Hafiz’s man en­ters poll ring to­day, with a lit­tle help from the army

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES GLOBAL -

La­hore: Anew Pak­istani po­lit­i­cal party con­trolled by 26/11 king­pin Hafiz Saeed is back­ing a can­di­date in a by­poll on Sun­day, in what a for­mer se­nior army of­fi­cer said was a key step in a mil­i­tary-led plan to main­stream mil­i­tant groups.

Milli Mus­lim League has lit­tle chance of see­ing its can­di­date win the seat va­cated af­ter Nawaz Sharif was re­moved from of­fice by the Supreme Court. But the foray into pol­i­tics by Saeed’s Is­lamist char­ity, Ja­maat-ud-Dawa, was ac­cord­ing to a blue­print Sharif him­self re­jected when the mil­i­tary pro­posed it last year, re­tired Lt Gen Am­jad Shuaib said.

Three Sharif aides con­firmed the ex-PM had op­posed the plan, which mil­i­tary fig­ures and an­a­lysts see as a way of steer­ing ul­tra-re­li­gious groups away from ji­had. Sharif wanted to dis­man­tle groups like JuD. Dis­agree­ment on what to do about anti-In­dia proxy fight­ers was a ma­jor source of ran­cour with the mil­i­tary, said one of the aides.

Saeed launched MML within two weeks af­ter the court ousted Sharif over the Panama Paers scan­dal. Yaqoob Sheikh, the La­hore can­di­date for MML, is stand­ing as an in­de­pen­dent af­ter the elec­toral com­mis­sion said the party was not yet legally reg­is­tered.

Another Is­lamist des­ig­nated a ter­ror­ist by the US, Fa­zlur Rehman Khalil, said he too planned to form his own party to ad­vo­cate strict Is­lamic law. “God will­ing, we will come in- to the main­stream — our coun­try right now needs pa­tri­otic peo­ple,” he said, vow­ing to turn Pak­istan into a state gov­erned by strict Is­lamic law.

Saeed’s char­ity and Khalil’s An­sar ul-Umma or­gan­i­sa­tion are both seen by the US as fronts for mil­i­tant groups the army has been ac­cused of spon­sor­ing. How­ever, both Is­lamist groups de­nied their po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions were en­gi­neered by the mil­i­tary.

Still, hun­dreds of MML sup­port­ers chanted “Long live Hafiz Saeed! Long live the Pak­istan army!” at ral­lies the past week. “Any­one who is In­dia’s friend is a traitor,” went another slo­gan, a ref­er­ence to Sharif ’s at­tempts to im­prove ties with In­dia, a source of ten­sion with the mil­i­tary.

An­a­lyst Khaled Ahmed said Saeed’s new party was an at­tempt by the gen­er­als to pur­sue an al­ter­na­tive to dis­man­tling its mil­i­tant prox­ies.

Some an­a­lysts worry that main­stream­ing such groups would be a risky strat­egy for Pak­istan, more so af­ter US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has threat­ened sanc­tions against Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary.

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