ISLAMABAD: Besides fielding the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi-linked Chaudhry Abid Raza from NA-107 (Gujrat), the PML-N has awarded another party ticket to Sardar Ebaad Dogar from NA-178 (Muzaffargarh) despite his being an ardent disciple of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) who had announced Rs20 million-bounty to assassinate Salman Taseer for siding with an alleged blasphemy accused, Aasia Bibi.
Salman Taseer was killed shortly afterwards – on January 4, 2011 – by a fanatic constable of the Punjab Police Elite Force, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, who was actually deployed to guard him. The killer later explained that he had assassinated Salman Taseer because of his criticism of the blasphemy law and his efforts to secure a presidential pardon for Aasia, a Christian lady who had been condemned to death for allegedly committing blasphemy.
The FIR of the Taseer murder case said “The assassination took place with the assistance and conspiracies of religious and political fanatics who had declared him a blasphemer”.
On January 5, 2011, hardly a day after Salman Taseer’s assassination, Ebaad Dogar was arrested by the police for interrogation in connection with Governor Taseer’s murder, mainly because of the hate speeches he had delivered and the bounty announcement. Ebaad denied involvement in the assassination, saying his anti-Taseer statements and the head money declaration were only symbolic and he was not the only one to have declared the Governor a blasphemer. He was subsequently released and placed under house arrest.
Ebaad Dogar is contesting the general election for the first time from NA-178 and is facing Nawabzada Iftikhar Ahmad Khan – a PPP ticket holder and the son of late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan – and Jamshed Dasti, a former PPP MNA who quit the party before the elections.
The awarding of National Assembly tickets to the LeJ/SSP linked radicals by the PML-N despite facing tough criticism in recent months for showing soft corner towards these banned outfits, runs contrary to the party spokesman’s claim that the PML-N neither faces any shortage of candidates nor it needs the support of any extremist group.
“The PML-N is a popular political party having plenty of candidates to field in every constituency of Punjab to contest the general elections. Our party will not award tickets to any element belonging to any sectarian or extremist party by disregarding its own candidates”, said the PML-N spokesman Pervaiz Rasheed in a statement last month while refuting media reports about a covert seat adjustment deal between the PML-N and the SSP/ASWJ for the general elections.
Although the secret seat adjustment deal reached between then Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi suffered a major setback because of Sheikh Waqas Akram’s decision to join the PML-N, the party top brass still decided to magnetise the vote bank of the banned Sunni Deobandi sectarian parties by fielding their disciples in the elections from the PML-N platform.
While Abid Raza from NA-107 (Gujrat) is an alleged LeJ-linked terror suspect who has already spent five years in jail on murder charges and had known links with al-Qaeda linchpin Amjad Farooqi, Sardar Ebaad Dogar is a hardcore sectarian devotee and a former office-bearer of the of the SSP, having close ties with the leadership of the ASWJ, which is said to be the parent organisation of the LeJ.
The PML-N leadership was told that the party affiliation matters little in constituencies like NA-178 [from the Khangarh tehsil of Muzaffargarh district] and it is the candidate’s relationship with the Sunni Deobandi leadership of SSP/ASWJ which matters the most to win the seat. The SSP/ASWJ continues to be the most influential politico-sectarian group in Khangarh because of its unchallenged and equally atrocious military might. Therefore, the PML-N top brass finally decided to award the party ticket to SSP/ASWJ-linked Ebaad Dogar who continues to exploit [during his election campaign] his actual claim to fame – announcement of Rs20 million-bounty for the former Governor Punjab Salman Taseer.
The footprints of the SSP/ASWJ are scattered all over in Muzaffargarh district of South Punjab, which is home to thousands of large and small seminaries. Before joining the SSP, Ebaad Dogar had served as the tehsil Nazim of Khangarh after being elected from the platform of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Having quit a religio-political JUI-F, Dogar had joined a Sunni Deobandi sectarian Sipah-e-Sahaba, only to become a prominent leader of the organisation in his ancestral area in a short span of time. However, his decision to run on a PML-N ticket instead of using the SSP/ASWJ platform is astonishing for many.
A careful study of the newspaper files of 2011 reveal that Sardar Ebaad Dogar had even told the local media persons in Khangarh shortly after Taseer’s murder that he felt no shame in having offered the Rs20-million bounty on his head.
“I can lay down my life to protect Namoos-e-Risalat (the honour of the Prophet Mohammad PBUH). No fatwa can scare me”, Dogar had stated on January 5, 2011 a day after Taseer’s assassination and shortly before his brief arrest.
But Dogar denies that he had announced the bounty due to his radical views being a staunch follower of the Sipah-e-Sahaba or Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. As Dogar was asked on April 22, 2013 [after being awarded PML-N ticket] if he had been affiliated with the SSP in the past, he replied: “I will not consider anyone, including myself, a true Muslim and follower of Islam if he is not a ‘Sipahi of Sahaba’ (a soldier of the companions of the Prophet Mohammad PBUH). I still wish to assassinate a blasphemer”.
Approached for comments, a senior leader of the PML-N justified the awarding of the party ticket to Ebaad Dogar, adding that he has an unblemished past due to which the Election Commission of Pakistan did not raise any objection to his nomination papers. “As far as Salman Taseer’s assassination is concerned, Sardar Ebaad Dogar was never indicted by police for inciting the murder, as being alleged by his political opponents”, he added.
On the contrary, however, in an interview with a private television channel on April 22, 2013, Nawaz Sharif had said he never knew [while awarding party tickets] that Sardar Ebaad Dogar belonged to the SSP and that he had announced Rs20 million-bounty on Salman Taseer. Nawaz Sharif said that having come to know of this fact, he would look into the issue and take appropriate action.