Allowing hardcore Islamic organisations to establish political wings will be a dangerous choice for Pakistan to make, an expert has warned.
"The emergence of outlawed religious groups as political parties may create more problems than it solves," claims Muhammad Daim Fazil, a lecturer of international relations at University of Gujrat, Sialkot Campus, Pakistan.
In the article titled "Mainstreaming Islamists: A Dangerous Choice for Pakistan" published in The Diplomat, Fazil questionsd Pakistan's seriousness toward curbing militancy.
"In the wake of previous bitter experiences, allowing hardcore Islamic organizations to establish political wings in Pakistan raises questions about the state's seriousness toward curbing militancy under the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP)," he said.
"NAP surfaced in the wake of the deadly attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014, where 132 children and nine teachers were brutally killed. At least four clauses of the NAP (5, 7, 11 & 15) are exclusively related to the threats emanating from religious extremism; however, none of them has been implemented in true spirit," he adds.
Fazil cited an example of last month's by-election in Pakistan's National Assembly-120 constituency where independent candidates Shaikh Azhar and Shaikh Yaqoob grabbed more votes than the mainstream and liberal Pakistan People Party (PPP), the country's third-largest political party, and said that despite being independent candidates, both were backed by the auxiliary hands of religious groups, notably the Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah Party (LYRP) and Milli Muslim League, the new political wing of Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD).
Fazil also noted that LYRP was recently established by a hardcore cleric, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, in an effort to pay homage to Mumtaz Qadri, who assassinated former Governor Punjab Salman Taseer over blasphemy charges and JuD is a UN enlisted terror outfit whose leader Hafiz Saeed has a $10 million bounty imposed by the United States.
"Both the parties are not registered in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) thus they opted to run their candidates - Azhar for the LYRP, Yaqoob for JuD - as nominal independents. ECP has turned down the registration application of these two parties on the recommendation of Interior Ministry. Despite that, two parties combined for enough votes to easily surpass the combined votes of the PPP and Jamat-i-Islami (JI), another Islamist party with four seats in the National Assembly ( considered less intransigent than of the other Islamic organisations)," he said.
He said that Islamist parties may not get sufficient votes to form a government in the next general election, but their campaigns in Pakistan's cities and streets would disperse their ideological agenda, which largely rests on jihad and conservatism.
"Additionally, their entry into the political arena could pressure the government to avoid taking steps contrary to their ideology and stay away from modifying controversial laws, such as the blasphemy law. The government has already faced stern criticism for not implementing NAP in its true spirit," said Fazil, who is a July 2016 visiting fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington D.C.
Fazil said recent examples from the Swat Valley and Balochistan province have proved that experiments to bring former militants into the political fold have been unproductive.
"When the Swat Valley was in the jaws of militancy and unrest, the government struck a "peace deal" with Taliban leaders, agreeing to implement the Shariah law in the valley if the militants would honour a ceasefire. The hope was that the deal would eliminate disorder and the valley would return to normalcy. The deal, however, was revoked only after two months, after failing to bring the desired results. The Taliban struck back with anti-state activities, while government responded by intensifying military action," he said.
Quoting another example of mainstreaming armed groups which came in Pakistan's Balochistan province, he said, "the government, backed by the army, launched a reconciliation drive and has redoubled efforts to bring peace to the province, especially after Balochistan became the center point of China's recently launched USD 62 billion China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) project. The effort didn't prove worthless, as quite a few of the mainstreamed groups have relinquished militancy and vowed allegiance to the constitution and rule of law. But, despite the state's seriousness and its extravagant proposals, several groups - the Balcoh Liberation Army and Baloch Republican Army (BRA) in particular - are still operative and have refused offers extended to them."
However, Fazil mentioned that there is no harm in allowing all factions of society to be part of the electoral process, but groups that have a tendency of sabotaging the constitution, democracy, and rule of law should give certain assurances before political doors are opened to them.
"Currently, a divide looms among policymakers on whether to let such groups be part of electoral process or halt their attempts to make inroads into society, this time in the name of politics. After all, Pakistan is a signatory to UN agreements that bar terrorists from working freely; allowing UN-enlisted persons to enter politics would further humiliate Pakistan's image," he further said.
Fazil also mentioned that there have been reports that Pakistan's Army, not its civilian leadership, is keener to give a political role to militant linked-groups and said that the Army believes that military action alone is not the solution to tackling terrorism and extremism; instead, amnesty and reconciliation is also a viable remedy.