ISLAMABAD - While mainstream political parties have shown their concerns over the participation of activists of banned outfits in the July 25 elections, a sizeable number of candidates of these mainstream parties have got the support of the banned Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat.

A number of activists of the banned ASWJ, the new name of the defunct Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, are either contesting elections from the platform of Pakistan Rah-e-Haq Party or as independents. The sectarian group has fielded 70 candidates for the National Assembly seats and over 100 candidates for the provincial assembly seats.

On seats where the banned ASWJ has not fielded its candidates, it has announced its support for other mainstream parties — the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and a few of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) candidates. Hafiz Oneeb Farooqui, a spokesman for the proscribed ASWJ, said that a number of candidates of mainstream political parties had sought support from the ASWJ which was supporting them at the constituency level. “All these candidates have approached the ASWJ on an individual basis and visited our local offices to seek our support,” he said.

Well-known politicians to whom the banned ASWJ has announced support include former prime minister and PML-N candidate Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former premier and PPP leader Yousaf Raza Gilani, former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, former religious affairs minister and PML-N candidate Sardar Muhammad Yousaf and PTI candidate Abdul Aleem Khan.

The ASWJ spokesman said that his party has announced support for Nisar in NA-59 and PTI candidate Ghulam Sarwar Khan in NA-63. Nisar and Sarwar are contesting election against each other from these two constituencies of Rawalpindi. The ASWJ is also supporting Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed who is contesting from the two constituencies of Rawalpindi, NA-60 and NA-62. Masoodur Rehman Usmani, the central leader of the ASWJ, had announced his support for Ahmed at a public gathering.

Similarly, the banned ASWJ has announced support for Khaqan Abbasi from NA-53 (Islamabad) while from NA-57 (Murree), from where Abbasi is also a candidate, it has announced support for PTI candidate Sadaqat Ali Abbasi.

Recently, the Islamabad chapter of the ASWJ announced to support Khaqan Abbasi after the former premier visited its Islamabad office on July 10 and requested the party to support him in the elections.

Oneeb Farooqui said Abbasi had assured them to support for the legislation on the issue of ‘Namoos-e-Sahaba’ (sanctity and honour of the companions of the last Prophet (PBUH)”. “We have announced to support him after he made some promises with us. He has accepted that the injustices were made with us in the past,” Farooqui claimed.

The ASWJ is also supporting PTI candidate Abdul Aleem Khan from NA-129 (Lahore), who according to an ASWJ office-bearer, had visited their Lahore office and met with ASWJ officer bearer Hafiz Hussain Ahmed to seek his support. The ASWJ has announced to support PML-N and former federal minister candidate Sardar Muhammad Yousaf in PK-34 and for his son, Sardar Shahjahan Yousaf in NA-13 constituencies.

According to sources, the ASWJ is also supporting Dr Nisar Jutt, a PTI candidate from NA-106 (Faisalabad) and Iftikhar Nazir, a PML-N candidate from NA-153 (Khanewal).

It is interesting that the PPP took action against its leader and an election candidate in Karachi for seeking the support of ASWJ leader Allama Aurangzeb Farooqui, who is also an election candidate from NA-238 Karachi.

In Multan, the SWJ has announced the support for PPP leader Yousaf Raza Gilani and his sons. According to the sources, Rao Javed Iqbal, a central leader of the ASWJ, had moved to Multan to support the Gilani family. However, Oneeb denied that the ASWJ was supporting Yousaf Gilani.

Gilani is contesting election from NA-158 (Multan) and his sons, Syed Abdul Qadir Gilani and Syed Ali Musa Gilani, are contesting from NA-154 and NA-157 Multan respectively. Gilani’s third son Ali Haider Gilani is also contesting for a provincial assembly seat of Punjab.

In Karachi, the ASWJ has announced to support PTI’s candidates Faisal Vawda (NA-249) and Najeeb Haroon (NA-256).

Oneeb Farooqui said that though the ASWJ had announced support for different parties at the constituency level only, it had an anti-PML-N sentiment after a video of former police officer Abid Boxer went viral. He said that Boxer in the video had claimed that PML-N leader and former chief minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif had ordered police to kill defunct party’s activists in fake encounters.

Last month, the federal government on the request of the Punjab home department had removed the name of ASWJ chief Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi from the Fourth Schedule — a terror watch list. Ludhianvi is contesting election from NA-115 (Jhang) as an independent candidate.

In the past, the government had banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and its offshoot, Lashker-e-Jhangvi (leJ), for creating sectarian violence against Shia Muslims. Later, the ASWJ was banned on similar charges.

PPP stalwart and former Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani, last week, said in the last sitting of the Senate that as many 240 activists of banned outfits were contesting the general election and questioned how the Election Commission of Pakistan allowed them to contest the polls. Another PPP Senator and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Sherry Rehman also pointed out in the House that efforts were afoot to mainstreaming extremist religious parties and warned of dire consequences if these groups became part of the parliament.