Hobnobbing with Terror by Babar Sattar

Hobnobbing with terror by Babar Sattar
The News, March 13, 2010

The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

What are the irresistible compulsions of power politics that forced the PML-N to jump into bed with the proscribed Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and its head Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi to win the provincial assembly seat in Jhang this week? Is this simply a case of reprehensible electoral politics with the PML-N stooping low to mix with hate-mongers in order to defeat the PPP in a heated election contest?

Is this a reflection of the PML-N's political ideology that has traditionally pandered to the politics of the religious right that nurtures bigotry, intolerance, hate, obscurantism and paranoia to garner public support? Does it not raise serious questions about the ability and willingness of this mainstream party to attack the menace of terrorism that is rooted in an ideology of religion-inspired intolerance and violence that organisations such as the SSP and Jamaat-ud-Daawa stand for?

It is hard to determine what is worst: that Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah chose to campaign for the PML-N candidate in PP-82 along with the SSP head, that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif threw his support behind this informal alliance between the PML-N and the SSP, that the PML-N candidate won with the SSP's support, or that the PML-N leadership exhibits an utter inability to comprehend and acknowledge the gravity of this misstep.

The joint campaign of Rana Sanaullah and Ahmad Ludhianvi -- when viewed together with (i) the fact that Shaikh Yaqoob who won during the last election from the Jhang area on a PML-Q ticket (by virtue of his informal alliance with the SSP) later defected and joined the PML-N, and (ii) the decision of the Punjab government to allow another banned organization, Jamaat-ud-Daawa, to convene public rallies and give sermons on Kashmir Day -- raises alarming legal, political, ideological and security-related concerns.

Pakistan already suffers from an inadequate legal framework to grapple with the scourge of terrorism. Successive governments have failed to take effective measures to confront the ideology of religion-inspired violence that lies at the heart of our problem of terror, and the organisations and so-called madrasas that preach this ideology of hate and intolerance. Some changes were introduced within the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) in 2002, which have created a mechanism to ban terrorist organisations, monitor the activities of their members, acquire control over their funds, and ensure that the message of such organisations is not disseminated to the public. But such mechanism has proved insufficient and ineffectual.

But instead of strengthening this moth-eaten legal framework that doesn't produce adequate penal consequences for banned terrorist organisations and their members, the Punjab law minister has rendered this entire framework meaningless by electing to participate in an election campaign alongside the SSP chief and then stubbornly defending this reprehensible act.

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