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