Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which is wooing religious and militant groups to back its shutdown of Islamabad from November 2, is believed to have reached an understanding with the JuD and JeM for the protest against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Members of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Jaish-e-Mohammed agreed to support the ‘dharna’ after the two groups were approached by Khan’s party, sources told Hindustan Times.
On Monday, the leadership of Islamabad’s radical Lal Masjid, which is seen as close to the Taliban and has supported the Islamic State, announced it too will join the dharna.
The JuD and JeM will provide “street power” for the protest and their members have started making their way to Islamabad after receiving instructions from their leadership, the sources said.
JuD supporters confirmed they had received instructions from Lahore, where the group’s operational headquarters is based, to either proceed to Islamabad or await further instructions.
“This is a very dangerous gamble that Imran Khan is taking,” said analyst Qaiser Mehmood. Most extremist groups are now putting their weight behind Khan’s party, he added.
However, there is a division within the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), an umbrella organisation of extremist and religious groups, with one key player - the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl – refusing to support the Tehreek-e-Insaf while all others have expressed their willingness to do so.
Leading the charge from within the DPC is the JUI-S led by Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, a cleric widely regarded as the “Father of the Taliban”.
Khan is organising the protest to pressure the prime minister to resign over revelations in the Panama Papers leaks that Sharif’s three children owned offshore assets worth millions of dollars.
During Khan’s last dharna in 2014, the Tehreek-e-Insaf was supported by only one religious party, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek led by Canada-based cleric Tahirul Qadri. This time round, the number of religious and militant groups that have voiced support for the support have increased manifold.
Officials who asked not to be named said the inclusion of the JuD and the JeM has been done with the blessings of the military leadership.
“What we are seeing is the inclusion of many radical jihadis, some of whom are also hardened criminals,” said one official, adding the law and order situation in Islamabad could deteriorate in case of a clash between Khan’s supporters and law enforcement agencies.
Over the past week, defence minister Khawaja Asif, a senior leader of the ruling PML-N, alleged that religious seminaries funded by the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province planned to provide foot soldiers for the protest in Islamabad. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is ruled by the Tehreek-e-Insaf.
On Thursday, PML-N lawmaker Daniyal Aziz alleged that Khan had asked jihadi groups to send their members to his protest in the federal capital. Addressing a news conference, Aziz alleged that Khan made a telephone call during a consultative meeting with the jihadi groups, asking them to send 500 “armed men” to the protest.