Manzoor Ahmed

Mumbai terror mastermind Hafiz Saeed is being forced to lie low, by the Pakistani authorities who do not want to add yet another irritant in their strained relations with the United States.

But he is being retained as a potent weapon in anti-India propaganda that would have to be mounted as Pakistan goes to elections next year.

Islam a bad has thumbed the nose defiantly at Washington that officially demanded that Saeed, released from house arrest that he had been placed in January 2017, be re-arrested after a court freed him.

But while keeping Saeed free, Pakistan has thought it prudent to accept another US demand of preventing a Saeed-linked outfit from getting recognition as a political party.

Fearing that the US is poised to declare as a terrorist outfit Saeed’s charity organization, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), for which India has requested the Trump administration, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry opposed the recognition of Milli Muslim League (MML) as a political party that can contest elections.

While doing so, the ministry went on record that the MML is an off-shoot of the JuD and to Laskhar-e-Toyaba (LeT). Saeed is the common father of the LeT that carried out the Mumbai attacks and the JuD that masquerades as a charity organization.

In effect, for now, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will not recognize the MML.

There appears another reason for keeping Saeed away from joining the political mainstream, although there is little to prevent him from campaigning as long as he is outside the jail and house arrest.

Saeed’s release from house arrest was welcomed by exiled former president, retired general Pervez Musharraf. In a statement from Dubai, Musnsrraf, who is planning to return home to participate in the elections, said he had “always” supported Saeed and LeT and his operations in \Jammu and Kashmir.

Musharraf has contradicted his own action of opposing Saeed and it was during his presidency that the LeT was declared illegal. But public memory in Pakistan is short.

The military-establishment that is trying to monitor and guide the forthcoming elections, would not like Musharraf to return home and dabble in politics. He has supporters among the serving and retired armed forces personnel and his political gambit, in any case, his political utterings, could adversely affect the establishment’s plans.

Hence, in the muddle political scenario, both Musharraf and Saeed are to be handled with care.

According to media reports, accepting Indian request, the US that has placed Pakistan “on notice” is poised to add Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed’s newly-formed political party MML and some other Pakistan-based groups to a list of organisations that ‘use terrorism to promote their agenda’.

The moves by MML to seek recogitnition has alarmed the mainstream political parties and have caused internal churning because of the impact it would have, both in domestic and global discourse on terrorism.

The rightwing political parties are fearing competition and splitting of votes, as also that they may be forced to endorse, or take extreme sectarian positions if these bodies join the political mainstream,

At the same time, it is a case of yesterday’s retainers becoming competitors today.

These parties fear that they would lose the support of these extremist groups that, on reaching under the table understanding in the past, were providing cadres to fight and disrupt election rallies of moderate parties.

The Pakistan government’s failure to stop extremist groups from carrying out political activities has time and again been termed problematic by analysts abroad but also in Pakistan. It is not just the US that wants a halt to the activities of such groups, but Pakistanis within the country and outside have also been demanding the same for quite some time.

“That the authorities have failed to come up with a clear policy direction in this regard indicates that the long-held flawed policies have not completely been done away with,” The Daily Times newspaper of Lahore said in an editorial.

Ir recalled that in the aftermath of the terror attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar three years ago, “it was decided under the National Action Plan (NAP) that banned organisations would not be allowed to operate with a different name, but the practice continues till date.

“It is a known fact that Milli Muslim League is another name for the banned JuD, yet it continues to operate with impunity. The country’s civil and military leadership needs to act against all extremist groups regardless of their sectarian identities. They don’t have to do this to satisfy any external actor, but for the country’s own stability and security,” the newspaper said.

Dawn published from |Karachi has hailed the government’s opposition to MML’s recognition as “the right decision for the right reasons and it must be supported by all institutions of the state.”

In its reply to a petition in the Islamabad High Court by the MML, the interior ministry “not only cited relevant local law, but also Pakistan’s international commitments to deny that the MML can be registered with the ECP.”

“Whatever the MML may claim, it is patently clear that the aspiring political party has deep and fundamental links to Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaatud Dawa,” Dawn said in an editorial.

“To allow the MML to participate in electoral politics would be akin to allowing the LeT and JuD to participate in electoral politics — an incomprehensible idea given the sanctions against the two outfits and the legal watch lists on which they are placed.”

The newspaper warned that another extremist outfit, the TLYRA, an outfit of the Barelvi Sunnis and other groups may seek to organise their politics “on explicitly violent grounds; they should not be allowed to do so.”

“Eulogising terrorists executed by the state and campaigning along lines that can be considered hate speech should not be permitted,” Dawn said.