FOR three decades Pakistan’s military establishment has stoutly denied supporting violent religious groups irrespective of whether a group’s target lay across national borders or, instead, its goal was to achieve specific political objectives within Pakistan. But today the military’s attitude is more ambivalent.
Both serving and retired senior army officers are now openly expressing support for some groups. These include the newly emerged religious parties opposed to the PML-N government, notably Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League (MML) and Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA). Religious groups have already made their debut on the national scene and their initial successes — as in the NA-120 by-elections — are considerable.
In a video that went viral, the serving DG of the Punjab Rangers, Maj-Gen Azhar Naveed, can be seen handing out coupons of Rs1000 to TLYRA demonstrators while assuring them support — “kya hum bhi aap kay saath nahin hain?” The demonstrators had tortured policemen while protesting a religious issue subsequently corrected by the government. Their dharna had been declared illegal by the Islamabad High Court which had specifically criticised COAS Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa for opting to act as a mediator rather than follow the government’s orders.