ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan army, on Thursday, said the government was discussing ways to try and integrate militant-linked groups into the country’s mainstream politics.
Milli Muslim League (MML), a new militant party controlled by Hafiz Saeed, backed a candidate in the September by-election for a seat vacated by ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore.
The United States has offered a $10 million bounty for Saeed’s capture.
Reuters reported last month that MML’s foray into politics, along with other Islamists groups, followed the integration plan. Three of Nawaz’s confidants and a retired army general said the plan had been presented by Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to Nawaz last year, but the then premier had rejected it.
DG-ISPR Major-General Asif Ghafoor did not comment on the military’s role in any such strategy but told a news conference in Islamabad the plan was aimed at developing a constructive role for them.
When asked about the MML party loyal to Hafiz Saeed, whom the United States and India accuse of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, the army spokesperson said it was part of “a process that has started”.
“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,” Ghafoor said.
A government spokesperson did not respond to calls.
The Interior ministry has asked the country’s electoral commission not to register Saeed’s party, but hasn’t taken any other steps to stop it. Another militant party is also campaigning for a by-election later in October.
It remains unclear whether the army or the ISI went ahead with its plan despite Sharif’s rejection, or if the military and the civilian government have recently agreed on the idea.
Another Islamist designated a terrorist by the United States, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, told Reuters he too planned to form his own party soon.
Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, another hardline party this time in support of Salman Taseer’s murderer, also gained over six per cent votes.
Within two weeks of Nawaz’s ouster, the MML party was announced and was later backed by Saeed and his lieutenants in the by-election to secure five per cent of the vote. Saeed has been under house arrest in Lahore since January this year.
MML is the political wing of Saeed’s charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, JuD. JuD and Khalil’s Ansar ul-Umma organisation are both seen by the US as fronts for militant groups the army has been accused of sponsoring against neighbours, India and Afghanistan – a charge the army categorically denies.
Reports of bringing militant-linked groups into the political mainstream have stirred debate at home and abroad.
“Now, how to take it further – that, the time to come will tell,” Ghafoor, the army spokesperson said, “For that, the government will take a decision.”