In October 2017 the DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor gave a press conference in which he spoke about how the security establishment wanted to “integrate” militant groups into the “mainstream” of Pakistani politics. “It is in my knowledge that the government has started some discussion over it, that, how do we mainstream them, so that they could do constructive contribution.”
In a recent piece, Raza Rumi, editor of The Daily Times, Raza Rumi refers to the fact that a “retired general announced on national TV last year that such a plan had been under consideration but former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not in favour of implementing that. Now that the political configuration has changed, it seems that the plan is being quietly implemented and the first part is to allow these groups to field candidates in the elections. Since Nawaz Sharif is on the wrong side of the establishment, there is an added incentive to mainstreaming to undercut the support of conservative voters that Sharif enjoyed over the decades, especially in the Punjab.”
Since then we have witnessed this constant mainstreaming of militant groups like the Milli Muslim League (MML) founded by Lashkar e Taiba chief and global jihadi Hafiz Saeed, the Sunni Deobandi organization Ahl e Sunnat Wa Jamaat (ASWJ) – which is the ideological forefather of the Sunni sectarian group Sipaha e Sahaba and its offshoot the Lashkar e Jhangvi – and Tehreek e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) led by militant Barelvi cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi.
Rumi seeks to explain this phenomenon. Each of these groups has a different sectarian leaning: Ahl e Hadith, Deobandi and Barelvi and Rumi argues that “sectarian mobilisation is underway to undermine the PMLN voter base. Whether this will work or not, we shall find out on July 25. One thing is clear that once such religious passions are out of the bottle, they acquire a life of their own. Moreover, such mobilisation will also affect the PTI votes as it also attracts, among others, the socially conservative voters.”
According to Rumi, the calculation behind allowing TLP to run is that it will hurt the votes of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League – N (PMLN). “PMLN was accused of tampering with the oath for public office holders regarding the finality of Prophethood. Massive propaganda and street protests have made many a voter believe in this bogus charge. Imran Khan and his current chief ally Sheikh Rasheed have been fanning this issue and election posters of some PTI candidates also refer to this issue.”