Defy Pakistan: How the right-wing turned rogue

Published: February 25, 2012
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PHOTO: AFP

The Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) is a tightly-held multi-party alliance of some 40 parties representing all shades of the country’s religious right-wing. It is led by veteran cleric Maulana Samiul Haq, who is popularly known as the father of the Taliban.

The alliance is founded upon a single anti-US agenda, to drive out the Nato forces in the region and sprang up soon after Pak-US relations took a nosedive post the Salala bombing. After some low-key, closed door seminars on Pak-US relations, the alliance took to rallies, the first of which was staged at the Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore. This rally was an eye opener and managed to capture the attention of political observers in Pakistan and internationally. It wasn’t just the JUI-S or Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) or even any other moderate religious political party running the show; it was the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), an off-shoot of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, that was virtually all over the place. With black and white flags fluttering about, there was a conservative attendance of approximately 35,000 people and workers with long, untrimmed beards stealing the show.

The mood of the gathering was intimidating to say the least. It wasn’t a typical JI rally which the Lahoris were accustomed to. It was a raw show of strength by elements who have been fighting guerilla wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The LeT-JuD caravan had assembled after a long time –  watching them making a push towards centre stage was an aweful sight: had jihad come to town after being dormant for so many years?

The success surrounding this rally sent waves of unease from Islamabad and Delhi all the way to Washington, once again, bringing Pakistan in the spot light of concern regarding the rising levels of extremism. Despite heavy sanctions imposed on the party and its founder Hafiz Saeed, the organisation’s public show was widely reported by the media, including headlines quoting Hafiz Saeed, who had made a belligerent speech demanding Nato forces leave or be ready for annihilation at the hands of “the Mujahideen.”

After a successful run in Karachi, the DPC caravan moved to Multan, where the proverbial red line was crossed again. Recently released Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader Malik Ishaq, accused of masterminding the attack on the Sri Lankan team’s bus, joined the esteemed line-up on the stage.

So what message are these rallies sending?

The Western world saw the extremists flexing their muscles from Pakistan’s security establishment in the face of deteriorating Pak-US relations; for local political analysts, this was MMA part II. The only difference is that the DPC, compared to MMA, is a tightly-knit cluster of armed and banned, battle-hardened outfits who don’t believe in negotiations and talks with “Satan states” like the US and India.

The alleged handlers of the DPC point this lethal arsenal towards what they believe is the soft under-belly of the US. While the MMA was a right to centre-right union who could talk or work with the US and the West, the DPC derives its strength from its guerilla firepower and its age-old connections with Pakistani powers that be.

Now, the question is, will the emerging thaw in Pak-US relations mean that the DPC will tone down?

Probably not.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, the US and Taliban are getting ready for landmark negotiations which will decide which way the Afghan endgame sways. In all probability, the notion of a rise of extremists and jihadis can be used by the Pakistani security establishment as a bargaining chip.

If Islamabad feels that the negotiations are not going in their favour,  the fear of rising jihadis in “nuclear Pakistan” – the West’s worst nightmare –  could turn the talks in Pakistan’s favour.

Welcome to geo-politics.

Mohammed Rizwan

Mohammed Rizwan

A senior reporter for The Express Tribune based in Lahore.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.