It is well known in Pakistan that political parties and the Army have propped up various extremist groups for their own gains. For instance, the ASWJ, a Sunni extremist group that calls for Shias to be declared as non-Muslims has targeted Shiite mosques. It has operated covertly with the SSP’s offshoot and a feared terrorist group, the Lashkar-e- Jhangvi (LeJ) , and has close links with the Pakistan Muslim League –Nawaz (PML-N), the ruling party in Pakistan. This unholy alliance has been clearly brought out in Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi’s book ‘The Fractious Path: Pakistan’s Democratic Transition’ where he notes that “the most disturbing political feature is the kowtowing to militant outfits by local political parties for electoral gains. Most notably, the PMl-N has entered into local, unwritten agreements with the ASWJ.” Similarly, former Interior Minister of Pakistan Rehman Malik has also accused the PML-N of protecting the LeJ, claiming that during the party’s previous regime from 2008 to 2013, in Punjab, it had released several LeJ militants from detainment and provided them police guards.
It is not just Pakistani political parties that are in a business of alliances with terror groups. The SSP was founded by Maulan Haq Nawaz Jhangvi in 1984 and enjoyed the support of the then Pakistani President Gen Zia-ul-Haq, who saw the organisation as the vanguard of Sunni orthodoxy and a force that would help Pakistan transform into a theological State. It is only much later, in 2001-02, when the Pakistani ISI began choking certain terrorist groups as a result of US pressure, did the group turn against the Army and sought an alliance with the PML-N.
The Pakistani Army is known to still harbour other terrorist groups like the Haqqani network and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). The US administration has on numerous occasions expressed its frustration with regard to the complete non-cooperation from the Pakistani military on dealing with the Haqqani network. Similarly, groups like the LeT and its front organisation, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), both declared as proscribed organisations by the US and the UN, have a free run in Pakistan. The JuD leader Hafiz Saeed openly holds public meetings and threatens sovereign countries with dire consequences.
While the Pak Army denies links with these groups, a recent anti-Pakistan Army protest in Rawalpindi in Pakistan administered Kashmir was a visible indication of the ground realities and the mood of the local populace. On December 5, 2016, under the banner of National Action Front, civil rights activists and local political leaders in Pakistan administered Kashmir held a protest outside the Press Club in Rawalpindi demanding a ban on the activities of extremist in their region. Accusing the Army of providing shelter to terrorist groups in Pakistani held Kashmir, the protesters demanded the closure of terrorist camps and discontinuation of the Pakistani State’s shelter to banned terrorist groups.
At a time, when the world is grappling with the challenge to contain Islamic extremism and stop terrorist attacks, the civilian and military arms of the Pakistani State are competing with each other to provide support and legitamacy to different sets of terrorist groups, thereby pushing the country towards complete radicalization. Already, the likes of Hafiz Saeed have been openly advising the Pakistani government on foreign policy and its strategy to deal with the Kashmir dispute. If this trend continues, it is not long before there will be a need for a serious re-think on Pakistan's statu as a responsible member of the international community.