeJ has proudly boasted of recently occurred in Balochistan, principally Quetta. Granted, Punjab has been and perhaps remains the headquarters and main base of the LeJ.

Reports say one of two former Harkat-ul-Ansar terrorists supervising the killings of Shias, Asmat Muawia, is operating from upper and central Punjab. But this still does not answer the question why the Balochistan government has been ignored in the request to crack down on the LeJ. It is bad enough that it took so long for the authorities to arrest Malik Ishaq, the LeJ chief, but to now focus exclusively on Punjab defies logic and leads to the suspicion that this issue too, like so much else, has become a victim of politicking.

Also, those familiar with Balochistan and its political cross-currents would no doubt be surprised at the interior minister’s lumping together of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), LeJ and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). Whereas the TTP and LeJ pride themselves on their militant extremist credentials, especially butchery of helpless, unarmed minorities, the BLA is a secular nationalist movement, a very different variety from the other two, to say the least.

No doubt Islamabad is well aware of what is really at play in the sectarian killing fields of Balochistan and beyond. For it to put out a misleading narrative implies either confusion or more troubling times ahead because of the lack of nuanced focus. It bears noting though that the government had little option but to finally overcome its paralysis on the LeJ issue. For far too long the LeJ’s fanatics have been targeting the Shia minority with reckless abandon, especially Balochistan’s quiet Hazara community.

Even though most times the LeJ blatantly boasted of carrying out what has arguably grown into genocide, the government remained silent as Malik Ishaq played to the far-right gallery, adorning the Difa-e-Pakistan Council stage on occasion. Now, when this belated official pronouncement has come, it does not inspire the confidence it should because of the layers of confusion about the scope of actions against the LeJ being confined to Punjab alone and the failure to distinguish between the TTP and LeJ on the one hand, and the BLA on the other.

Reading between the lines, it remains to be seen whether the LeJ will continue to receive behind-the-scenes patronage from sections of the security establishment, while the official machinery will continue to be brought to weigh heavily on the BLA. That we might end up as a result with a province brimming with sectarian mercenaries while the secular-nationalist lobby is driven into the ground, seems to disturb few in government.

It is clear that Pakistan’s frightening pace of disintegration has failed to register in popular political circles. If the government has remained confined to ritual denunciations of Shia killings, the opposition parties are not much better. It seems everybody is simply afraid of associating with targeted minorities, especially the Shia, for fear of swift and violent blowback from groups like the LeJ. No government can be excused for turning a blind eye to sectarian ‘cleansing’.

The media too stands accused of inadequately putting the sectarian menace in proper perspective. Its coverage of the issue betrays how little it understands the political and sectarian abyss Pakistan has fallen into. Somewhere amidst the noise, the notion that all citizens of the land must be protected is drowned in oblivion. – Dailytimes