In the early part of 1970s, the town of Jhang achieved notoriety for an enduring sectarian conflict that spawned several extremist groups. These groups and their violent brand of sectarianism is remembered to this day, and their legacy has proved to be a difficult one to dislodge. Today Jhang is back in the news, once more for the wrong reasons; the thinly disguised successor of those groups is now an elected member of the Punjab Assembly. 

Independent candidate Maulana Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi – son of the slain Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi who founded the now defunct Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan – supported by the banned Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), won the Punjab Assembly’s PP-78 by-election on Thursday with a margin of 12,793 votes, according to unofficial results. He did so by defeating strong candidates featured by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), forcing many to think, where did we go wrong.

There are several failures by the state that led to this result, the first and foremost is the law enforcement's inability – or refusal, rather – to control banned groups. These groups have to simply appear under different aliases, or use platforms provided by other parties to continue carrying out business as usual. The government, whose job is to curtail these activities on the ground rather than just on paper, meekly submits to this transparent subterfuge and does nothing. This has been a glaring oversight, and has been for a while now, but allowing a banned group to canvas votes by going door to door, on Jhang's sharply divided Shia-Sunni line no less, is a dereliction of duty like never before.

The state isn't the only responsible party, the Lahore High Court bench's – headed by Justice Shahid Jamil Khan – decision to overturn a lower court's verdict stopping Maulana Mohammed Ahmad Ludhianvi, emir of the banned Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) from contesting the by-election is also problematic. Especially since the court did not explicitly overturn it, but rather granted 'interim relief' while scheduling the next hearing after the election – a devious bit of trickery to allow ASWJ to support Mr Jhangvi.

Perhaps most culpable is the elected government. Considering the number of voters who turned out for Mr Jhangvi it is clear that Punjab does have a problem with extremism and militancy – a problem that seeps into the common citizenry. While the government claimed it was going to implement the National Action Plan (NAP), it refused to do so in Punjab, blocked efforts by the military to conduct an operation, and in fact empowered these banned groups when it needed their support against the opposition, which is why this victory for Mr Jhangvi should not come as a total surprise.