Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), formerly Anjuman-e-Sipah-e-Sahaba, is a Sunni sectarian outfit allegedly involved in terrorist violence, primarily targeting minority Shia Muslims in Pakistan. The outfit has also operated as a political party, having contested elections, and an SSP leader was a minister in the Coalition Government in Punjab in 1993. The SSP is one of the five outfits declared to be terrorist organizations by President Pervez Musharraf on January 12, 2002. After this event, the outfit changed their name to Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan.
The SSP came into existence in September, 1985, having broken away from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), Pakistan’s main Sunni organization in the Deobandi school. It was founded by controversial anti-Shia cleric Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, Maulana Zia-ur-Rehman Farooqi, Maulana Eesar-ul-Haq Qasmi and Maulana Azam Tariq, partly in response to the formation of Shia militant groups, which were targeting Sunni Muslims in Pakistan's Punjab region.
Part of the reason for the organization's formation lay in the feudal basis of Punjabi society at the time. Political and economic power was a privilege of large landowners, mostly Shias, who were a minority compared to the Sunni sect. Meanwhile, urban Punjab was a middle-class society largely consisting of people of the Sunni sect. Jhang, the home base of the SSP, has a number of large land holdings, but has also developed as a market area, thus increasing the power of the middle-class traders, shopkeepers and such. These people, who are mostly Sunni, are challenging the traditional feudal system, which the SSP articulates in the form of violent sectarianism.
However, there has been a decline in traders' and shopkeepers' funding of the SSP in recent years, in response to the economic results of the violence. In addition, while many traders continue funding the SSP, many do not believe in the violence, but are rather buying security.
The SSP is also alleged to have been set up at the behest of the Zia-ul-Haq regime as part of the efforts to resist pro-democracy forces ranged against it.
In 1996, the more radical elements of the SSP left to form the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which is widely considered to be the armed wing of the Sipah-e-Sahaba, despite official SSP denials.
President Pervez Musharraf declared the SSP a terrorist organization on January 12, 2002, after which, the outfit changed their name to Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan. In 2003, Musharraf re-designated the group as a terrorist organization.
On October 10, 2005, Great Britain's Home Office banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and fourteen other militant groups from operating in the United Kingdom. Under Britains' Terrorism Act 2000, being a member of a Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan is punishable by a 10-year prison term.
Many SSP cadres have received arms training from the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The organization is reported to be closely linked to the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a Pakistan-based terrorist outfit active in Jammu and Kashmir. Various political parties in Pakistan, primarily the Jamaat-e-Islam (JeI) and the Jamaat-Ulema-e-Islam (JuI), have allegedly provided support and assistance to the SSP. The JuI is associated with running a large number of Madrassas all over Pakistan, which recruit for the HuM, SSP and Taliban.
The SSP wants Pakistan to be declared a Sunni state, protecting Sunnis and Shariah law. It also aims at restoring the Caliphate system, and has declared Shiites to be non-Muslims.
The SSP actively opposes the US-Pakistan alliance formed in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on US targets as the alliance targeted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, a major supporter of Sunni terrorist outfits in Pakistan. The SSP joined the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), Sami ul-Haq faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S) and Jamaat-e-Ahle Hadith in forming the Afghan Jihad Council and claiming the US action was not a war against Taliban but against Islam, and therefore it was essential for the Muslims to declare Jihad against the US and its allies.
Although the SSP tries to maintain a political role, having a seat on Punjab's coalition government, it is still responsible for the murder of hundreds of Shia, killing not only prominent Shia people, but targeting Shia worshippers in mosques as well. The organization appears to hold Iran as a sponsor of Shiite outfits in Pakistan, and therefore the assassination of major Sunni Muslims is followed by the killing of Iranians in Pakistan as retribution.