Milli Undermines Democracy in Pakistan

Hafiz Saeed addresses a rally in Lahore (File)

Signs of “Terroristan” in the making are visible in Pakistan. Although the by-election at NA-120 was won by Kulsoom Nawaz, the real victors were terrorist mastermind Hafiz Saeed’s newly floated political party, Milli Muslim League (MML) and Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), a rabidly Sunni extremist outfit set up to honour the killer of former Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer….writes Ishaq Mohiyudeen

Hafiz Saeed addresses a rally in Lahore (File)

The by-election for a National Assembly seat from NA 120 at Lahore gave a glimpse of the future of Pakistan—how terrorist and extremist groups were shifting to mainstream politics and transforming the country, as India said at the UN, into a “terroristan”.

Although the election was won by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s wife, the real victors were terrorist mastermind Hafiz Saeed’s newly floated political party, Milli Muslim League (MML) and Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), a rabidly Sunni extremist outfit set up to honour the killer of former Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer.

The Daily Times, in its editorial called it “dangerous signals”. Without mincing any words, the newspaper warned: “ What was recklessly allowed to happen at the NA 120 by-election could just be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. Meaning that this so-called democratic participation could end up seeing us designated as a terrorist state. And if this were to happen then it should be all of the political set-up in the dock.  “

The only people who were surprised by this outcome of the election in the heart of Punjab, at this critical junction in the history of Pakistan’s democratic politics, were the extremist groups and the political parties who have been instrumental to a large extent in the promotion and growth of terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), its parent group, Jama-udDawa (JuD) and their leader, Hafiz Saeed.

Neither the people nor the army are surprised by the results or the emergence of terrorist groups as “legitimate” political parties. It was something which was waiting to happen, especially when Pakistan Army has been steadily working towards such a scenario.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. (File Photo: Xinhua/PID/IANS) by .
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (File Photo: Xinhua/PID/IANS)

The army, for long, has had an un-named `domestic project`–to whittle down the two mainstream parties—Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and subjugate them or break them. These parties are to be replaced by new parties controlled by the Generals directly or indirectly. Imran Khan’s party is one such party. Hafiz Saeed’s MML is another.

The PPP was given a fatal jolt when its leader, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated by unidentified assailants but on the orders of the army. Although the PPP won the elections in the wake of Benazir’s death, and its government lasted five years, it was on a slow burn and today is no longer a party of relevance. Its leader, Asif Ali Zardari, hardly stays in Pakistan and the heir-apparent, Bilawal Bhutto’s active interest in politics is confined to the social media.

Now it is the turn of the PMLN to be dismembered. The first major step was to engineer the sacking of the legitimately elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif was found guilty of corruption and the Supreme Court, was quick to pronounce him guilty and sack him. This move has sowed the seeds of destruction in the party which was tightly held, till now, by the Sharif family. The Army, in the coming days, would do everything possible to create and deepen the divide among other party leaders.

The army, of course, has denied such a move. But what a retired Lt. General said the other day trashes such a denial and confirms the fears of the military muddling in politics so brazenly.  Lt Gen (rtd) AmjadShoaib boasted that the army was behind the move to mainstream terrorist groups like LeT. If this statement is seen with the sudden emergence of MML within days of Sharif’s sack, the hand of the military becomes even more clear. The retired General had also let out that this plan had been in the footing for at least a year, if not more and that Nawaz Sharif had refused to play ball with the Generals and hence he was punished. But then Sharif and his party have no legitimate reason to cry foul because it was his party, in Punjab, which so generously gave Rs 83 million as grant to the terrorist group to run schools and do other charitable works.

Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan addresses his supporters at an anti-government protest in eastern Pakistan’s Lahore on Sept. 28, 2014. Supporters of Pakistan’s two opposition leaders, Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and Tahir ul Qadri of Pakistan Wami Tehrik attended the sit-in protest in Islamabad, demanding resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and fresh polls. FILE PHOTO

The second part of the game plan was to push these parties to the front and this happened in the Lahore elections. Hafiz Saeed’s party, not yet recognised as a legitimate political entity, fielded “independent” candidate who came fourth in terms of votes in the elections.

The candidate who came third, with 7200 votes, was also an equal partner in the Army’s game. He belongs to TLP, a party which calls for immediate and blanket imposition of Sharia and summary execution of anyone who is found guilty of blasphemy. The party was set up on February 29, 2016, the day when MumtazQadri, who killed the former Punjab Governor for supporting the campaign against blasphemy, was hanged.

How much these parties can consolidate in the run up to the next year’s election is an open question. The only party which has the wherewithal to challenge the mainstream parties like PMLN, besides Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, is Hafiz Saeed’s MML. It has the money, the infrastructure, the public support and the backing of the Generals. Imran Khan too enjoys the military patronage.

If Hafiz Saeed’s MML were to emerge as a leading contender in the year’s elections, Pakistan’s journey to become “Terroristan” would have a major leap.  Who knows, it could even have “the terror head” as its PM.  Hope the world is watching.