Can Pakistan’s Banned Organizations Rejoin the Mainstream?

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Can Pakistan’s Banned Organizations Rejoin the Mainstream?

Pakistan is exploring reintegrating banned extremist outfits into politics. Can it be done?

Can Pakistan’s Banned Organizations Rejoin the Mainstream?

A supporter of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) carries a sign to condemn the house arrest of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of JuD, during a protest demonstration in Karachi, Pakistan (February 3, 2017).

Credit: REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

“Though Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) is not listed as a political organization but it is a political entity, we want to register JuD as a political party. We played a positive role in the politics and we want to continue it,” said Hafiz Masood in Islamabad on March 27 this year.

Masood, brother of JuD chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, was speaking in a closed-door session on “Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Different Brands of Militants.” The discussion, organized by the think tank Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), centered on the reintegration of banned outfits like Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), and Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ).

Later, during a press briefing on April 26, the spokesman of the Pakistan Army, Major General Asif Ghafour, released a confessional video statement from Ehsanullah Ehsan, the former spokesman of the banned Jamat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), a splinter group of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

According to Ehsan, India’s intelligence agency (the Research & Analysis Wing or RAW) and the Afghan intelligence arm National Directorate of Services (NDS) aim to destabilize Pakistan and both are funding anti-Pakistan elements.

The back-to-back crucial developments sparked a debate about the reintegration and mainstreaming of banned outfits in the country.

According to the National Counter Terrorism Authority, there are 64 banned outfits in Pakistan. These organizations were declared proscribed under section 11B (1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997. The section states that an organization is proscribed if “a) The Federal Government, having reason to believe that an organization is involved in terrorism, by order, lists it in the First Schedule; b) It operates under the name as an organization listed in the First Schedule or it operates under a different name; c) The First Schedule is amended by the Federal Government in any way to enforce proscription.”

The process of banning religious organizations in Pakistan kicked off back in 2001 when two violent sectarian outfits – Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and  Sipah-e-Muhammad – were proscribed by the Ministry of Interior (MoI).

Jamat-ud-Dawa and its charitable arm, Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) were recently included on the MoI watch list. The top leadership of JuD and FIF has been placed under house arrest, including JuD chief Hafiz Saeed. The crackdown on both organizations was carried out under section 11D (1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act:

Where the Federal Government, has reason to believe that an organization is acting in a manner it may be concerned in terrorism: 1) The organization may be kept under observation, if a) The name of the organization is listed in the Second Schedule by order of the Federal Government; or b) It operates under the same name as an organization listed in the second Schedule.

Earlier, media reported that a trained cadre of banned outfits will be inducted into the para-military forces. Background interviews conducted by The Diplomat suggest that the new policy was devised last year by the then-director general of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar.

In April last year, he handed over two deradicalization plans to Nawaz Sharif, prime minister of Pakistan. The first proposal was to be implemented through the Ministry of Interior (MoI) and the other was under the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). There was a role assigned to at least six different government departments in the proposed plan.

The proposal was to segregate different kinds of extremist on the basis of their history and nature of involvement in militancy. Some individuals are associated with the welfare work of banned outfits and some are part of the propaganda arm, while others actually take up arms against the state. Therefore, each individual would be reviewed according to his level of involvement in militant activities.

Pakistan is not the only country trying to develop a mechanism to rehabilitate militants. Deradicalization plans for repentant militants already exist in the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Yemen, Morocco, and Jordan adopted such plans much earlier. Pakistan has another significant example: neighboring Afghanistan, where Hezb-i-Islami has announced it will shun violence and join mainstream politics in the country. The United Nations lifted its ban on the Hezb-i-Islami chief, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, in February this year. The historic move was a result of a deal that was brokered between the Afghan government and Hekmatyar.

Pakistan is also running at least two deredicalization centers – Sabaon and Mashal – in the Sawat area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Explaining the rationale of new proposed deredicalization program, retired Lt. Gen. Amjad Shoaib said that in January 2004, under orders from General (retd.) and then-President Pervez Musharraf, camps of banned outfits were dismantled and the militants were flushed out. It was a big blunder; for two years these men had been motivated and trained to wage jihad and then suddenly they were asked to vacate the area. “Those elements perceived that Pakistan betrayed the cause of Kashmir and [that’s when] Punjabi Taliban was formed. At that time nobody thought of starting a deradicalization program,” Shoaib explained.

Shuja Nawaz, a fellow at the Washington, DC-based South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council does not see rapid movement toward these goals given the lack of careful consideration of the deradicalization  and de-weaponizing of Pakistani society. He believes that ties between these shadowy jihadi groups and the political system prevent firm actions. Nawaz, who author of the book Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within, says, “Mainstreaming can only occur when wider actions alter the school systems and curricula and to remove the vestiges of Ziaist [referring to General Zia-ul-Haq] policies and systems in both the civil and military are effected. That needs political gumption, a rare commodity in Pakistan today.”

There is a strong opinion that the reintegration of defunct outfits is unlikely. Because banned organizations are ideologically motivated, the chances of them abandoning their philosophy are slim. But contrary to this viewpoint, there is also a firm belief that the militant landscape of Pakistan is complex and threatening and requires a multi-fronted approach to neutralize the threat. A multi-pronged reintegration framework is important to neutralize the conventional militant groups and remove them from the terrorism landscape.

Yet if Pakistan moves forward, “India would be aghast,” Javed M. Ansari, executive editor of India Today, told The Diplomat. “It [would] be viewed as an attempt to legitimize organizations that are intrinsically anti-India.”

Ansari adds, “Mainstreaming might be a good idea theoretically but I don’t believe it’s possible. The raison d’être of such organizations is radicalization. For them to change would mean giving up the very basis of their existence. Therefore I do not believe that elements such as these [will] change their spots.”

Before reintegration of extremist or militants, there is a process of deradicalization and that, too, is a time consuming task, and a less understood one. Sometimes the exercise takes months, other times it continues for several years. In all cases, deradicalization focuses on the mental, behavioral and ideological transformation of the former militant.

While speaking to The Diplomat about the process of deradicalization and reintegration of defunct outfits, Shuja Nawaz was not optimistic. “Pakistan will have to remove the conditions that led to the categorization of these groups as terrorist entities to begin the process of altering how the U.S. and the international community view mainstreaming, howsoever defined,” he explained. “I am not sanguine about any progress. This will continue to hurt Pakistan without giving it any real advantage in dealing with its neighbors or the world at large.”

Many in the country believe that if these organizations renounce violence, submit themselves to the Constitution of Pakistan, and go through a rigorous exercise of deradicalization and debriefing, they should be allowed to kick off their political activities but the approach should be adopted under parliamentary oversight and should be limited to conventional groups like JuD, JeM, and some sectarian outfits.

“Are they prepared to support the constitution of Pakistan and renounce trying to change the political and religious system that is guaranteed by the constitution? Are they prepared to disarm and make their youth go through deradicalization programs? Are they prepared to carry out reform in their educational systems and the madrassas they control? Are they prepared to be useful to the state instead of promoting religious extremism? That appears difficult. If they are prepared to carry out this long list of what needs to be done and fulfill all the articles of the National Action Plan, there is every possibility that they could join the political process,” stated acclaimed writer and journalist Ahmed Rashid.

Syed Arfeen is an investigative journalist of Pakistan. He tweets @arfeensyyed