LAHORE - More than 2,000 candidates of banned outfits are in the race for the first phase of local bodies’ election in Punjab by technically evading the checks imposed on them, sources in religious parties told The Nation yesterday.

The successive governments after the launch of war on terror, have banned more than 200 organisations found involved in working against the interests of the state and its institutions.

The list of proscribed organisations also includes a separate section for 60 organisations designated as terrorist outfits.

Sources in the religious parties who endorsed the military operations against the banned militant outfits told this paper that hundreds of candidates of the proscribed organisations are taking part in the first phase of local bodies’ polls to be held on October 31 in the 12 districts of Punjab.

How they managed to join the race when asked, the sources said, “The leaders of these outfits either selected their relatives with no active background in the proscribed organisations or chose their sympathisers with a clean record with security agencies to evade the ban. Nobody can challenge or stop such persons from contesting the local elections.”

Punjab Election Commissioner Masood Malik, when contacted said, “The election authority has no system to check the background details of any candidate. The commission follows the details of the candidate mentioned in his nomination papers. The candidate also gives an oath in the nomination paper saying that the details he is providing in the nomination papers are completely true.

“The opponent candidates can file complaints challenging their competitor’s credentials in the election appellate committees and they can reject the nomination papers of any candidate if they find substantial evidence against the respondent candidate.”

Religious parties’ sources also said that many of the banned outfits’ candidates enjoy the support of mainstream political parties for local bodies’ polls. They have also made seat adjustments in some districts. “Most of the proscribed organisations’ candidates are in the run as independent candidates or they have formed or joined local groups,” they added.

They said, “Faisalabad, Bhakkar, Lodhran, Vehari and Bahawalnagar districts are the major areas where the banned outfits have considerable influence. But they have also been in the race for local polls from the seven other districts where first phase of polls is going to be held.”

“Proscribed organisations have mostly fielded candidates on the seats for general members of the Union Councils and general members for Municipal Committees’ wards. A small number of their candidates have also been contesting for chairmen and vice chairmen of the union councils,” they added.

In the 12 districts, a total of 33,794 candidates are in the race for general members of the Union Councils and general members for Municipal Committees’ wards.

Security services contacts told The Nation that they have collected information about the local bodies’ candidates backed by banned outfits’ leaders. But they are new faces with clean slate and cannot be barred from taking part in the election under the law.

“The security services divide the first two categories of banned organisations members as “Active and Non-Active”. The active ones are involved in different kinds of banned activities and the non-active ones are those which remain affiliated with the active outfits but either they are living a retired life or not taking part in any activity due to different reasons,” they added.

“There should be a mechanism to stop the new faces of banned outfits from grabbing seats in the local governance system as well as the mainstream politics,” suggested the security services sources.

They are of the assessment: “Allowing the new faces to make foothold in the local governance system means permitting them to create more cells to advance the ideology of terror. The local political arena is the most effective ground for fresh recruitment.”

Though the security agencies keep on launching operations to cleanse the country of the extremists but they keep coming back with new labels and new faces.

There is a dire need of a comprehensive and well-coordinated strategy to counter the extremism starting from grass root level to country’s mainstream.

Physically eliminating few hundred or few thousand of the extremist cadres will not solve this serious issue which has put country’s future in jeopardy.