Lahore: Over the years, known militant group and Hafiz-Saeed led, Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) has been making headlines the world over for their Kashmir jihad and in Pakistan for their anti-India and pro-army demonstrations and social work under their charity – Falah Insaniyat Foundation. Then on May 14, 2017 when the government detained Hafiz Saeed under house arrest, perhaps under the world pressure, the Jud decided to reclaim its space.

The outfit contested in a recently held NA-120 bye-elections by launching its own candidate Sheikh Yaqoob under the JuD offshoot, the Milli Muslim League (MML), which failed to get its political name registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) because of some technicalities. But it is the matter of time, when once the technical glitches are removed, the party will have all rights to launch its candidates in the next elections to be held in 2018 under the banner of the MML. The JuD candidate put up Hafiz Saeed as the face of their campaign poster and stood fourth in the vote tally with over 5,000 votes.

Equally surprising, in these by-elections, was the emergence of a new Islamist party called Tehrik e Labaik Pakistan Party, and its candidate stood ahead of the JuD candidate. The party is inspired by the murderer of governor Salman Taseer, Mumtaz Qadri, and vows to kill every “blasphemer.” The party got a third position on the roll, with more than 7,000 votes.

The TLYR relies on the support of Brelvi sect, which follows rather moderate version of Islam, but its regard for Mumtaz Qadri, the bodyguard of the governor who gunned down Salman Taseer in Islamabad in 2011, as their hero, is worrisome. Salman Taseer was killed for voicing a need to reform the blasphemy laws that are often misused for personal vendettas. The party demands death for all those who seek any semblance of reforms to the blasphemy law.

The party leader, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, told Truth Tracker that they would take part in the 2018 elections and their vision is to gain power to enforce Sharia in the country. He also vowed to keep the murderer of the governor as the face of their political posters for elections, calling him the hero of Islam. He also said that they would always seek severe punishment for blasphemers “because it is the matter of the faith of every Muslim,” he iterated.

Similarly, MML President Saifullah Khalid told Truth Tracker that Hafiz Saeed (whose JuD has been designated by the UN a terrorist, while the United States has had a $10m bounty on his head) would always be the face of their campaign posters in election activities. The party, however, has yet to come up with the exact of role of Hafiz Saeed in the electoral politics.

Former editor of Dawn Abbas Nasir in his column, published in Dawn, called it a scheme of the establishment to mainstream militant groups. To reinforce his stance, he cited the interview of former military general Amjad Shoaib on TV months before the elections stating that the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence had suggested mainstreaming of the fanatical jihadi militants.

The good general never contradicted his words not any denial came from the Inter-Services Public Relation, the media wing of the armed forces.

The JuD and Tehrik e Labaik Ya Rasool are not the first jihadi, or hardliners to make a foray into the Pakistani electoral world. Earlier, Masroor Jhangvi, the founder of banned Sipah Sahaba Pakistan, won the election for the Punjab Assembly in a Jhang bye-poll as an independent candidate. Masroor Jhangvi’s supporters call Shias ‘kafir’ and their party has been behind the sectarian violence.  Masroor Jhangvi, however, after winning the elections said he had become moderate, without offering any regret on his past action of hate-speech against the Shia community.

“The way these jihadi and hardliner parties have contested the bye-election for NA-120 raises many eyebrows,” says Hasan Shahzad, a senior journalist and electoral politics expert. “Why the Election Commission of Pakistan never took action against the glorification of jihadi and banned leaders? Why the election watchdog never saw details of funding from these outfits and their brazen use of mosques?” he raises many more questions.

The lack of action by the ECP, and buoyed by voters’ support in the NA-120 bye-Elections, more jihadi outfits plan to try to their luck in the 2018 elections. Fazlur Rehman Khalil, who is a declared terrorist by the US, said he would also entre the electoral politics arena by launching his own party. “God willing, we will come into the mainstream – our country right now needs patriotic people,” Khalil’s close aide told Truth Tracker on the condition of anonymity.

Hassan Shahzad said he feared that the establishment might mainstream the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan leaders like Ehsanullah Ehsan, who surrendered to the army last year and is now in army custody.

“The entrance of jihadi outfits in the elections will give a whole new narrative to the politics,” he said. “The leaders, associated with guns, will reinforce the culture of guns in the society. These are high times the tides of jihadi outfits are stemmed before time is up; and remember we are running short of time,” he concluded.

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