What is the JUI-F's Ansar ul Islam and should it be banned?

JUI-F's Ansar ul Islam has a single slogan: "The leadership's safety is our top priority."

Majid Nizami
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) activists hold the Pakistani and their party flags as they prepare for Azadi March in Peshawar on October 13, 2019.—AFP/File photo

Ansar ul Islam has a single slogan: "The leadership's safety is our top priority."

If you hadn't heard of Ansar ul Islam before, you must have now. Last week, a propaganda video emerged showing a training camp of this sub-organisation of the rightwing Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), propelling it to the centre of national intrigue. Images of stick-wielding young men ignited a new debate on primetime talk shows.

For some, Ansar ul Islam is a militia which should be banned by the state. For others, it is a routine force set up to protect the JUI-F leadership when it marches to Islamabad later this month in a bid to dislodge the ruling party.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman's JUI-F has a point. Political parties are no strangers to security wings. The left-of-center Pakistan People's Party had the People's Aman Committee and the People's Youth. Then there was Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's Tiger Force, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement's Karachi Tanzeemi Committee and the Jamaat-e-Islami's Shabab-e-Milli Pakistan. These committees and wings had only one agenda: to ensure the protection of their leadership during political rallies, especially during election season. In recent times, though, politicians have also surrounded themselves with private guards for added protection.

The JUI-F argues that its sub-group is no different from that of other political parties, except that Ansar ul Islam is not just a wing in the JUI-F's party structure, it is an organisation in itself.

It even has its own hierarchy. At the very top is the central leader, followed by the provincial, divisional and zila leader. The workers, who make up the bulk of the force and undergo trainings, are known as 'volunteers'. Each volunteer of Ansar ul Islam must wear the uniform as well, a khaki-colored shalwar kameez.

Another interesting feature of the group is its intelligence wing, named after Hazrat Huzaifa bin Yaman, one of the companions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Workers in the intel department stay in plain clothes. They are tasked to keep an eye out for suspicious people or activities near and around the public gatherings. Furthermore, they are also watchful of the police and intelligence forces to prevent them from arresting their top leadership. In case of an emergency or during time of chaos, the intelligence wings charts out an exit route for the safe escape of its leaders.

As for the majority of the volunteers, they are deployed near the parking lot, at the entrances and around the stage. The men in khaki are also required to meet with the local police to map out a security plan before every public rally or protest. In order to avoid any untoward incident, the JUI-F provides each volunteer with a duty card, which clearly states his name and his place of duty.

Earlier, JUI-F followers were allowed to reach out and shake hands with the top leadership, but Ansar ul Islam has been instructed to prevent such incidents as it comprises the overall security of the political party.

When the video of Ansar ul Islam volunteers, gearing up for the march to Pakistan's capital, was first posted, some media personalities confused it with its namesake militant organisation that was banned in 2008. That Ansar ul Islam was based out of the northern Khyber Agency and was set up to fight against its hardline nemesis in the region, such as the militant groups Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Islam. One of the people consulted when the banned militia was formed is now in the PTI government as a federal minster, Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, who was and remains to this day a prominent religious figure in Khyber agency.

The JUI-F has repeatedly claimed that its march to Islamabad will remain peaceful. Then one wonders what is the need for stick-welding young men who could, if provoked, turn violent. Regardless, banning the organisation is an overreaction by the state, especially when the police can sit down and work out a plan of security with the JUI-F volunteers to ensure that the no one is hurt on October 31.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Geo News or the Jang Group.