Hafiz Saeed, leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Photo: AFP
Hafiz Saeed, leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Photo: AFP

In the wake of the latest political developments in Pakistan, a group accused of terrorism has found its way into the country’s political arena. The aim of this newest addition is to make Pakistan a real “Islamic state”.

The party, which is known to be a political front for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, has named itself the Milli Muslim League. After celebrating its launch at the country’s 70th Independence Day on August 14, it has called for an open war with Pakistani liberals.

The party’s president, Saifullah Khalid, announced on the day of the launch that its platform would be used for a change in the ideology of Pakistan, as the country had lost its original Islamic ideology because of the planning of “Jewish powers”.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the party’s power base, has been in the news for quite a long time. Foreign governments including those of the US and India consider the JuD a partner of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group that  was blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead. American officials have offered a US$10 million bounty for JuD’s founder Hafiz Saeed, who is now believed to be living under house arrest in Pakistan.

“He is the leader of Pakistan,” Khalid said of Saeed. He said Saeed’s status as a certified terrorist would not be an obstacle for the party, and his role in the political scenario would be discussed once he is released. He also made it clear that if Saeed so desires, he could play a top role in the party.

The party’s launch has raised alarms in India.

Not a unique case

According to political observers of Pakistan, the arrival on the scene of the Milli Muslim League case has once again highlighted the attitudes in the country about extremism, whose roots run deep.

Day by day, Pakistan is moving even more toward extremism. Suspected terrorists and religious extremists roam freely throughout the country, addressing public gatherings and appearing on television shows to plead their innocence to the general public.

The easiest way to win the hearts of the general public, and to win a political argument in the country, is to put the blame on the Jewish lobby (which to this day remains un defined), to make anti-America speeches, and to use the name of religion.

And those who are not supportive of their views are charged with blasphemy, or labeled as liberals.

Recently the grave of Mumtaz Qadri, the convicted killer of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, was converted into a mausoleum. He allegedly killed Taseer on charges of blasphemy that were not proved. Qadri’s funeral was attended by millions in Islamabad, near the main general headquarters of Pakistan’s military.

Even a year and a half after Qadri’s hanging on the orders of the court, he remains a martyr in Pakistan. And as if turning his grave into a shrine were not infamous enough, the country’s reputation has received another blow with the launch of the Milli Muslim League.

It clearly defines the state’s policy, which is to favor religious extremists. Pakistani politics is already in a state of flux, and sympathy toward a mainstream terrorist group will not work in the country’s favor.

On the day before Easter this year, police arrested a female member of Islamic State, Noreen Laghari, 19, who was set to blow herself up inside a church. The young woman had left her home province of Sindh and moved to the Punjabi capital Lahore to work for IS.

But in a move that shocked many, Pakistani authorities released her after just a month, since she had confessed to her plans and so was not technically guilty. Army officials have shared the idea that since she was a daughter of the land, and was caught before she planned to detonate a suicide bomb, she must be forgiven.

However, the case would have been totally different if she had been  caught with links to the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s primary intelligence service, which is often accused of attacking Pakistan’s sovereignty and for carrying out terrorism activities.

But in Pakistan, an intent to commit a crime is not a crime if it’s using the tag of religion.

Another case that made headlines across international media was that of Ehsanullah Ehsan. The former spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban surrendered to army officials. Ehsan had been wanted by the authorities in terrorism cases, including the 2014 Peshawar school attack that left 141 dead. The government remained silent on his arrest and surrender, and his confessional statement was later issued by the military’s media wing.

Interestingly, both Laghari and Ehsan were given permission by the Islamabad High Court to appear on television to attempt to profess their regrets in front of the public.

But that only added glorification to their images and to the religious-extremist policy of the state.

Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities continue to pursue a policy of targeting free thinkers, further paving the way for intolerant groups to emerge. Extremists will continue to play politics using the Islam card.

Tuba Athar Hasnain is a Pakistan-based journalist. She has worked for The Express Tribune and for an online news portal, Meet News World, covering politics, current affairs and human rights. She has an MA in Journalism and communications. She can be reached on twitter @AtharTuba.