The Jamaat-e-Islami has some explaining to do.
Jamaat-e-Islami’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter chief, Prof. Mohammad Ibrahim, says Hakimullah Mehsud and his companions who were killed in a U.S. drone strike on Nov. 1 are martyrs. They are martyrs, he says, because “they were eliminated when they were in the process of dialogue for permanent peace [sic] in Pakistan.”
Ibrahim’s statement, which doesn’t come as a surprise, nonetheless raises many questions. But first, a word about Jamaat’s position: The party, while trying to stay in the mainstream, has made many Freudian slips on where it stands on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Intelligence reports over the years have determined a clear connection between many Al Qaeda terrorists and Jamaat leaders at various tiers. One of its Khyber Pakhtunkhwa leaders, Siraj-ul-Haq—who was a senior minister in the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal government and is the Jamaat’s pointman again in the coalition government in the province with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf—was very close to Pakistani Taliban commanders in Bajaur, including Maulvi Faqir. Ditto for Haroon Rashid, another Jamaat leader from Bajaur.
When Osama bin Laden was taken out in a U.S. raid in Abbottabad, several Jamaat leaders publicly declared him a martyr. The party’s position is therefore clear even as it continues to present itself as a moderate political force and resorts to dissembling and lying on television programs and in the rightwing press.
The Pakistani government, and by extension the Pakistan Army, has a clear position on Al Qaeda as well as on the Tehreek-e-Taliban. Despite an ill-thought move to talk to the Taliban, that position, legally and constitutionally, remains unchanged. The Army continues to operate in the federally-administered tribal areas under Article 245 of the Constitution and has, over the years, lost thousands of soldiers in this fight. Intelligence reports also indicate activity of hostile agencies in the area and the links of various groups that are a part of the Taliban franchise with these agencies.
At the minimum, therefore, the government needs to call the Jamaat out on its position. This step can also be taken by the Army, which can petition the Supreme Court against Jamaat’s position which clearly runs contrary to that of the state and its Constitution. The Jamaat emir, Syed Munawar Hasan, unless he is in agreement with Ibrahim, needs to clarify Ibrahim’s words and remove him for taking a treasonous stance on the issue. If Hasan does not do that, Ibrahim’s statement should be deemed to be the official position of the Jamaat. In that case, the petition must also name the Jamaat emir and the party itself.
War-fighting requires a clear friend-enemy distinction. This war cannot be won until the terrorist can be dislocated from the context that strengthens him. Fighting among the people, which is what this irregular war is all about, must also understand the importance of audiences as also of communicating messages. Jamaat’s position and its agenda must therefore be seen in and through the interpretive structures that seek to influence the discourse. In this case, the discourse is being influenced in favor of a terrorist outfit and against the state. A state can afford to ignore such signaling only at its own peril.
Given the urgency of the situation and the looming threat, the state of Pakistan, represented by the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government at this point in time will have to move fast and with resolve to put down attempts by individuals or entities, political or otherwise, to muddy the waters and present terrorist groups as examples to be emulated.
Of course, the state must utilize its legal structures to do this. The Jamaat must be given the opportunity to present its viewpoint and the issue should be fairly adjudicated. What is important at this point is to signal to sundry elements who want to have their cake and eat it too. They cannot be allowed to play on both sides of the fence.
Haider is a senior journalist who has held various editorial positions. His areas of interest include defense, security, foreign policy, statecraft, political theory, and literature. You can follow him on Twitter for updates.