sheltering militants in Punjab?
* Outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan has reopened offices in Jhang
since March by-elections
* Rana Sanaullah says govt hopes to
moderate militant groups
JHANG: It’s a troubling trend in
Punjab; leaders are tolerating and in some cases promoting some of the
country’s most violent extremist militant groups.
officials have ignored repeated calls to crack down on militant groups
with a strong presence in the province, with one senior minister
campaigning publicly with members of an extremist group that calls for
Shia Muslims to be killed.
Some of the militant groups are allied
with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which claimed responsibility
for a failed car bombing in New York last week. Jaish-e-Muhammed has
also been implicated as having possible links to one of the people
detained in Pakistan in connection with the bombing attempt.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif even asked militants not to attack his
province – because he was not following the dictates of the US to fight
them – much to the dismay of the federal government. “It makes Punjab a
de facto sanctuary for militants and extremists that the Pakistan Army
is fighting in the frontier and in the Tribal Areas,” said Aida Hussain,
a former ambassador to the US. “In fact this is an undermining of the
Armed Forces of Pakistan and it is an undermining of constitutional
Critics believe the policy of tolerance is a short
sighted bid by the Sharif brothers for political support in the
predominantly Sunni province.
Reopen: In Jhang, the outlawed
Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan has been emboldened by conciliatory signals from
local authorities. After being courted for votes last March, the group
ripped off yellow government seals and reopened its offices. Just a few
kilometres from Lahore is the headquarters of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba,
which is banned in Pakistan, India, the US and other countries, but is
now under provincial government protection. India blames the group for
the deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai and routinely harangues Pakistan for
allowing its leader, Hafiz Saeed, to remain free.
Bawahalpur is the headquarters of Jaish-e-Muhammed, the group possibly
linked to a suspect in the Times Square bombing case.
Minister Rana Sanaullah defended his decision to campaign alongside
members of the SSP in March. The minister said the organisation
represents thousands of votes and cannot be ignored.
turn: He said groups like Jaish-e-Muhammed and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba were
not taking part in the war against the Taliban, but only resisting
Indian control of Kashmir. And he said the Punjab government was hoping
to moderate such groups.
“If they change their direction, become
more progressive, that is good,” he said. ap