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Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat [ASWJ]
Soldiers of the Companions of the Prophet
(Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan: SSP)

Jihadi organizations in Pakistan mainly operate under the aegis of three religious organizations: Deobandi, Ahl-e-Hadith, and Muslim Brotherhood. In a competitive environment where religious differences matter, each ideology can provide distinct venues to mobilize support against the system.

Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) is the new name of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). The SSP is an extremist Sunni (Deobandi) militant organization that has carried out attacks against Shia, whom it believed to be infidels, since 1985. In recent years the SSP has also targeted Barelvi groups. This group has also developed strong ties with the TTP. The Pakistan government banned the SSP in March 2012 after the rise in sectarian violence.

Soldiers of the Companions of the Prophet (Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan: SSP) was founded in the early 1980s and banned by Pakistan in 2002, the SSP was renamed Millat-eIslamia Pakistan (MIP) in April 2003, and Ahle Sunnat wa Aljamaat Pakistan (The Sunni Party: ASWJP) in June 2008. A radical Sunni group, the SSP is no longer a significant force in Pakistan but is associated with the LeJ, and individuals and small groups still pose a threat to Shias and Christians. The new SSP leader was Mullah Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi.

According to several sources, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) [also Ahle-Sunnat-wal-Jama'at (Nation 17 Aug. 2009); Ahlay Sunnat Al -Jammat (MEMRI 21 Aug. 2009)] is the renamed Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) (BBC 17 Aug. 2009; Daily Times 14 May 2008; SATP 11 Aug. 2009). The SSP, a Sunni extremist organization in Pakistan (BBC 17 Aug. 2009; MEMRI 21 Aug. 2009), was outlawed in February 2002 (BBC 17 Aug. 2009; SATP 11 Aug. 2009) and changed its name to Millat-e-Islamia (BBC 17 Aug. 2009). Millat-e-Islamia was subsequently banned, resulting in the group renaming itself as the ASWJ (ibid.; see also Daily Times 27 Apr. 2009).

In a 17 August 2009 article, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) states that while the ASWJ is the organization's official name, SSP "is the name everybody, including the party's own cadres, uses to refer to the organization." According to The Daily Times, intelligence officials stated that the ASWJ has the same flag and slogans as the SSP as well as similar leaders (14 May 2008). The Nation states in a 17 August 2009 article that the founder of the SSP, the late Ali Sher Hyderi, also founded the ASWJ. Hyderi was killed by armed militants in Khairpur district in August 2009 (BBC 17 Aug. 2009; see also The Nation 17 Aug. 2009).

Both the BBC and The Daily Times indicate that the banned SSP is gaining strength (BBC 17 Aug. 2009; Daily Times 27 Apr. 2009). In a 14 May 2008 article, The Daily Times states that ASWJ leaders had "issued orders to their activists to hold public meetings and conferences across the country."

According to a Syracuse University professor of international relations and law specializing in Pakistani issues, while the SSP and the AWSJ may share a variety of ideas, it does not mean that they share entirely the same beliefs (20 Aug. 2009). The Professor stated that the AWSJ adopts a "slightly more temperate" attitude publicly; either because the organization is trying to avoid a government ban, or because their leaders may be more moderate (20 Aug. 2009).

A representative of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an independent and nonpartisan Washington, DC-based organization which provides regional media-based analysis (MEMRI n.d.), provided the following information on Sunni groups in Pakistan and the SSP: Broadly speaking, there are two groups of religious organizations in Pakistan - Sunni and Shiite. Among the Sunni groups, there are two groups of religious organizations: the first belongs to the Barelvi School of thought; the second belongs to Deobandi School of Islamic thought. The former, i.e. Barelvi groups, are soft-natured and religiously orthodox, but the Deobandi religious groups in Pakistan are jihadist in nature, more into violence and militancy.

About the Barelvi and Sunni distinction among the Sunni religious groups, it should be borne in mind that the SSP is backed by the Sunni Deobandi groups. There are two sets of similar sounding Sunni organizations: one, Tanzeem Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat; two, Tehreek Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. The names of their spellings continue to vary in English language when reported by the media, but the key distinction is of Tehreek versus Tanzeem. Sometimes, these two words are not used, thereby confusing even the innocent religious man. However, if the word Tanzeem figures in their name, it belongs to Deobandi school and is the mother of Sunni militant organizations like the SSP. So, in this case, Tanzeem Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a coalition of Deobandi organizations, is the mother of the SSP. Its alternative spelling is also Ahlay Sunnat Al-Jammat Pakistan. On the other hand, the Tehreek Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat is a coalition of Barelvi groups of Sunni organizations. These are soft-natured, but nevertheless extremely orthodox. (Sometimes, even softer versions of these groups undergo political transformation; for example, Sunni Tehreek, a Barelvi organization, was transformed into a political group and was involved in violence in Pakistani city of Karachi.)

Importantly, sometimes these organizations may not be identified by either word: Tanzeem or Tehreek. This is because there is no need to have their formal names always in the media because their followers are predominantly drawn to their leaders, not to organizations. (MEMRI 21 Aug. 2009)

According to Amnesty International (AI), Jamaat-e-Ahle Sunnat is a "moderate Sunni Muslim group" of the Barelvi school of thought (13 Apr. 2006). The BBC states that Jamaat-e-Ahle Sunnat "is part of the wide Sunni Tehrik movement" (14 Apr. 2006). On its website, Jamat-e-Ahlesunnat Pakistan identifies itself as "a religious organization representing the overwhelming majority of Pakistan" (n.d.a), although there is nothing concrete to confirm that the AWSJ and Jamaat-e-Ahlesunnat are the same organization, it is "likely" (20 Aug. 2009).



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