KARACHI: As militant groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Al Qaeda are losing their powerbase in Pakistan after the continuing Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the Islamic State is trying to make inroads in the country, allegedly in complicity with the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT).
“We want to replace the current ‘prohibited’ system of western democracy with Islamic Caliphate,” Pakistan head of HuT Naveed Butt, told me during an interview in Karachi, weeks before his ‘alleged disappearance’ in mid of 2012.
Butt, who was also the outfit’s spokesperson in Pakistan said the current system, which has popular mass support will be replaced through a ““change of minds, especially of those who have a say in country affairs.”
We don’t subscribe to the views of the Taliban, he said, adding the organisation was working on the “powerful” of the country.
Founded in 1953 as a Sunni Muslim organisation in Jerusalem by Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, an Islamic scholar and a judge, over the years, HuT has spread to more than 50 countries, particularly the United Kingdom, Arab and Central Asian states, with an estimated one million members.
In Pakistan, the HuT was proscribed by former military dictator General (R) Parvez Musharraf in 2004. It is still among the list of banned outfits.
“HuT identifies itself as a non-violent movement. However, its strategy of influencing and infiltrating into the security institutions for overthrow of western styles of governance implies a violent method,” says Raza Rumi, a US based Pakistani journalist who left the country after attack on him in Lahore.
“Compared to the nihilism of IS and Al Qaeda, HuT seems benign but at the end of the day it builds a wider support for acceptance of a global Caliphate ideal.”
Raja Umar Khattab, in-charge counter terrorism department, concurs with Rumi.
Butt, originally stationed in Lahore and Islamabad, was on a visit to Karachi for a meeting with the potential members from different walks of life, including media.
Weeks later on May 11, 2012, HuT activists held a protest demonstration in Lahore, alleging Butt had been abducted by “intelligence agencies” from the Punjab capital on his way home.
An electrical engineer from University of Illinois at Chicago, Butt, like many high profile members of the HuT, had left the western lifestyle for Pakistan. Though banned, the organisation enjoys the liberty to run a #freenaveedbutt campaign for the release of its leader.
The HuT had a soft corner for Pakistan’s security establishment but turned critical when the military media wing, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), confirmed on August 2, 2012 Brigadier Ali Khan, Major Inayat Aziz, Major Iftikhar, Major Sohail Akbar and Major Jawad Baseer were facing charges for having links with the banned outfit.
Many HuT activists off the record have confessed that Brigadier Khan, among others were products of the ‘change of minds’ narrative.
Though HuT’s activities were never open, it somehow interacted with important circles, which came to an end after the conviction of Brigadier Khan and the disappearance of Butt. Law enforcers apprehended a number of outfit’s activists in the following days.
The proscribed organisation claims several of its activists have been arrested despite the claim that their movement for implementation of Shariah was “never violent”. Recently, police authorities disclosed the arrest of two of its senior members.
On Tuesday October 6, 2015, police told media they had arrested an engineering and business graduate, Ovais Raheel from the city’s Boat Basin area. The suspect, police claimed, was targeting educated youngsters in the Defence and Clifton areas to use them “for illegal activities” with a view to implementing “Caliphate” in the country.
“The suspect has been arrested under Section 11EEEE (1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act,” Mazhar Mashwani of the Counter-Terrorism Department told media during a press conference. The suspect’s wife claims her husband is innocent.
Later on Friday, November 27, 2015, CTD claimed to have arrested the HuT’s Karachi chief, Hisam Qamar. The suspect, police said, was working in K-Electric as a deputy general manager.
Fifteen days before the police disclosed his arrest, Hisam family held a news conference at Karachi Press Club, claiming he was ‘abducted’ by LEAs a few days ago.
HuT’s connection with Islamic State
Besides arrests for distributing pamphlets in favour of the militant group, wall chalking related to IS has appeared in Quetta and Lahore. Lahore police claims it was done by Hizb activists.
Army General Raheel Sharif, who reportedly sought British government’s help against the outlawed HuT during UK visit in January this year, has also time and again said “not even a shadow of Daesh” will be tolerated in Pakistan. Similar stance has been conveyed by the country’s Foreign Office.
“HuT came to the UK in 1986 with help of Syrian Omar Bakri Muhammad and it now dominates the British radical scene,” writes Sahar Aman, a UK-based journalist.
Khattab and many experts believe though they might have not put up arms against the state, what they preach helps recruit militants.
“Though no proper connection between the two has been established, workers of HuT remain vulnerable to IS, which has the same goal but through the use of force,” says Muhammad Amir Rana, security analyst, who is also a director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in Islamabad.
Analysts believe those influenced by Tahrir are potential IS members.
“Hizb-ut-Tahrir, al Qaeda and the Islamic State have the same core ideology. They all reject secularism and secular systems such as democracy and believe in a political, economic and social system as per Shariah,” says Hasan Abdulah, a senior journalist covering militancy in Pakistan. “Both only differ in their methodology.”
Abdullah adds, “HuT claims to be non-violent and justifies its stance by claiming Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) replaced the pre-Islamic system with an Islamic one through a non-violent struggle.”
One could argue HuT is indirectly aiding al Qaeda and IS by indoctrinating Muslims to reject democracy, secularism and pluralism, etc, to embrace the concept of a global caliphate, concludes Hasan.
Published in The Frontier Post