Editorial: What to do with Sufi Muhammad?

Daily Times
The chief of the banned Tehreek-e Nifaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi (TNSM), Maulana Sufi Muhammad, has been picked up from a Peshawar house by the “security agencies” and taken to an unknown place. He was arrested along with his two sons. He lost one son during the Swat operation by the Pakistan Army and has one youngest son still living in Peshawar. His son-in-law, Fazlullah, is on the run with the Pakistan Army in hot pursuit, with the blood of hundreds of innocent people on his hands, swearing that he will battle on till the “sharia” of Sufi Muhammad is enforced.

The Sufi disappeared when things got rough in Lower Dir to which he had escaped, and he sensed that his sainthood would not save him if he remained in the midst of terrorists. The safest place for him was finally Peshawar, a city not long ago dominated by the Taliban and their disreputable allies among the criminal gangs. The NWFP government seemed unready to analyse what his presence in the city would finally lead to, in a way showing itself willing to share power with him in time to come.

During the days when his whereabouts were unknown — he was probably somewhere in Punjab — the NWFP government was not very perturbed, happy as long as he did not show up somewhere uncomfortably near. It must have known that the Sufi had lodged himself in Peshawar — some sources say he was in the city for the past three weeks — but it pretended that he was not important enough anymore to bother anyone. Now that it has owned up his arrest, it should revamp its views on what Sufi Muhammad stands for and how dangerous he could be.

Letting the saintly-looking agents of chaos go is a pattern of state behaviour. One can hardly forget the example of the cleric of Lal Masjid because the national view, as projected by the media unfortunately, is overwhelmingly in his favour. But popularity should not divert the state from making a cold-blooded assessment of what such people mean to state security. Sufi Muhammad’s case is relevant because his strategy in Swat unfolded in the glare of media publicity and finally created a national consensus against the Taliban when he failed to make it stick.

Sufi Muhammad was a known quantity because of his anarchic adventures in the 1990s but was overlooked because everyone and his uncle was for implementing, on trust, his qazi-based sharia in Malakand, including the people of the region living under the terror of his son-in-law’s routine intimidatory beheadings. Under the agreement signed with the NWFP government, he claimed he would also appoint the qazis of his choice while pretending that he could persuade his son-in-law to stop killing innocent people. But when the crunch came, he denounced the Pakistani Constitution and disclosed his true colours.

By denouncing the Supreme Court of Pakistan and democracy as a system of kufr, Sufi Muhammad cut himself off from the powerful Deobandi consensus too, proving once again that the Deobandis obeyed the Taliban not vice versa. It recalled Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid in 2007 when he began to reject his Deobandi backers because of what he claimed was their passivity in the face of the challenge to enforce sharia in Islamabad. Do we want to see Sufi Muhammad too winning like Maulana Aziz and making the Deobandi confederacy of madrassas do an about-turn? Or should we bring charges against him based on his culpability in the loss of life and property in Malakand?

Pakistan has been brought back from the brink of state-failure by the national consensus that developed against the Taliban in the wake of Sufi Muhammad’s misdeeds. The military operation is succeeding on all fronts and terrorists are now being caught before they can carry out their attacks. We simply cannot afford to roll back these achievements and allow Sufi Muhammad to restart his campaign from Peshawar where, before long, he would have been surrounded by his armed devotees, rendering his house a no-go area for the police. Taking him out of the DI Khan jail and bestowing on him a status he never deserved has let the country down. That mistake should not be made again.

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