Earlier termed Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) is a Sunni sectarian outfit that has been alleged to be involved in terrorist violence, primarily targeted against the minority Shia community in Pakistan. The outfit has also operated as a political party having contested elections and an SSP leader was a minister in the Coalition Government in Punjab in 1993. The SSP is one of the five outfits that have been proscribed by President Pervez Musharraf on January 12, 2002. The outfit is reported to have been renamed as Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan after the proscription.
Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, Maulana Zia-ur-Rehman Farooqi, Maulana Eesar-ul-Haq Qasmi and Maulana Azam Tariq established the SSP, initially known as the Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba in September 1985 in an environment of increasing sectarian hostility in Pakistani Punjab. The origin of this outfit lie in the feudal set-up of Pakistani Punjab and politico-religious developments in the Nineteen Seventies and Eighties. Political and economic power in Pakistani Punjab was a privilege of large landowners, mostly Shias, a minority as compared to the Sunni sect. Urban Punjab in contrast, was a non-feudalised middle-class society and largely from the Sunni sect. The SSP is also alleged to have been set up at the behest of the then Zia-ul-Haq regime as part of the efforts to build an Islamist counter to pro-democracy forces ranged against the military regime of the Eighties.
The socio-economic rationale for SSP's origin is explained largely from the economic profile of Jhang, the home base of SSP. Located in a region that divides Central from Southern Pakistani Punjab, Jhang still has a significantly high proportion of large land holdings, leaving feudalism relatively undisturbed. Most large landlords, who are Shias, dominate both society and politics in the region. But, over the years, the area has developed as an important mandi (market town) gradually increasing the power of traders, shopkeepers and transport operators in the region. Seeking a political voice and role, this class, largely from the Sunni community, has been challenging the traditional feudal hold. The most serious political challenge to the control of feudal interests has been articulated in the form of violent sectarianism, with the formation of the SSP. This has meant, however, that the contest for access to resources and status and the competition for domination over the state apparatus are not framed in terms of class divisions, or modernisation imperatives, but confrontationist sectarian identities.
As in most areas affected by violence, a major contradiction has risen. While a sizeable proportion of traders and shopkeepers continue to fund the SSP in Jhang, most do not believe in the violence associated with the party, rather it is now a matter of buying security. Nevertheless, there is a decline in their support for the SSP over recent years as a result of the economic consequences of sectarian strife.
Ideology and Objectives
The SSP wants Pakistan to be declared a Sunni state. Maulana Zia-ul-Qasmi, a leading SSP leader said in an interview in January 1998, "the government gives too much importance to the Shias. They are everywhere, on television, radio, in newspapers and in senior positions. This causes heartburn." While fervently believing in hostility towards the Shias, the SSP also aims at restoring the Khilafat system. It also aims to protect the Sunnis and their Shariat (law). The SSP has declared that Shiites are non-Muslims. The SSP came into existence as a reaction to the Iranian Revolution and increasing Shia militancy in Pakistan. There is another school of thought which says that the SSP phenomenon began from Jhang as a reaction to the socio-economic repression of the masses by Shia feudal structure in the area.
Giving his reaction to the warning given to the party by President Pervez Musharraf on August 14, 2001, SSP leader Maulana Mujibur Rehman Inqilabi said that it had nothing to do with terrorism and considered it a danger to the security of the country and people, believing in the negotiated resolution of all issues. He also said that the resolution of the Shia-Sunni issue did not lie in bans, bloodshed, hanging or cruel punishments but in negotiations. Maulana Inqilabi also pointed out that Pervez Musharraf must constitute a tribunal under his supervision comprising the Interior Minister, all provincial Home Secretaries, Chief Justices of the Supreme and High Courts, leading Ulema (religious scholars) and journalists to hear proposals from the Tehreek-e-Jaferia-Pakistan (TJP) and the SSP for the resolution of their differences. He said the tribunal should formulate a code of ethics in the light of the proposals by both the parties, give it a legal cover and then get it followed by all the concerned.
Earlier, on January 16, 2001, the SSP and its Shia rival organisation, the Tehreek-e-Jaferia Pakistan (TJP) reportedly assured the Punjab provincial Government of co-operation in the elimination of terrorism from the country. Similarly, on February 3, 2001, the Punjab leadership of the SSP and another Shia outfit, Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP) announced its willingness to overcome differences and to withdraw cases filed against each other.
The SSP also actively opposes the US-Pakistan alliance formed in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on US targets. The alliance was targeted against the erstwhile Taliban regime in Afghanistan, a major supporter of Sunni extremists and terrorist outfits in Pakistan. The outfit joined the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), Jamaat-e-Ulema-e Pakistan (JUP), Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, and Fazlur Rahman faction of JuI and Jamaat-e-Ahle Hadith in forming the Afghan Jehad Council and claiming the US action was not a war against Taliban but against Islam, and therefore, it was essential for the Muslims to declare Jehad against the US and its allies.
Leadership and Structure
Maulana Azam Tariq, SSP chief and a Member of the National Assembly, was assassinated along with four other persons by three unidentified gunmen in Islamabad on October 6, 2003. He had won the October 2002 National Assembly elections from Jhang as an independent candidate. Azam Tariq, educated in the Madrassas (seminaries) in Faisalabad and Karachi, was a frequent visitor to Afghanistan during the Taliban militia's rule. Although the Maulana had claimed that the SSP had no links with any terrorist groups, security agencies believe that the SSP and LeJ are closely linked. In October 2000, the Maulana while speaking at an international Difah-e-Sahaba conference in Karachi said that the SSP aims to transform 28 large Pakistani cities into 'model Islamic cities' where television, cinema and music would be banned. Azam Tariq was also a supporter the terrorist violence in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). When Maulana Masood Azhar formed the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in the aftermath of his release in Kandahar, Afghanistan, following the hijacking of an Indian aircraft in December 1999, Azam Tariq reportedly 'pledged' to send 500,000 Jehadis to J&K to fight Indian security forces. According to an October 2003 report in the Daily Times, 65 cases were registered against him, including 28 cases relating to terrorist acts.
Allama Ali Sher Ghazni is the Patron-in-Chief of the outfit. Maulana Zia-ul-Qasmi serves as the Chairman, Supreme Council. Other important SSP leaders are Qazi Mohammed Ahmed Rashidi, Mohammed Yousuf Mujahid, Tariq Madni, Muhammad Tayyab Qasim and Maulana Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi.
Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, one of the founder members of SSP was assassinated on February 23, 1990, reportedly by Shia terrorists. He was considered to have been the most prominent SSP leader, belonged to the Deobandi sect and was very popular in Jhang for his speeches. Maulana Jhangvi aimed to make Pakistan a Sunni state. He contested and lost the election for a National Assembly seat in 1990. Haq Nawaz's avowed mission was to declare Shias as Kafir (infidel) and in this pursuit, he publicly instructed his followers to destroy peace in Pakistan, if it became necessary to get Shias declared as Kafir.
Kaka Balli, kin of a former member of the National Assembly from Jhang, Amanullah Khan Sial, was convicted to lifetime imprisonment for the assassination of Maulana Jhangvi. After the assassination, Maulana Zia-ur Rehman Farooqi took over the leadership of the outfit. He was later killed in a bomb explosion in the Lahore Sessions Court on January 19, 1997. Maulana Azam Tariq succeeded Maulana Zia-ur Rehman Farooqi.
The SSP is reported to have approximately 3,000 - 6,000 trained activists who indulge in various kinds of violent sectarian activities, which are primarily directed against the Shias. Most SSP cadres hail from Punjab.
SSP extremists have primarily operated in two ways: The first involves targeted killings of prominent opponent organisation activists. In the second, terrorists fire on worshippers in mosques operated by opposing sects.
By 1992, the SSP was reported to have gained access to sophisticated arms as also the ability to use these weapons even against law enforcement agencies. In June 1992, its activists used a rocket launcher in an attack which killed five police personnel. In Punjab, 1994 was one of the worst years in terms of sectarian violence when such incidents claimed 73 lives and more than 300 people were injured. Many of these killings were the result of indiscriminate firing on people saying their prayers. The SSP along with several other Sunni and Shia organisations were suspected to have participated in this violence.
In 1996, the outfit joined peace efforts initiated by the Milli Yakjeheti Council* though violence continued unabated. The second half of the year was notable for the fact that while the number of incidents decreased, average casualties in these incidents increased. In one such instance where SSP was suspected as the perpetrator, ten persons were killed in indiscriminate firing at a mourning procession in Mailsi in Vehari district in July 1996.
News reports have indicated that the SSP and other Sunni outfits hold Iran as the sponsor of Shia extremist outfits in Pakistan. Hence when any major Sunni leader is assassinated, Iranians in Pakistan are targeted for retribution. For instance, the Iranian Counsel General in Lahore, Sadeq Ganji, was killed in December 1990 in what was reported to be a retribution for the February 1990 killing of the SSP co-founder Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. Similarly, in January 1997, the Iranian Cultural Centre in Lahore was attacked and set on fire, while in Multan seven persons were killed including the Iranian diplomat Muhammad Ali Rahimi. Earlier, in the month, a bomb blast at the Sessions Court in Lahore left 30 persons dead, including the then SSP chief Zia-ur-Rehman Farooqi along with 22 policemen and a journalist. News reports said that the retribution continued in September 1997 when five personnel of the Iranian armed forces who were in Pakistan for training were killed by suspected Sunni terrorists.
As with other sectarian outfits in Pakistan, the SSP has chosen to lie low after the military coup of November 1999. This lends credence to the hypothesis that SSP like other sectarian and ethnic groups, indulge in violence only when a passive state guarantees an environment of neutrality and even tacit support to this violence. With a hard-line stance being taken by the military regime against internal violence within Pakistan, these organisations have chosen to keep a low profile.
As part of its opposition to the US-Pakistan alliance against the erstwhile Taliban regime, the SSP joined other members of the Afghan Jehad Council on September 20, 2001 in announcing a Jehad against the US forces if they used Pakistani soil to carry out military attacks on the Taliban regime. The SSP leadership while criticising the Pakistani Government's decision of extending support to the US-led air attacks on the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan also indicated that they would fight alongside the Taliban militia.Links
In 1996, protesting against what they termed as the moderating nature of the organisations, the more radical and extremist elements of the SSP walked out of the outfit to form the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a sectarian terrorist outfit that was proscribed by President Pervez Musharraf on August 14, 2001. In contrast, the SSP has always retained an explicit political profile, contesting elections and having been a constituent of a Punjab coalition government. Despite SSP denials, the LeJ is widely considered to be the armed wing of the Sipah-e-Sahaba.
Many SSP cadres have received arms training from the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and the erstwhile Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
The SSP is also reported to be closely linked to the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a Pakistan-based terrorist outfit active in Jammu and Kashmir. Maulana Masood Azhar, JeM chief, speaking at a Jehad conference in October 2000 said, "now we go hand-in-hand, and Sipah-e-Sahaba stands shoulder to shoulder with Jaish-e-Muhammad in Jehad."
The SSP draws support, inspiration and assistance from various political parties in Pakistan, primarily the Jamaat-e-Islam (JeI) and the Jamaat-Ulema-e-Islam (JuI). The JuI is associated with running a large number of Madrassas all over Pakistan from where recruits for the HuM, SSP and Taliban are provided.
The SSP reportedly receives significant funding from Saudi Arabia through wealthy private sources in Pakistan. Funds are also acquired from various sources, including Zakat and donations from various Sunni extremist groups. Other sources include donations through local Sunni organisations and trusts, Madrassas and study circles, and contributions by political groups. Most of the foreign funded Sunni Madrassas in Pakistan are reportedly controlled by the SSP.
The SSP has also been linked to Ramzi Ahmed Yousuf, an accused in the New York World Trade Centre bombing of February 1993, who was later captured by the US authorities in February 1995.
Areas of Operation
Towns like Sargodha, Bahawalpur, Jhang, Multan and Muzaffargarh are the SSP strongholds. The dynamic leadership of Haq Nawaz Jhangvi is reported to have popularised an anti-Shia campaign in their backyard, southern and western areas of Punjab.
The SSP has influence in all the four provinces of Pakistan and is considered to be the most powerful extremist group in the country. It has also succeeded in creating a political vote bank in the Punjab and North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The SSP has reportedly 500 offices and branches in all 34 districts of Punjab. It is also reported to have approximately 1,00,000 registered workers in Pakistan and 17 branches in foreign countries including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Canada and England.