Pakistan removed the leader of one of the nation’s most prominent jihadi groups from its terrorist watchlist this week while Islamabad considers if his group may join other Islamist radical organizations in fielding candidates in its upcoming election, Reuters learned Thursday.
With campaigns already underway, the July 25 general elections are already marked by sharp ideological differences, seemingly pitting hundreds of pro-military establishment candidates accused of heinous crimes against contenders affiliated with jihadi organizations, namely wings of U.S.-designated terrorist groups Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Lashkar-i -Hangvi (LJ).
The upcoming race appears to be a springboard for Islamist radicals and alleged criminals accused of murder and rape.
Reuters reports that as Pakistan’s Election Commission considers if his radical Sunni LJ-linked group, Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), may field candidates in the looming elections, Islamabad removed Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi from its terrorist watchlist and unfroze his bank accounts, adding:
ASWJ shares roots with the more violent Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant group based in central Punjab province, which had strong ties to al Qaeda and has waged a deadly campaign against Shi’ites for more than two decades. Who authorized the removal of Ludhianvi from the terrorist list is unclear, as a caretaker government is running Pakistan during the two months of campaigning ahead of the July 25 general election.
Following in the footsteps of other jihadi organizations, ASWJ is registering its candidates under obscure party groups to qualify to run.
Islamabad has been unable to stop the “political mainstreaming” of at least 265 Islamic extremists linked to the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) wing of the LeT terrorist group and about 2,720 candidates charged with crimes ranging from corruption and rape to human smuggling and murder.
Geo News has linked many of the candidates charged with crimes to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which has reportedly earned the military establishment’s backing.
The Pakistani military establishment is reportedly mulling backing the PTI party leader, cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan as the country’s next prime minister, abandoning ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s ruling PML-N party.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardar, the son of assassinated leader Benazir Bhutto, who is running as the leader of Pakistan People’s Party, has also surfaced as a prominent contender.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has suspended military aid to Pakistan due to Islamabad’s ongoing reluctance to stop backing Islamist terrorist groups killing and maiming American troops and their allies in Afghanistan.