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Pakistan’s New Interior Minister Is An Open Supporter Of Extremists

In yet another cabinet reshuffle, Sheikh Rasheed who was serving as Federal Minister for Railways has been appointed Interior Minister. Rasheed replaced Minister Ijaz Shah who had recently made headlines as interior minister when he issued a veiled terror threat to opposition leaders. Ijaz Shah’s appointment as Interior Minister had raised eyebrows with people criticising his alleged links with terror outfits. But Sheikh Rasheed’s appointment is even more controversial for the following reasons.

The Awami League politician holds extremist views which he has openly expressed time and again. He had openly supported the 2016 Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) sit-in against the then government of PMLN over a ‘clerical error’ that had removed Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath from the draft Election Law.

Further, when then PM Nawaz Sharif had a shoe thrown at him during his visit to Jamia Naeemia in Lahore, Rasheed had justified the act saying that the PMLN government should mend its ways because a person who can throw a shoe can also fire gun shots, suggesting that if PMLN leaders are attacked by religious extremists, the action would be a justified reaction to the government’s policies. A few weeks later, then interior minister Ahsan Iqbal was shot by a TLP supporter. The minister remained in hospital for several days after receiving injuries.

Earlier in the same year, Sheikh Rasheed had glorified Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer during a talk show. Rasheed had termed Mumtaz Qadri’s supporters a ‘political force’ which will influence election results in his constituency in Rawalpindi. He had gone on to say that Mumtaz Qadri’s supporters will vote for his party in the 2018 elections.
Sheikh Rasheed is also known to be close to leaders of banned extremist outfits. He had been an active member of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, an alliance of religious parties including banned outfits such as Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ)’s sister organisation Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). Founded in 2011, the Difa-e-Pakistan Council aimed at enforcing conservative policies in the country and ‘protecting’ Pakistan from foreign enemies. However, the Council has mysteriously gone missing in action after the PTI assumed power.

Meanwhile, media reports say Rasheed has been given the new assignment as part of the government’s clampdown on opposition. The timing of the appointment, which comes just two days before the PDM rally in Lahore, has given rise to the impression that Rasheed has been launched to counter the opposition.

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