Monday, 3 April 2017

QK archives: Maulana Sufi Mohammad is an unusual prisoner

• Maulana Sufi Mohammad is an unusual prisoner
QK archives: circa 2002/03
Rahimullah Yusufzai

PESHAWAR: Maulana Sufi Mohammad is an unusual prisoner. He refuses to eat food provided by the authorities in the Central Prison, Dera Ismail Khan. He also turned down requests from his followers and well-wishers to submit an application to the courts for his release on bail.

Inmates who spent time in the same prison said the old man cooked his own food in his cramped cell in the sprawling jail. Supporters, mostly madrassa students in the city, bring him bread and water from outside.

The founder of the Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM) has spent about two years behind the bars. He might spend several more years in jail if he continues to ridicule the existing courts as "kufri" (un-Islamic) courts.

The Maulana was arrested when he crossed over to Pakistan from neighbouring Afghanistan where he had gone as the commander of several thousand TNSM fighters wanting to fight alongside the Taliban against the invading US-led forces. The quick US military victory and the fall of the Taliban regime in November 2001 prompted the Maulana and his followers to escape to Pakistan. Several hundred TNSM members are still being held in official and private Afghan prisons.

The 85 or so TNSM activists who were arrested along with Maulana Sufi Mohammad have all been released. All of them, including the Maulana, were tried and sentenced under the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), which is applicable in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan. This was obviously done to facilitate a quick trial and award them heavy punishment.

Except the Maulana, the other TNSM prisoners including his son, Zia, filed appeals against their sentences, got relief from the courts and won their freedom. The Maulana had been sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment by the tribal political administration under the FCR. The home department reduced his sentence by half when Javed Ibrahim Paracha, a former PML-N MNA from Kohat, filed an appeal on his behalf.

Paracha and other well-wishers of Maulana Sufi Mohammad now want to take the case to the courts to challenge his continued imprisonment and seek his release. But the Maulana has refused to sign any document that would take his case to courts that he considers "kufri." Paracha, who spent 29 days in the same prison cell with the Maulana, said he failed to persuade him to approach the courts. "He has termed the allegations against him as false and is unwilling to appear in any Pakistan court. He doesn't recognize the Pakistani courts because he considers them un-Islamic," Paracha explained.

Paracha, president, All Pakistan Prisoners Relief Committee, pointed out that Maulana Sufi Mohammad has consistently rejected any deal with the government that would facilitate his release. Hopes for his release were raised after the Islamist MMA swept the October 2002 elections and formed the government in the NWFP. A few MMA leaders reportedly met him or sent messages to him in jail. But nothing came out of this exercise and the ageing Maulana is still languishing in the prison.

The Maulana's critics believe that he wants to remain imprisoned to avoid confrontation with families of TNSM members and sympathizers who were killed or captured or went missing in Afghanistan. The critics felt the Maulana's life would be in danger once he is out of prison.

However, Paracha and TNSM leaders such as Maulana Mohammad Alam reject this theory and term it misleading. They maintain that none of the families that lost a member in Afghanistan has expressed any hostility towards Maulana Sufi Mohammad. According to Paracha, the Maulana showed him documents that had been signed by every Afghanistan-bound TNSM member and in which each of them declared that Maulana Sufi Mohammad would not be responsible if they were killed or captured. Each document, said Paracha, was signed by four witnesses to make them authentic. If true, it explained the Maulana's shrewdness even if he outwardly appears very simple and naïve.

The Maulana, who hails from Maidan area of Lower Dir district, has had his way in the past. He has led a sustained campaign for enforcement of Shariat in the old Malakand division. In 1995, his movement turned violent once TNSM workers occupied the Saidu Sharif airport, blocked roads in Swat and made judges and other government officials hostage. The mercurial Maulana also forced senior government functionaries to remove pictures, including those of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, from places where he held negotiations with authorities on the plea that photographs are un-Islamic.

Though the TNSM has now been banned and its support base has shrunk, Maulana Sufi Mohammad is not ready to give up his struggle. Against heavy odds, this unusual prisoner might prevail and walk out of the jail as a free man without completing his sentence.