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Islamabad high court clears way for registration of Hafiz Saeed’s political party

The Pakistan Election Commission had been refusing to allow the Milli Muslim League to get itself registered as a political party to contest the 2018 general elections.

world Updated: Mar 08, 2018 22:36 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Hafiz Saeed gestures as he arrives for a press conference in Lahore on June 26, 2014.
Hafiz Saeed gestures as he arrives for a press conference in Lahore on June 26, 2014. (AFP File Photo)

A Pakistani court on Thursday allowed the country’s election commission to register the Milli Muslim League (MML), a party formed by Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) founder and alleged Mumbai terror attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed that wants to contest this year’s general election.

The Islamabad high court set aside the election body’s October 2017 decision not to register the MML in view of objections from the interior ministry. A statement issued by the MML said Justice Aamer Farooq had issued an order to the poll panel to register the party.

The ruling came a day after the Lahore high court extended its stay against the possible arrest of Saeed, who had approached the court following reports that he could be detained again due to pressure from the United States.

There was no official word on Thursday’s development from the Pakistan government, which is facing intense pressure from the US and its allies to crack down on the JuD and Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation, two groups linked to Saeed that have been declared fronts for the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba by the US and the UN Security Council.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) decided last month to put Pakistan on its “grey list” in June for not doing enough to choke funding for terror organisations. Pakistan was backed only by Turkey after China and the Gulf Cooperation Council withdrew their opposition to a US move to put the country on the watch list.

Saeed, on whom the US has placed a $10 million bounty, was placed under house arrest for about 10 months last year as part of efforts to prevent Pakistan being placed on the FATF’s watchlist. Earlier this year, the government took over some JuD and FIF centres, offices and some other facilities but was unable to stave off action by the FATF

The MML, which was launched by the JuD last August, had last September fielded an independent candidate for by-elections to a seat in Lahore that fell vacant when former premier Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court. The candidate, Sheikh Yaqoob, designated a terrorist by the US, won more votes than candidates from established parties such as the Pakistan People’s Party.

MML chief Saifullah Khalid, a close aide of Saeed, had contended in the Islamabad high court that there were no grounds for the election commission not to register the party as there were no first information reports (FIRs) against any of its leaders. He had described the election commission’s objections as “baseless”.

Khalid and other leaders, who were present in court when the judge announced his decision on Thursday, said the MML would emerge as a major force in the upcoming general election.

Retired Lt Gen Amjad Shuaib told Reuters last year that Saeed’s entry into politics was in line with a blueprint prepared by the military to mainstream militant groups. However, former premier Nawaz Sharif rejected the plan when the military proposed it in 2015, the report said.