Pakistan to Contest Alleged Terror Group Entering Politics

  • U.S. on Monday designated MML as a terrorist organisation
  • Pakistan’s interior minister says court ruling to be ‘undone’

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the government will challenge an interim legal ruling that allows a U.S.-proscribed terrorist organization to contest national elections due to be held this summer.

Last month, a high court ordered the country’s election agency to register the Mili Muslim League as a political party. The group is supported by Hafiz Saeed, the suspected planner of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and on Monday the U.S. designated the MML as a terror group and placed sanctions on seven of its leaders. Washington said the organization is attempting to undermine Pakistan’s political process and is a front for militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Ahsan Iqbal

Photographer: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

“It’s an international obligation to take action against terrorist-linked groups,” Iqbal said in an interview in Islamabad on Tuesday. “This point and some more material will be shared with the court to get it undone.”

The MML’s creation, pushed along by Saeed who inaugurated its offices in Lahore in December, has led to fears Pakistan’s powerful military is renewing its push to lend terror groups political legitimacy. The U.S. says Saeed’s charities and organizations raise money and support for Lashkar-e-Taiba, which he denies. In sermons in Lahore this year, Saeed has denounced Islamabad’s moves to seize his organizations’ assets as an American-led persecution.

Political Cloaking

“We obviously will challenge whatever kind of action the government takes,” said Tabish Qayyum, a spokesman for the MML in Lahore. “Pakistan is a sovereign country with its own political system where no country has the right to interfere. We want to take part in politics under Pakistan’s constitution and we are not affiliated with anyone. We think this step is contrary to our basic human rights.”

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Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. have deteriorated drastically in the past year. In his first tweet of 2018, President Donald Trump said Pakistan gave “lies and deceit” in return for American funding. The South Asian nation is at pains to show it is acting against insurgents as it comes under increasing Western pressure and after Trump suspended billions of dollars of military aid to the country.

Pakistan has long been accused of supporting proxy groups of fighters furthering its foreign policy objectives -- from the claim on the disputed region of Kashmir to the installation of a pro-Pakistani government in Afghanistan. The army has consistently denied supporting terrorists.

Nevertheless in February, an American-led coalition of western nations pushed for its addition to the Financial Action Task Force’s terrorism-financing watch list, a move which may lead to sanctions.

The U.S. will continue to target terrorist organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba
“even when they attempt to cloak themselves as political parties or hide their extremism behind other facades,” Treasury Undersecretary Sigal Mandelker said in Monday’s statement.

— With assistance by Ismail Dilawar

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