SP Operations Islamabad Asmatullah Junejo, along with SHO Shahzad Town police station, has been suspended on the directions of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Reportedly, police officials have been reprimanded for showing “leniency” towards a leader of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) – a violent sectarian organization previously known as the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. Mr Farooqi was travelling with his “guards” when he was intercepted by the police and found to be in possession of illegal weapons. Although they were taken to the police station, the FIR was registered under weaker charges, which facilitated the accused in securing a bail from a civil court. Once that had been done, the police had no choice but to follow court orders, leaving everyone happy and out of trouble. A government spokesperson has claimed that the PM’s orders are meant to send a clear message that favourable treatment towards hardcore elements will be tolerated no more.

Some view this move as evidence for a revised policy against extremists. Most regard it as an episode of political posturing, with little substance. The skepticism is not unfounded. For starters, the PML-N and the ASWJ has enjoyed quite a rapport on the political scene. While it is true that Sheikh Muhammad Akram was awarded the PML-N ticket to contest elections against ASWJ Chief Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi in Jhang, the relationship is still one of cooperation and mutual respect. The ASWJ is overtly sectarian and even now, is engaged in running a dangerous propaganda campaign against Jibran Nasir and other members of civil society for demanding the arrest of radical preacher Abdul Aziz of the Red Mosque. This is being done with the full knowledge of the PML-N leadership, but no action is being taken. The Punjab government is fully aware of the seminaries affiliated with such elements, but remains unmoved. The PML-N leadership, if it were actually sincere about confronting sectarian elements, could begin by taking names and renouncing their ideology.

Furthermore, who will the Prime Minister suspend for failing to arrest Abdul Aziz despite the issuance of non-bailable arrest warrants against him by a court of law? Suspending police officials is way too easy, and it doesn’t fool or impress anyone. If there is indeed a shift in policy, it ought to manifest itself in a larger, comprehensive campaign against extremists operating freely in the country, especially Punjab. This change of heart should show itself by a change in Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan’s nonchalant and apologetic approach towards militancy. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif too can break his criminal silence and lead the campaign against militants in his province. The nation is yet to see all this happen. So far, we have two police officials allegedly suspended for showing leniency in one case against one member of one organization. It doesn’t even come close.