Monday, June 21, 2010

It's time to cut the proverbial cord

(Hafiz Muhammad Saeed; Leader of Jamaat ud Dawa.Courtesy of Kashmir Watch)

It would not be wrong to describe the past five years as the most critical in Pakistan's existence. The economic and political tensions simmering for the last fifty plus years have finally come to a boil. Currently we are facing the largest economic crisis in our history, an armed insurgency aimed at a violent takeover, crises in basic infrastructure such as electricity and running water and massive food insecurity, all of which is compounded by Pakistan's demographic time bomb. So it comes as a surprise that according to the recent parliamentary budget report,  in 2009 the government of Punjab handed 82 million dollars of funds to madressas run by Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD), the charity wing of Lashkar-Taiba (LeT); the militant group responsible for the Mumbai attacks. Of the 82 million dollars allotted, 79 million were given towards the group's headquarters in Murdike and 3 million were granted towards religious schools run by the organization throughout Punjab.

The monetary support for a religious extremist organization like JuD at a provincial level not only highlights the lack of commitment to promises Pakistan has made on the international stage, but also the unimportance of healthy relations with India. Following the Mumbai attacks, the United Nations imposed an assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo on the four leaders of LeT, which resulted in the shut down of JuD offices and the house arrest of JuD leader Hafiz Saeed, a move which was later declared unconstitutional by the Lahore High Court (also responsible for the idiotic ban on Facebook). These actions were taken to show seriousness on the part of Pakistan in dealing with LeT. The revelations of Punjab's parliamentary budget report have cast a shadow of doubt on the sincerity of these overtures.

On a national level, these revelations are nothing more than a slap in the face of the families of the 2,000 or so civilians killed in militant attacks since 2009. The fact that Punjab continues to fund religious extremist organizations that are linked to organizations responsible for the pain and suffering of many of its citizens draws attention to the schizophrenia prevalent in the PML-N. And this is not the first incident. In February 2010, Punjab's Law Minister Rana Sanaullah was seen campaigning with the leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), an extremist group aimed at the extermination of Shiites from Pakistan and heavily suspected of cooperating with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The continued support of groups like JuD by the government of Punjab is nothing short of denial. PML-N's unwillingness to deal with the problem of growing militancy is one thing. Actively supporting groups directly involved in militancy is another. It takes some kind of stupid to arm and fund the very people destabilizing your region. Or perhaps the leadership of PML-N hopes to buy out the militancy itself, an equally flawed idea. There is no guarantee that JuD and other religious extremist organizations are going to take the money and stop. It also sets a dangerous precedence. Funding such organizations as a matter of policy can lead to the possibility of demands for greater funding with the threat of violence in the future.

In a time when funding is sorely needed on multiple projects from electricity grids to securing drinking water in rural communities to reworking Pakistan's failed public education system, it is absolutely astonishing that the government of Punjab has chosen to bypass these problems and fund the JuD. Not only is this clearly irrational, but also highlights the delusions of our ruling elite. The problem of increased militancy is not going to go away if you close your eyes hard enough. Unless the government of Punjab removes funding from extremist religious organizations and treats them effectively as person non grata, the attacks on the civilian population will continue.

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