Tuesday December 18, 2018
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Pakistan Electoral Body Bars Political Party Due to Terror Ties

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Sheikh Yaqub
Sheikh Yaqub (C) candidate of the newly-formed Milli Muslim League party, waves to his supporters at an election rally in Lahore, Pakistan. voa
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Pakistan’s Election Commission (ECP) on Wednesday rejected the registration application of a newly established political party with alleged ties to a banned militant group in the country.

Milli Muslim League (MML) has been disqualified to participate in the country’s state and general elections.

The electoral commission’s decision is said to be based on a request made earlier by the country’s Ministry of Interior Affairs, stating that Milli Muslim League is a front organization for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a U.S.-designated terror sponsoring organization in Pakistan.

“The government is vigilant and under no circumstances will allow any political party with a proven record of promoting violence and terrorism to spread their extremist ideology through democracy and political means,” Tallal Chaudhry, Pakistan’s minister of state for Interior Affairs, told VOA.

Saif Ullah Khalid, president of Milli Muslim League, dismissed the election commission’s decision and said the party will take the matter to the country’s judiciary.

Political wing

Milli Muslim League was established in August 2017 as a political wing for the controversial Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which is believed to be a front organization for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror group led by Hafiz Saeed.

Saeed was accused of masterminding Mumbai’s 2008 terror attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

The U.S. government has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest. Saeed has been reportedly under house arrest in the eastern city of Lahore for the past eight months.

In September, during an important by-election in Lahore, when the National Assembly’s seat fell vacant following the disqualification of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the newly launched MML backed an independent candidate who finished fourth in the race for Sharif’s seat.

At the time, Pakistan’s upper house of parliament strongly criticized the country’s election commission for allowing JuD’s political wing, MML, to participate in the Lahore by-election.

Some experts were concerned about the emergence of militant groups joining mainstream politics in Pakistan. They maintain that the political trend seen in Lahore’s by-election, where parties linked to militant groups are able to mobilize and generate sufficient numbers of votes within a very short period of time, as alarming.

“There should be a debate on this sensitive issue through social, political and media channels. By allowing militant-based political parties to integrate into mainstream politics, it will only escalate radicalization in the society,” Khadim Hussain, a Peshawar based political analyst, told VOA.

“There are people who believe with the merger of such militant groups into politics, we’ll provide them an avenue to maintain a political presence without leaving their extreme ideologies,” Hussain added.

Army’s support

Earlier last week, Pakistan’s army acknowledged they are mulling over plans to blend the militant-linked political groups into the mainstream political arena.

Some analysts side with MML, arguing the party should be allowed to participate in elections.

“I do not understand in what capacity the election commission has rejected MML’s application to register as a party,” said Ahmad Bilal Mehboob, the head of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT).

“Did they (MML) break any law? If not, how can you bar MML from entering the mainstream politics when they’re doing it through legitimate ways,” Mehboob emphasized.

Zubair Iqbal, a Washington-based South Asia expert, also raised concerns over the validity of the decision.

“This is how democracy works. … There are some extreme groups, some moderate groups and no one should be stopped because of their extreme ideologies,” Iqbal told VOA. “The extremist groups can be barred from entering into the politics only through people and democracy.”

“Unless these parties and individuals are allowed to participate in the political system they might never change their extreme ideologies and might continue operating underground which will prove to be more dangerous,” Iqbal added.

International pressure

In the past few years, Pakistan has faced escalating pressure from the international community for not being able to crackdown on militant groups enjoying safe havens in Pakistan and launching attacks in neighboring countries.

In his recent speech on the region, U.S President Trump put Pakistan on notice to take actions against safe havens in Pakistan. Pakistani officials deny the existence of safe havens on its soil.

Pakistan is also accused of being selective in its pursuit of terror groups. It allegedly goes after only those groups that pose a threat to the country’s national security, ignoring others that threat India and Afghanistan.

Pakistan rejects the allegations and reiterates its stance of having no sympathy for any terror group operating in the country.(VOA)

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Taliban And The U.S. Set To Meet in UAE

The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan 17 years ago and the war with the Taliban has since killed nearly 150,000 people, including Afghan civilians

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USA, afghanistan, taliban
U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

A Pakistan-arranged meeting between U.S. and Taliban officials will be held Monday in the United Arab Emirates to push a political settlement to the war in Afghanistan.

The special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, will lead the U.S. team at the talks in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the gulf state, a senior Pakistani official privy to the development confirmed to VOA on Sunday.

The official, requesting anonymity, said Islamabad has facilitated the dialogue after President Donald Trump wrote to Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier this month seeking his cooperation in bringing the Taliban to the table for peace negotiations.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a brief statement sent to VOA, has confirmed participation of its political negotiators in Monday’s meeting with American officials, but said that representatives of the host country, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia will also be in attendance.

Imran Khan, Taliban
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a press conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Nov. 21, 2018. VOA

Initially, it was Khan who disclosed on Friday that Pakistan-aided talks between U.S. and Taliban officials would take place on December 17, though he would not say where.

The Pakistani prime minister, while speaking in the northwestern city of Peshawar, explained his country has agreed to assist in Afghan peace efforts because Washington has changed its position by requesting help, instead of saying Islamabad is not doing enough, as U.S. leaders have previously insisted.

A spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday hailed Khan’s remarks and support for a political reconciliation in the war-ravaged neighboring country.

“The United States welcomes any actions by the Pakistani government to promote greater cooperation, including fostering negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other Afghans,” the spokesperson told VOA.

“Special Representative Khalilzad has met, and will continue to meet, with all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan,” noted the U.S. embassy official.

taliban, afghanistan
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, right, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Nov. 9, 2018. VOA

 

In his speech on Friday, Khan said that if peace were achieved in Afghanistan, his country will be the immediate beneficiary in terms of security, economic stability and regional connectivity.

Khalilzad, is visiting regional countries to gather support for Afghan peace talks. He is 14 days into an 18-day visit to the region and has already visited Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belgium.

Since taking office in September, the Afghan-born U.S. special envoy has held two meetings with the Taliban in Qatar, where the insurgent group operates its so-called “political office.”

But those talks have been for the sake of talks, say insurgent and Pakistani officials.

Demands, accusations

Pakistani officials privy to Khalilzad’s interaction with the Taliban have told VOA that until now no progress has been achieved because the insurgents adamantly demand “a date or timeframe” for all U.S. and NATO troops to withdraw from Afghanistan before the Taliban decides to participate in an intra-Afghan peace process.

Afghanistan, Taliban
Security forces inspect the site of a deadly blast in the center of Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 12, 2018. VOA

 

Washington has long maintained Taliban leaders are sheltering in Pakistan with covert support from the country’s intelligence agency. Washington has been urging Islamabad to use its influence to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan and continue to pose serious battlefield challenges for U.S.-backed Afghan security forces.

Also Read: U.S. Welcomes Pakistan’s Actions Towards Peace in Afghanistan

The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan 17 years ago and the war with the Taliban has since killed nearly 150,000 people, including Afghan civilians, security forces, insurgents and more than 2,400 American soldiers, according to an American University study released recently.

The longest war effort in U.S. history has also cost Washington nearly one trillion dollars. The Taliban has expanded its insurgent activities and currently controls or hotly contests about half of Afghanistan. The conflict is said to have killed more Afghan civilians and security forces in 2018 than in any other year. (VOA)