The leadership of a coalition of five religious-turned-political parties known as Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) has vowed to implement Islamic law if they are elected in Pakistan's general elections July 25.
Earlier this week, the heads of the Islamist-led political formation gathered in Islamabad to announce its 12-point election charter, declaring implementation of sharia as its top priority.
"All Islamic provisions in the constitution must be protected, and Nizam-e-Mustafa [sharia] should be implemented," Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the head of MMA, said during a news conference.
Protection of all Islamic provisions in the constitution, empowerment of parliament, an independent justice system, new foreign policy and equal rights for minorities remained other salient features of party's election strategy.
Liaquat Baloch, MMA's secretary-general, told VOA that the election manifesto was an effort to revive Islamic values in accordance with the constitution.
"Our aim is to make Pakistan an Islamic and democratic country. Pakistan has been pushed toward so-called liberalism and secularism under the Western pressure. It is our responsibility as religious leadership to work to impose the Sharia Act," Baloch said.
MMA's promise to implement sharia didn't come as a surprise to political experts in Pakistan, who said it was just another election slogan and political gimmick aimed at attracting voters.
"MMA has always used religion to appeal to people for votes. They build their case that secular parties are dangerous, as they do not work to implement religious rules and norms. Religion stays a very sensitive topic in the country," Ahmad Bilal Mehboob, the head of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), told VOA.
MMA's political alliance is a merger of five hard-line and ultraconservative religiopolitical parties that include Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith (JA), Tehreek-e-Jafaria Pakistan (TJP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP).
All of these parties remained in power in the past decades and have a following in conservative parts of the country, mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan provinces that border Afghanistan.
Traditionally, the religious parties in Pakistan, despite winning seats from different pockets of the country, were never able to pull enough votes to form a government in the center.
Tilt toward Talibanization
Jahangir Khattak, a New York-based political analyst, said the manifesto is vague on how these implementations will take place.
"It is a typical MMA manifesto loaded with rhetoric and has little details. The term, sharia, is a broad term, and it needs probing. What kind of sharia are they talking about?" Khattak asked.
"Generally, political parties of MMA are considered to have a tilt and soft corner toward the Taliban, or their thinking to be aligned with the Taliban," Khattak said. "If MMA ever comes to power and will impose its brand of sharia, it is obvious it will be pushing the society towards Talibanization."
MMA emerged in 2002 when a coalition of religious-turned-political parties expressed its strong opposition to the U.S. war in Afghanistan that pushed the Taliban out of power.
Surprisingly, MMA got a majority in the elections and formed a government in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, while remaining in alliance with the ruling party in Balochistan.
MMA remained in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa until 2007.
In June 2003, the then-six-party Islamist alliance adopted a bill that declared sharia as the supreme law in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
However, the legislation, which was compared to the Taliban's notorious Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Discouragement of Vice in Afghanistan, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2006.
There was a split in MMA because of differences among different political parties. In 2008, the religious alliance officially collapsed.
In December 2017, the religious heads of five Islamist parties gathered in Karachi and announced the revival of MMA to contest the 2018 general elections.