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Militant Groups in Pakistan Emerge as Political Parties : Can Violent Extremism and Politics Co-exist?

As Pakistan is holding national and provincial elections in 2018, analysts fear that militant groups will attempt to use the new platform to influence legislation

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In this photo taken Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 Hafiz Saeed, leader of Pakistani religious group Jamaat-ud-Dawa addresses his supporters outside the party's headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan. Police say workers of a Pakistani charity are holding countrywide protest rallies after authorities detained its militant leader Hafiz Saeed who has a $10 million US bounty. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)(VOA)

Pakistan, October 1, 2017 : As international pressure is mounting on Islamabad to do more against militant groups operating from its soil, some militant groups are rebranding themselves as political parties.

“The Pakistan military is allowing militant, virulently anti-Indian groups to enter the political process to enable a vocal political voice against any Pakistani civilian warming relations with India,” Thomas Lynch, a research fellow at the National Defense University in Washington, told VOA.

“The aboveground voices of [Hafiz Mohammad] Saeed and [Kashmiri militant leader Fazlur Rehman] Khalil as political figures will meld with their enduring role as leaders of virulently anti-India armed groups in a way that will further constrain Pakistani political leaders from easily undertaking any moves toward rapprochement with India,” Lynch added.

New party

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa group (JUD), which has been designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. and is widely considered a front group for Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group, launched a new political party last month.

Saeed was accused of masterminding Mumbai’s 2008 terror attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

The U.S. government has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

JUD’s newly established Milli Muslim League party came in third in a by-election in Punjab last week, securing more votes than Pakistan’s People’s Party contender did.

Lynch said he thought that without the military’s blessings, the militants-turned-political parties cannot thrive.

“Nothing of consequence inside Pakistan security, politics or economics happens without the Pakistan military’s concurrence, either by direct support or indirect acquiescence,” Lynch said.

“This mainstreaming of longtime militant-terrorist groups led by Saeed and Khalil is of consequence [and] therefore must be supported by the Pakistan military,” he added.

Last week’s by-election was also contested by the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, a party of the followers of Mumtaz Qadri, who was sentenced to death after being convicted of murdering Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer, the same person he was paid to guard.

Qadri killed the governor in 2011 because he advocated for reforms in the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.

The two parties of militants-turned-politicians reportedly secured 11 percent of the total votes in last week’s election.

Increasing pressure

The politicization of militancy coincides with increasing international pressure on Pakistan to take action against militant safe havens in the county.

militant groups
Pakistani protesters burn posters of U. S. President Donald Trump in Peshawar, Pakistan, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. Protesters have rejected Trump’s allegation that Islamabad is harboring militants who battle U.S. forces in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)(VOA)

Announcing his South Asia strategy, U.S. President Donald Trump last month put Pakistan on notice to stop harboring militant groups that use Pakistani soil to plan and launch attacks against Afghan and U.S.-NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Leaders of BRICS, an economic bloc composed of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, also expressed concerns this month about Pakistan-based militant groups and cited them as a problem for regional security.

Pakistan has long denied that militants enjoy safe havens in the country and has proclaimed itself as a victim of terrorism.

The country’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, however, this week admitted that Hafiz Saeed and Lashkar-e-Taiba were liabilities for his country.

“Saeed, LeT, they are a liability, I accept it, but give us time to get rid of them,” Asif said at an Asia Society event in New York on Tuesday.

Optimism

Some analysts, however, see the new trend of pushing militants to mainstream politics as a good development.

“Unless these parties and individuals are allowed to be a part of the political system, they might never change their way and will go underground, which will be much more dangerous,” said Zubair Iqbal, an analyst at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

The question is: Can violent extremism and politics co-exist? Pakistani-based political analyst Khadim Hussain has his doubts.

“The ‘mainstreamed’ extremist organizations have not publicly revoked their ideology. They have not yet dismantled their militaristic, welfare and ideological infrastructure. This seems to be legitimizing extremist violence in Pakistan,” Hussain said.

Hussain added that ” ‘mainstreaming ‘ and ‘integration’ seem to be a tactic to divert the U.S., BRICS and other regional and international stakeholders’ attention from the core issues of policymaking in Pakistan.”

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Lynch of NDU echoed Hussain’s analysis and said it was unlikely that the move would help curb extremism.

“I do not see this move helping to curb extremism in Pakistan over the short term,” Lynch said.

As Pakistan is holding national and provincial elections in 2018, analysts fear that militant groups will attempt to use the new platform to influence legislation.

“These groups will inject xenophobia and extremist views in the body politic if given free hand in politics,” Pakistani activist Marvi Sirmed wrote in an op-ed in Lahore’s Daily Times, urging the state to halt any kind of support to these groups. (VOA)

 

Next Story

Fiery Political Content Arriving on Social Media

The game is set to go dirty, with more and more politicians taking jibes and trading barbs on social media platforms, which will then be reworked upon by creative agencies to flood Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter

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A query to the poll panel on how it plans to stop social media platforms from broadcasting campaign material ahead of polling went unanswered. Pixabay

Political parties have gone 24/7 on creating election-special content like issue-based memes, jokes, GIFs and short-format videos to bombard various social media platforms and woo millions of voters.

According to social media experts, while issues like unemployment, farmer distress, Rafale deal and demonetisation would dominate the social media content for the opposition, the Modi-led NDA government is aiming to highlight the Balakot air strike and poverty alleviation.

“Some political parties have appointed social media ‘warriors’ to reach out to the public on digital platforms. They are working round-the-clock as political content aggregators, preparing fiery content for social media trollers,” says social media expert Anoop Mishra.

The bombardment is likely to begin from next week and would only gain momentum as the voting process inches closer.

The rise in popularity of social media platforms has also opened up a relatively new advertising economy driven by “influencer marketing”.

There was a little slump in their activities, say experts, after the Cobrapost investigation last month revealed that several Bollywood celebrities were willing to pass views of political parties as personal opinions for money.

The dust is now settled and the army of social media “influencers” are again out to spread the propaganda of political parties.

The trend to reach out to their voters via social media platforms has caught up with many politicians, the recent ones being Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati and Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who are now on Twitter.

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This not even social media players are sure of as, in their own words, there is much more to be done on this front. Pixabay

“Parties like Congress and the BJP have shared a WhatsApp number which people can directly use to connect to the party.

“Every major party and its leaders now have Twitter handle and can often be seen making parodies and memes mocking each other to connect quickly with the youth,” said Mishra.

Congress can now often be seen live-streaming their rallies on Facebook.Regional parties have spruced up their social media presence too.

Till the voting process begins, the social media platforms would turn into a battleground for the political parties.

“The post and ad frequencies would be 10 to 20 times higher than normal days. The parties would try to woo users on emotional sentiments and finally engaging them by trying to change their perception,” Mishra noted.

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There are no two opinions about the fact that political discourse is going to be impacted by social media and the consequences of this can be serious as social media platforms are already being used to create a highly-polarised atmosphere in the country.

The game is set to go dirty, with more and more politicians taking jibes and trading barbs on social media platforms, which will then be reworked upon by creative agencies to flood Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. (IANS)