THE normalisation of the religious far right and the militant right in national politics ought to be of great concern to all right-thinking and democratic citizens of Pakistan.
It is not clear if a so-called policy of mainstreaming of militant groups is being surreptitiously foisted on a largely unsuspecting electorate or if the religious far right and militant groups have themselves identified a political opening of a lifetime.
What is apparent, however, is that the 2018 general election will likely witness a historic participation of radical and fringe religious groups, some explicitly militarised and others less so.
In terms of candidates fielded, the eventual votes polled and the number of seats won, the 2018 election may rival or perhaps far outstrip the 2002 general election outcome, which saw the rise of the MMA.
But the MMA comprised largely of mainstream religious parties with electoral and parliamentary track records. The recent rise of a disparate group of ultra-right and militant electoral contenders and their supporters is surely without precedent.
How has this happened? The sudden political rise of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan; the rebranding of the Muslim Milli League, which failed to convince civilian institutions that the party ought to be registered with the ECP; and the sudden removal of legal impediments for candidates affiliated with the ASWJ are of particular concern.
Certainly, the right of individuals to participate in an election, as candidates or voters, must not be limited or infringed upon unless there is a compelling legal reason or judicial verdict declaring otherwise. At the very least, however, all candidates should be required to renounce violence and pledge their support for a democratic, constitutional form of government.
But the rhetoric of the far right can often be considered hate speech, an incitement to violence and an attempt to spread sectarian discord. When it comes to groups with an external militant orientation, participation in the general election could leave Pakistan on the wrong side of international law and a global consensus against militancy.
Yet, while some mainstream political parties have been subjected to exceptional scrutiny and several mainstream politicians have struggled to get their names on a ballot paper, the new ultra-right religious crop has faced virtually no public scrutiny.
Perhaps more astonishing, for example, than the TLP’s ability to field 150 candidates for the National Assembly across the country is that none of those candidates appears to have encountered any resistance during the nomination process overseen by the ECP.
Meanwhile, the Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek, the latest incarnation of the LeT’s political wing, has managed to field 50 MNA candidates in Punjab and KP — again with virtually no known scrutiny.
The contentious issue of mainstreaming and the myriad policy and legal questions it raises cannot simply be brushed away. The democratic system may not survive such ill-thought-out tampering and interference.
Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2018