To the concern of moderate Pakistanis and the West, a right-wing extremist grouping of religious organizations has been gaining ground in Pakistan, ever since two dozen soldiers were killed in a NATO strike last fall.
A right-wing alliance, which goes by the name of Difa-e-Pakistan Ittehad or the Defense of Pakistan Alliance (DPA), has recently been trying to promote an anti-Western agenda by staging rallies in different cities around the country. It has come under fire abroad and in Pakistan, accused of being a platform for extremist forces which pose a threat to the stability of the country at a time when Pakistan is already fighting a deadly war against homegrown religious extremism and foreign militants.
The alliance is a joint platform representing some 40 religious-political parties, including many which were previously banned as terrorist groups. They argue the alliance is necessary because the government and the national security establishment have failed to defend Pakistan.
At mass rallies across the country, including in the capital Islamabad and the port city of Karachi, which have attracted more support than anticipated, it has advocated in recent weeks that Pakistan should terminate all its military and political cooperation with the Western world, particularly the USA. Moreover, it says that America and India should not be allowed to "occupy" Pakistan. This rhetoric is typical of several small right-wing religious and militant organizations, which in recent years have not enjoyed much public attention.
‘Death to America’
"Down with America," "never trust India" and "don’t open the already suspended NATO supply route for international troops in Afghanistan," are just some of the slogans the DPA has been chanting.
The alliance’s leader is Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, who is known for being one of the spiritual fathers of the Taliban movement and is head of several madrassas in northwestern Pakistan. Another main figure is Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, who was once leader of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a banned Islamist group with links to al-Qaeda, and once a close associate of Osama bin Laden.
"Today, we have gathered here to raise a voice of protest against US intervention in Pakistan," Maulana Sami ul-Haq told AFP at a recent anti-US rally in Islamabad. "Our protest is against the possible resumption of NATO supplies, US and Indian occupation and to strengthen the country's defense," he said.
The DPA also includes Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a group blacklisted by the UN for allegedly being a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is widely held responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The chief of JuD, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, has not been allowed to address the DPA rallies but his deputy, Hafiz Abdur Rehman Makki, did speak at the Islamabad rally and made clear that his message was ‘death to America.’
Covert support of the establishment
Hamid Gul, a retired lieutenant-general and a former chief of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of the Pakistani army, is also an important actor in the alliance. He has claimed that the US is meddling in the region and for many analysts his membership of the DPA is a sign that the Pakistani establishment may have given its indirect blessing.
"For 10 years, our rulers as an ally of the United States spilled the blood of this nation. We insisted in the past and say it again now - this is not our war," Hamid Gul told the crowd at the Islamabad rally. "The Pakistani nation will not allow the resumption of supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan. If the rulers side with US aggression, the nation will rise against them," he warned.
As far as the majority of peace-loving and moderate Pakistanis are concerned, the rise of the DPA is a disturbing sign. They worry that the government lacks the political will to tackle religious extremism for fear of unleashing forces it can no longer control.