The metamorphosis of Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed into a political leader of considerable significance makes a mockery of the global war on terror. Here is a terrorist, carrying a $10million bounty on his head and openly making inflammatory speeches calling for jihad against India and other perceived enemies, who gets a smooth makeover as a neta and seamlessly integrates into the electoral politics of Pakistan. Such a brazen political mainstreaming of terrorist groups in Pakistan comes as a warning signal for India. In the just-concluded byelection to a Parliamentary seat in Lahore, following disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a candidate backed by Saeed bagged the fourth position, indicating an ominous trend. The terror outfit is set to gain further legitimacy as the Milli Muslim League (MML), a party formed by Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), has announced that it would contest all the seats in the 2018 general elections. It would be naive to expect that terror mastermind’s political foray can happen without any official patronage in a country that has emerged as the Ivy League of international terrorism. The mounting pressure from India to hand over Saeed to stand trial in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack case has had little impact on Islamabad so far. While Saeed’s house arrest is a sham dressed up as a legal process for the consumption of the international community, the probe into his role in terrorist activities has not made any headway despite India sending enough evidence.
Ironically, MML-nominated candidate Sheikh Yaqoob was designated as a global terrorist for his role in leading fundraising and operations for LeT and the JuD as a foreign terrorist organisation by the United States in June 2014. Yaqoob’s electoral performance in the Lahore bypoll, where he got more votes than the Pakistan People’s Party candidate, and the subsequent announcement about their national political ambitions must serve as a wake-up call for India’s security establishment. The growing influence of the religious parties and fanatic organisations in Pakistani politics can have a disastrous impact on the country’s policies towards its neighbours, particularly India. The beaming faces of known terrorists like Saeed adoring the election posters may well become a common feature in future elections in Pakistan. The JuD formed the MML after Hafiz Saeed, along with four of his aides, was placed under house arrest in Lahore following their detention under the Anti-Terrorism Act on January 30. It is time the international community recognised the dangers of terror outfits morphing into mainstream political parties and influencing the democratic setup in Pakistan. The sooner Islamabad realises the folly of its double game, when it comes to the war on terror, the better it would be for its future.