The electoral results of recently-held PP-78 by-election in Jhang have certainly raised many eyebrows in the country. Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi, a Fourth Scheduler sectarian bigot from a defunct outfit, becomes a legislator of the largest province in Pakistan. So the Jhang district, which gave birth to sectarianism in Pakistan three decades ago, is now all set for the sectarian renaissance. This incident has put a big question mark over the efficacy of our entire domestic counter-terror endeavours, ranging from the kinetic military actions to the preventive measures under the so-called National Action Plan. Moreover, it shows how the divisive and violent sectarian tendencies have deeply penetrated our body politic.

After the 2014 APS Peshawar tragedy, we optimistically believed that we would be able to put our house in order after evolving a national narrative against the extremism and militancy, shunning them in their every form and manifestation. But regrettably, it was only a myth that has broken now, thanks to our politicos and their well-known political expediencies. Both the ruling and opposition political parties are equally convinced and determined to extend their political support base by realising the conservative politcal-cum-religious vote-bank in the country. Worryingly, after experiencing an unabated wave of violent terrorism for years, now we have somehow returned to the point where we started our counter-terror journey long ago.

Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, the slain father of newly-elected Masroor Nawaz laid the foundation of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) in mid-1980’s. It was the first sectarian-cum-terrorist outfit in Pakistan which was essentially based on the ‘Takfirism’- an ultra-conservative violent sectarian ideology whose adherents readily declare others Muslims as Kafir (infidel) strictly in accordance with their self-devised theological touchstone. So the hate-mongering activists of SSP openly started calling the Shia Muslims as Kafir. Later, this anti-Shia sectarian movement instantly took to a violent expression of dissent, giving rise to an unending series of sectarian violence and terrorism in Pakistan. So far, thousands of Shia Muslims have lost their lives in various acts of terrorism in the country.

The seed of sectarian hatred which was sowed in Pakistan’s soil has now grown into a monstrous tree, posing a serious threat to the very land it is standing on. The then-military dictator nurtured this plant to advance his divisive political agenda in the country. As a matter of fact, the sectarianism is a precursor of a current, more-intense, multi-faceted and anti-state terrorism in Pakistan. It is the mother-ship of terrorists who are currently wreaking havoc with the peace and prosperity of our country. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a successor outfit of SSP, has been the major terrorist organisation in Pakistan for decades. Presently LeJ, along with its various splinters groups, is also carrying out the deadliest and most high-profile terrorist attacks across the country.

In fact, the anti-Pakistan elements have readily chosen to exploit our various inherent vulnerabilities to achieve their selfish geo-strategic objectives in this region after the US invasion in Afghanistan in 2001. The activists of various defunct sectarian outfits joined hands with the freely-roaming victorious ‘Mujahedeen’ of ‘Afghan Jihad’ to form anti-Pakistan militant alliances like the TTP, TNSM, BLA, BLF, BRA etc., making Pakistan experience worsening terrorism. Had Pakistan forcefully nipped sectarianism and extremism in the bud by taking strict actions against the sectarian outfits in 1990’s, we would have pre-empted or at least mitigated the worse effect of the current wave of terrorism in the country.

After experiencing a series of bloody sectarian violence for almost a decade, the government of Pakistan eventually felt the need to introduce some special anti-terror legislation in the country in the late 1990’s. So the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 (ATA) was enacted and enforced. Through this Act, the police were empowered to apprehend, detain and investigate any person involved in the ‘Scheduled Offences’: actions intending to stir up sectarian hatred; displaying, publishing and distributing such written material; using abusive, threatening or insulting words etc. The government can proscribed any organisation or individual involved in terrorist or violent sectarian activities by placing them in the prescribed lists maintained under the First Schedule or the Fourth Schedule respectively of the ATA, 1997. Once an individual or organisation is listed, it is the duty of the police to keep a vigilant eye on them. Unfortunately, owing to its usual laxity and lack of resolution, the government could not enforce this law in letter and spirit. In fact, most of the punitive actions provided under the ATA was also later incorporated in the NAP.

The NAP primarily focus on curbing the sectarianism and extremism in Pakistan. These measures aim at eliminating sectarianism and religious extremism by banning sectarian outfits, choking their financial resources, regulating the religious seminaries, prohibiting the hate speech and publication of sectarian literature etc. It was also pledged to disallow the banned outfits from operating under changed names. Observably the civilian government has badly failed to take actions recommended by the NAP. So far, only a single point of NAP which relates to the establishment of military trial courts has been effectively implemented.

Regrettably, contrary to the entire scheme and spirit of the NAP, a number of banned sectarian outfits have been allowed to operate after changing their names. After being banned, the notorious SSP was transformed into Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Later, when LeJ was also banned by the government, its activists readily formed the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) to continue pursuing its long-articulated ‘mission’. Maulvi Ahmed Ludhianvi, the current chief of ASWJ, was part of the defunct LeJ just like the other high-profile terrorists like Riaz Basra, Malik Ishaq, Ghulam Rasool Shah, Akram Lahori who have been killed by the law enforcing agencies. Now, not only has the ASWJ been allowed to operate in the country but Maulvi Ahmed Ludhianvi is also holding a key position in the Difa-e-Pakistan Council. Ironically, a sectarian terrorist will tell us how we should defend Pakistan against our foreign enemies, whose agenda he is actively advancing too.

The news-leak scandal tried to create the impression that the civilian governments is very determined and rather desperate to take strict measures against the defunct terror outfits but the military establishment is resisting this move. However, things are hardly so in reality. In fact, the civilian government has always been quite reluctant to take hard actions against these outfits. In Punjab, after the death of Col(r) Shuja Khanzada, we have observed no serious endeavour on the part of provincial government to effectively curb militancy and extremism. Instead, the provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah, who is supposed to take legal preventive measures against these outfits by mobilising the law-enforcing agencies, is best known for having links and retaining a soft corner for them. He has been their active apologist for a long time. This may be the reason that despite the presence of considerable hate material even on the You Tube, the provincial government never took any legal action against the people like recently-elect Masroor Nawaz. Reportedly, the government is also seriously considering to review the Forth Schedule list.

The Punjab government has launched an extensive anti-dengue program to effectively eradicate this epidemic in the province. For this purpose, well-equipped control rooms have been set up under the direct supervision of District Coordination officers (DCO’s) to oversee and coordinate anti-dengue actions in each district. However, we have hardly observed any significant arrangement of this level made by the provincial government for the enforcement of measures pledged in the NAP. Thus the provincial government considers dengue a far greater threat than terrorism in the province. Had the government treated the issue of terrorism at par with the epidemic of dengue, there would certainly be better security situation at least in this province.

Presently ISIS is also trying to find a foothold in Pakistan after consolidation in Afghanistan. The sectarian fanatics will easily fall prey to this Middle Eastern monster. It’s high time that Pakistan should forcefully curb these fanatics though its coercive apparatus. There should be a zero-tolerance towards sectarianism and hate-mongering sectarian bigots. Without taking these measure, our entire domestic counter-terror efforts would eventually result in a frustrating fiasco.