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From Southern Punjab to Lahore

A 10-hour intensive operation in Araiyan Pind on 17th July 2014 saw the ‘official’ death of two militants who were hiding in a house on the Raiwind Road, Lahore, living only a few kilometers away from Premier, Nawaz Sharif’s house. During the operation one security official was also martyred while three others injured. The operation went on for about 10 hours and was termed a success when the house in which the extremists were residing, was taken over by the security forces. So much for Punjab being not the target of the militants because Shahbaz Sharif said that his party’s and militant’s views were the same, huh?

Anyway, the issue that I wanted to write about today is about the rising extremism and the strong tentacles of the sectarian fundamentalism that has engulfed the southern Punjab i.e. the Seraiki Belt.

It is no secret that PMLN’s stalwart, Rana Sanaullah, has deep ties with the top leadership of the extremist sectarian organizations in Punjab. His famous, or shall I say infamous, photograph with Maulana Ahmed Ladhuyanvi, the Ameer of the AJWJ (Ahl e Sunnat Wal Jamaat) formerly known as and now banned SSP (Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan) is a smear on the liberal face of PMLN. In fact you would be surprised to know that Mr Sanaullah actually once said that 95 percent of the SSP members are not terrorists (Yes Yes, they are bakers of the creamy coffee cakes from Hyderabad’s Bombay Bakery). Perhaps I should go back in time and jog Mr Sanaullah’s memory that he was talking about the same organization of which Hakeemullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain were members of. But then, PMLN has the same views as the Pakistani Taliban (as was expressed by Mr. Shahbaz Sharif), so that would probably not be a good idea.

Coming back to Southern Punjab, five districts are virtually ruled by the religious extremist outfits. Khanewal, Bahawalpur, Layyah, Jhang and Dera Ghazi Khan can be the next Swats for Pakistan. In fact Sheikh Waqas Akram of PMLN, once said that there could be ‘ten’ Swats in Pakistan if the militancy is not controlled in Jhang and other areas. After that, he joined PMLN – Hmm, now that is pretty intriguing to me since wikipedia’s page for Sheikh Waqas Akram says that he is the only man standing against SSP and LeJ in Jhang.

Maulana Ahmed Ludhyanvi got 71,598 votes in the 2013 elections in NA-89, an astounding 58% rise than his vote bank in 2008. In NA 90, AJWJ candidate bagged approximately 38000 votes a cataclysmic 731% increase from the 2008 general elections where the now-banned SSP candidate had got only 4545 votes. The trend seems to be harmonious throughout the southern Punjab’s major district and shows an increase in the support of the religious and extremist organizations. Some of the extremist organizations working from within Punjab are namely Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Lashkar-Jhanvi-Almi, Jaish e Muhammad (S.A.W), AJWJ and TTP.

Let us talk about how these organizations survived and thrived in the once-largely tolerant and sufi social structure of Southern Punjab. Since its inception, PMLN’s cadres have largely ignored Southern Punjab and have concentrated their efforts in the upper Punjab – Well, mostly Lahore, and that is why the Civic facilities, infrastructure, educational facilities and medical facilities are in shambles in the Seraiki Belt. This provides a healthy environment for the extremist bacteria to grow and thrive. These organizations use a two-pronged strategy to pursue their goals. First they help the poor large families out via their charitable wing and then allure their children to a version of Islam that they want to spread i.e. religious extremism. Who funds these organizations? Oh well, NGOs and nameless organizations from UAE and Saudi Arabia account for around $100 million annual funding for such causes – So much for being our Muslim brothers.

Anyways, these factories of extremism have got so agile and authoritative that instead of acting against them, PMLN has sought a strategy of coordinating with them in the Seraiki belt since it was not affecting the northern Punjab. What PMLN did not realize is that this would soon affect them where it hurts; Lahore. Now, the water has gone over the head and PMLN did not do really well to do anything about it proactively except for begging the terrorists to spare Punjab.

Question remains, why did the security establishment not do anything about this if PMLN chose to compromise? Well, the Shahbaz Sharif’s Punjab government deliberately ignored the CID reports on these terrorist organizations in 2010 and did not take any action to curb their sprawling influence in the region. Perhaps, Mr. Sharif wanted to have a more soft approach towards them to get their help in the 2013 elections.

Well, it is not my or your place to judge these politicians. Oh wait, it is. The power of vote is in our hands. Isn’t it? So use it wisely the next time.

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