Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, has started a new party with an eye on the 2018 elections. Photo/AFP/Files
Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Photo: AFP

A political party with close links to a man designated a global terrorist and connected to a number of other groups in Pakistan classified as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the United States, has urged the government of Pakistan to sever ties with the US.

The Milli Muslim League (MML), a political party affiliated with terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba’s (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed, a globally designated terrorist, made the plea to sever ties with Washington after the US moved to increase pressure on radical groups in Pakistan early this week.

The US designated two groups – the MML and Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir (TAJK) – as Foreign Terrorist Organizations on Monday, claiming they were fronts for the LeT, which is banned in Pakistan.

The US move deals a blow to the political ambitions of Saeed, who launched a campaign earlier this year to contest the general elections in a bid to become prime minister.

“The US is clearly interfering in Pakistan’s internal matters and should stay away from local politics,” MML spokesman Tabish Qayyum told Asia Times. “This is a breach of our fundamental rights as citizens of Pakistan, where no proof exists against us or our leadership pertaining to their alleged involvement in terrorism.”

In the build-up to February’s Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting in Paris, Islamabad designated Saeed and his groups terrorists as part of the Anti-Terrorism Ordinance 2018. It amended the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, to include all United Nations-sanctioned terror groups, including those in Pakistan.

This meant that along with Saeed and his LeT, affiliated groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation were also designated terror groups in Pakistan. However the MML, which was founded in August last year and has sworn allegiance to Saeed as its “spiritual guide,” wasn’t named in the Anti-Terrorism Ordinance, or on the US list of “Specially Designated Global Terrorists.”

The US State Department’s announcement on Monday night was the first instance of the MML being named as an international terror group.

“We are a separate entity from LeT and JuD, you can’t just lump us all together,”MML spokesman Qayyum told Asia Times. “This is clearly a case of Islamabad taking orders from Washington and curtailing the rights of its own citizens. We urge Pakistan to reconsider its ties with the US.”

Registering to run in election

Echoing Qayyum, MML’s Finance Secretary Ehsan Ullah told Asia Times that the US announcement was a setback for the party as it had been finalizing plans to legally register with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

“With the FATF announcement, and the government of Pakistan’s declaration against Hafiz Saeed, we had figured a legal way out to help us get registered with the ECP, complying with the financial scrutiny underlined by the FATF and also the legal requirements of the country,” he said.

“The US move is designed to damage our political growth, because we are a political threat for our rivals. If Pakistan had any self-respect it would sever ties with the US,” he added.

While the ECP registration remains pending because the Interior Ministry has underlined the MML’s links with LeT and Saeed, the JuD is confident the judiciary will help Saeed’s groups.

“The government is an American and Indian puppet, but the judiciary knows who is truly patriotic and who truly works for the interests of Pakistan,” JuD spokesman Nadeem Awan told Asia Times.

Last month the Lahore High Court extended its stay order against Saeed’s arrest as the government sought time to file replies and evidence. JuD insiders say the government cannot provide any evidence in court, which won’t stop questions being asked about the complicity of state institutions with Saeed and his groups.   

“Let’s not forget that we are only asking for Hafiz Saeed’s support just like the Pakistan Muslim LeagueNawaz (PML-N) has done in the past,” said Qayyum. “So it’s stark hypocrisy that the PML-N is asking for a ban on us, while they have used the same names to become the ruling party,” he said.

JuD spokesman Awam, meanwhile, says none of Saeed’s groups are involved in any suspicious activities.

“All state institutions know about our activities. We have never conducted any act that could be described as terrorism as per Pakistani laws and policies,” he said, adding that Saeed was the “voice of Pakistanis” and a “freedom fighter for Kashmir.”

“Now look at the bloodshed in Kashmir – do you think this government, that is an Indian stooge, can do anything about innocent Kashmiris dying under Indian occupation?” he asked. “Kashmir was declared as Pakistan’s jugular vein, and when it bleeds, the body can’t survive.”

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