ISLAMABAD: US-designated terrorist Fazlur Rehman Khalil has pledged political support to Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which has said it wants to bring hardliners and religious clerics into mainstream politics, ahead of this month’s general elections.
Khalil, who founded the popular militant entity Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), was placed on Washington’s Specially Designated Global Terrorists list in September 2014 for his alleged involvement in terrorist activities.
“Yes, he (Khalil) has announced to support our candidate, Asad Umar, in Islamabad,” PTI’s Information Secretary Fawad Chaudhry told Arab News on Wednesday.
However, he tried to play down the development, saying it was a local arrangement that only existed at the constituency level.
“Being a major political party, it is also our duty to bring hardliners and extremists into the mainstream, if they are not involved in any criminal activity,” he said.
Khalil currently heads Ansar-ul-Umma, which was designated a front for HuM by the US in 2014. Some US officials maintained at the time that Khalil’s group was responsible for terrorist attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.
The US declared HuM a foreign terrorist organization in 1997, and it re-emerged as Ansar-ul-Umma in 2013.
“I have never been involved in any terrorist activity,” Khalil told Arab News by telephone.
“Some foreign forces have launched a smear campaign against me and my group,” he said, adding that he had been working for peace by spreading the teachings of his religion.
Asked about his decision to support PTI, he said that his vote was registered as a citizen of Pakistan and that there was no legal bar to him participating in political activity or supporting any candidate in the elections.
“We have a large following and we have announced to support PTI in this election,” he said, pointing out that a group of like-minded religious clerics had also announced its support for PTI candidates.
The news of Khalil’s support for PTI broke on social media on Tuesday evening after Asad Umar, a close aide of Imran Khan, announced it on his Facebook page.
Umar is contesting for a National Assembly seat from a constituency in Islamabad where Khalil is also believed to have a large following.
Umar first announced that “Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil has joined PTI,” but later edited the post following criticism on social media and said: “Fazlur Rehman Khalil, along with hundreds of his followers, has announced to support PTI.”
Islamabad-based religious cleric Khalil was one of the signatories of Osama Bin Laden’s declaration of global jihad in 1996 and is believed to have close ties with Al-Qaeda.
Professor Tahir Malik, political analyst and academic, said that there was a need to formulate a national policy regarding the inclusion of extremists in mainstream politics to streamline the process.
“The state first needs to de-radicalize these individuals through proper training and then bring them into mainstream politics. Otherwise, it’ll bring no good to the society,” he told Arab News.
Malik said that almost all political parties were seeking the support of religious clerics and custodians of shrines to win elections, but “no party seems serious in taking practical steps to address the issue of rising extremism and fanaticism in the society.”