A matter of concern

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In Pakistan, the liberal political parties are reportedly worried over the penetration of fundamental, extremist and militant organisations in mainstream politics and their efforts to enter the Parliament and provincial assemblies. Just on previous Thursday,the Islamabad High Court has sided with a new political party whose bid to register with the national election commission was rejected because of the party’s ties to an Islamic cleric designated as a global terrorist by the United Nations and United States. In its ruling, the court directed the commission to review the earlier decision against the Milli Muslim League. The MML is said to be a political wing of cleric Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) charity. Authorities have accused the cleric of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed 166 people, including Americans. U.N. and U.S. officials say JuD is a front organization for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the group blamed for carrying out the carnage in the Indian financial capital.
The Pakistani government opposed the registration of the Milli Muslim League (MML), the political wing of the banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), founded by Hafiz Saeed. It had told the Election Commission that it would not give security clearance to the party. In October last, the EC rejected the application of the MML, formed to mainstream the JuD. The MML had said the Commission’s decision was due to pressure from India and the U.S. The commission based its decision on written advice from the Interior Ministry, which said the party was linked to charities under domestic and international anti-terrorism sanctions. In response, the MML appealed to the high court. The party’s candidates have since run as independents in several by-elections, using photographs and banners featuring Saeed. The candidates could not win, but secured more votes than several mainstream political groups.
The MML was launched in August last year, and it even fielded a candidate as an Independent in a by-election for a seat that fell vacant after the disqualification of the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. The candidate in the NA-120 Lahore constituency used Saeed’s photographs on the banners and the MML campaigned for him. According to media reports, the U.S. had sent a protest note over the MML and its political role, and several other countries expressed concerns. In January and February, the government put the JuD under sanctions and took over its assets. Washington has placed a $10 million bounty on Saeed, who is also the LeT founder, for allegedly masterminding the attack. The cleric denies the charges and links to LeT, saying Indian and U.S. pressure is forcing Pakistan to restrict his charity work. The MML was established in August 2017 in a bid to find a place for JuD in Pakistan’s political mainstream, sparking criticism of the government’s counter-extremism efforts. In October, the election commission rejected the MML’s registration application, which is required for all political parties that want to take part in parliamentary elections.
The court ruling came days after the global watchdog group Financial Action Task Force (FATF) said Pakistan was not doing enough to crack down on terrorist financing. The FATF, which monitors such activity and money laundering, said Pakistan would be placed on the group’s terror watch list, known as the “gray list.” The decision followed a recent FATF meeting in Paris in which the United States, France, Britain and Germany introduced a resolution alleging that Pakistan had failed to adhere to the FATF guidelines to curb terror-related financial crimes. In the run-up to the meeting, Pakistani authorities amended laws to blacklist individuals and groups such as JuD and its sister organization, Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), which is also a U.N.-designated terrorist organization. Those actions, however, failed to convince member nations. Terror financing remains a major concern and challenge in Pakistan, where militant groups allegedly raise money under the guise of religion and welfare for the poor and spend it on terror-related activities there as well as in India and Afghanistan. The FATF designation takes effect in June and could pose serious economic risks for Pakistan in terms of attracting foreign investment and dealing with foreign banks.