The banned Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) is likely to contest the upcoming general election in disguise by fielding candidates under an alias. A ‘proscribed’ sectarian organisation that has spread anti-Shia sentiments for decades, the group has been connected to high profile attacks on Shia scholars, mosques, and gatherings. While the group has been struggling to maintain its identity after the enactment of National Action Plan, it speaks to the severe laxity of our establishments attitude on terrorism that it has been organising itself under party command and is allowed to contest in the elections.

What is problematic here is the political berth awarded to such proscribed outfits whose activities have continued without any significant pressure or checks from the government. Despite being connected to sectarian violence, ASWJ remains openly engaged in politics and openly campaigns to sway state institutions and major political parties through rallies and gatherings. Such organisations are sponsored to hold audience at universities and colleges, mainstreaming their ideologies despite being flagged as radical; such an audacious endeavor without tacit state sanctioning is not possible. While the National Action Plan (NAP) decries that such outfits should not be allowed to get an inch of space in Pakistan, the proscribed party has been allowed to operate on its soil with minimum checks, is granted public limelight, legitimising its political clout, inciting negative sentiments against Muslim minority communities in the country, and mainstreaming its opposition to reforms of the blasphemy laws.

Where most of the party leaders had been declared ‘proscribed persons’ under the Fourth Schedule of Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), the toothless law or the much touted NAP doesn’t restrict such persons from contesting elections. Such organisations’ successful campaign further sustains itself with alliances and support of various major and small political parties under seat adjustment agreements and pandering. Such kowtowing and to militant outfits by local political parties for illicit electoral gains is the main reason why there is not a more forceful clampdown on their activity.

Where the ECP should categorically deny such parties registration, they have freely registered under different names and obscure stand-in party heads; a gaping hole in our electoral system. The proposed amalgamation of proscribed outfits under the noses of the establishment speaks volumes of the states attitude towards militant groups and their ilk. It points to the very crevices of our state matrix where religious ideologies get peddled and demarcated in the bartering of political patronage and favors. PML-N had long prescribed to unwritten agreements with the ASWJ, an alliance that might have favored the flailing party previously in the short term, but now stands to be another thorn its side. With Allama Khadim Rizvi and his devotees stand with shoes unsheathed at a flailing PML-N, the ruling party has turned to currying favor with the less antagonistic Pirs and various Barelvi factions. Such political maneuverings by political parties have exhibited deep ramifications for our socio-political fabric at a time when we should be actively breaking away from the tincture of terrorism.