The United States included Pakistani cleric Hafiz Saeed in the most-wanted terrorist list in 2018 over the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. In Pakistan, Saeed’s charities are banned, as is his political party launched by his followers. However, none of this has prevented him from asking support for more than 200 candidates he backs.

“The politics of the American servants is coming to an end!”, Saeed claimed at a rally in Lahore, where he was reportedly showered with rose petals.

The main contest is reportedly between the jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and cricketer turned politician Imran Khan. But a number of extreme-Islamist groups are also contesting the polls, with the eventuality to change the political landscape of the country of 208 million people with anti-western rhetoric and calls for ever-stricter interpretation of Sharia.

According to a report in Dawn, this proliferation of religious parties is because of the proposal made by the military to armed Islamists and other extremists into politics. Though no political party has confirmed the proposal.

The fear is, even if these religious parties candidates win a few seats, they may shift the political agenda in their direction.

According to reports, religious parties, have fielded more than 1,500 candidates for the national and provincial assemblies, compared with only a hundred in 2013.

Many parties are officially banned in Pakistan but have bypassed the legal restrictions and fielded their candidates. Pakistan’s Election Commission in 2018 has also rejected Hafiz Saeed’s Islamic charity’s application to register a political party. the Milli Muslim League, but then the group reportedly registered its candidates under the name of an existing party, Allahu Akbar Tehreek, which now campaigns with Saeed’s image on its posters.