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11:42, 17 July 2018

Violent Extremist or Political Candidate? In Pakistan Election, You Can Be Both

Violent Extremist or Political Candidate? In Pakistan Election, You Can Be Each

Violent Extremist or Political Candidate? In Pakistan Election, You Can Be Both

Aurangzeb Farooqi, a leader of a radical group referred to as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2013. A Pakistani court cleared him to run for workplace despite accusations that the group has ties to militants.CreditAkhtar Soomro/Reuters

By Maria Abi-Habib, Shah Meer Baloch and Zia ur-Rehman

KARACHI, Pakistan &mdash Aurangzeb Farooqi is a leader of a political party that is banned in Pakistan for espousing sectarian violence. He faces charges of spreading religious hatred that was linked to the murders of numerous Shiite activists.

He is also a candidate for national political office, running with the blessing of Pakistani courts.

Mr. Farooqi is amongst many candidates with ties to Islamist extremist groups who were the topic of final-ditch petitions by activists seeking to bar them from contesting elections this month. An election tribunal threw out those petitions last month, claiming there had been not enough valid complaints to justify barring the candidates.

Regardless of publicly proclaimed campaigns against religious extremism, the capability of candidates like Mr. Farooqi to campaign suggests that far from becoming curbed, extremists are becoming encouraged.

This month, a new celebration referred to as Tehreek-e-Labbaik was authorized to run on a platform of punishing these who blaspheme Islam, an situation that has been abused to terrorize the nation&rsquos minorities.

Mr. Farooqi and a number of others operating in the July 25 elections are on Pakistan&rsquos terrorism watch list, identified as the &ldquofourth schedule.&rdquo Even though that list prevents them from interacting with crowds in public, traveling outdoors certain locations and utilizing their bank accounts, it does not say no matter whether they can run for office. But activists and antiterrorism law enforcement officers say the restrictions &mdash like organizing public rallies &mdash would stop them from campaigning.

Their candidacies are all the more outstanding because Pakistan was just returned to a &ldquogray list&rdquo by the Monetary Action Activity Force, a international body primarily based in Paris that fights terrorism financing, for not undertaking adequate to counter terrorists&rsquo ability to operate from Pakistani territory. The nation had been off the list because 2015.

To prevent becoming blacklisted by the task force, which could lead to international sanctions, Pakistan agreed final month to an action plan to crack down on terrorism at property.

But practically simultaneously, Pakistan&rsquos electoral commission was paving the way for candidates with extremist ties to run for workplace.

Some of the petitioners have been victims of the terrorism they say was inflicted upon their communities by candidates like Mr. Farooqi. He is a leader of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a banned radical group that incites hatred and violence against Pakistan&rsquos minority Shiite population. A.S.W.J. is extensively believed to be the political front for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an even deadlier sectarian militant group with ties to Al Qaeda. The celebration denies any hyperlink.

With all obstacles to his candidacy removed, Mr. Farooqi is running for a parliamentary seat representing Karachi, Pakistan&rsquos largest city, and has a good possibility of winning soon after losing the last election in 2013 by 202 votes.

Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the leader of Mr. Farooqi&rsquos celebration, A.S.W.J., campaigning in 2013. Mr. Ludhianvi was quietly taken off a list of barred candidates last month.CreditZohra Bensemra/Reuters

Altaf Khan, spokesman for Pakistan&rsquos permanent election commission, stated the commission just followed court orders. But activists and politicians say the courts are influenced by the military, which has undertaken many coups in the country&rsquos modern history.

The military has denied it influences the courts.

&ldquoThe international neighborhood will have to respect the sovereignty and laws of my country,&rdquo Mr. Khan said in an interview. If anybody has a complaint against a candidate supported by evidence, he stated, &ldquothey must let us know.&rdquo

Omar Shahid Hamid, the senior police superintendent for Karachi&rsquos southern district, employed to conduct typical check-ins with Mr. Farooqi as a member of the police counterterrorism unit. He stated he was shocked that Mr. Farooqi&rsquos nomination papers were not rejected, but not that he was operating.

&ldquoFarooqi has constantly had an interest in electoral politics and a wish to get mainstreamed, to be accepted as a political force and get rid of his baggage as a militant,&rdquo Mr. Hamid said. &ldquoThey see this as the future, the only way forward with the establishment.&rdquo

In Pakistan, &ldquothe establishment&rdquo is code for the military, which is accused by each Pakistan&rsquos former government and the international community of supporting extremist groups to achieve its defense and foreign policy objectives.

The military in recent years has discussed plans to &ldquomainstream&rdquo extremists, allowing them to shed their violent pasts and become politicians, according to cabinet members of the prior government who had been involved in these discussions. It is a plan opposed by the incumbent government and activists across the country.

Noticeably absent from the list of eligible election candidates are numerous from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. The PML-N formed the preceding government and saw its prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, ousted by the Supreme Court last July for failing to disclose assets abroad in his 2013 election application.


Preparing election posters for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in Karachi last month. Many members of the celebration, like former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, have been barred from running.CreditAsif Hassan/Agence France-Presse &mdash Getty Photos

In the Khuzdar district of Baluchistan, a neglected northwestern province that has extended faced a separatist insurgency, yet another notorious militant, Shafiq Mengal, is preparing his parliamentary bid.

Although Mr. Mengal is not on the fourth schedule, a militant group that he founded, Baloch Musalla Difa Tanzeem, was banned by the government in 2010. Law enforcement officials say he then joined Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the outfit tied to Al Qaeda.

Mr. Mengal has been accused by the provincial government and other individuals of running violent campaigns against Baloch insurgents and Hazara Shiites, such as the deaths of eight security officials in 2014. In current years, Mr. Mengal&rsquos sectarian violence has spilled more than into neighboring Sindh Province, prompting the counterterrorism chief of police there to ask the federal government to arrest him.

&ldquoIt is effortless to be registered as a candidate, but it was produced difficult for me by my political opponents,&rdquo Mr. Mengal stated in an interview at his house. &ldquoThey produced false accusations against me.&rdquo

&ldquoI have never supported violence on the basis of ideological variations,&rdquo he added. &ldquoThis is propaganda.&rdquo

His opponent, Akhtar Mengal &mdash no relation &mdash disputes this.

Akhtar Mengal, a provincial lawmaker and former chief minister of Baluchistan, stated Shafiq Mengal was responsible for the killing of dozens of civilians in the province and had worked with the nation&rsquos security forces to quell anti-military dissent. He also accused his opponent of operating a kidnap-for-ransom scheme and extortion operations, an accusation supported by Mr. Hamid, Karachi&rsquos police superintendent.

&ldquoWherever you locate missing persons in Baluchistan, you uncover Shafiq Mengal,&rdquo Akhtar Mengal stated in an interview.

But officials have still located such candidates acceptable, he said, and even desirable.

&ldquoThe establishment,&rdquo he mentioned &mdash referring to the military &mdash &ldquowants to wash them and dry clean them and push them into power.&rdquo

Maria Abi-Habib and Zia ur-Rehman reported from Karachi, and Shah Meer Baloch from Khuzdar, Pakistan.

Published at Tue, 17 Jul 2018 07:00:07 +0000

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