Tuesday January 23, 2018
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UK decides to lift ban on pro-Khalistan Sikh group ISYF

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Britain: Set to lift a 15-year-old ban on a pro-Khalistan militant group after a debate, the House of Commons in Britain concluded that “sufficient evidence” does not currently exist to link it to terrorism.

The International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), established in the 1980s in militancy-wracked Punjab, was involved in “assassinations, bombings and kidnappings, mainly directed against Indian officials and interests”, the British Parliament heard this week.

However, the debate entitled ‘Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism’ on Tuesday night concluded that “there is not sufficient evidence to support a reasonable belief” that the ISYF is currently concerned with terrorism.

It therefore approved the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2016, which was laid before the House of Commons on February 22 and will be formally passed on Friday.

“The decision to de-proscribe the ISYF was taken after extensive consideration and in the light of a full assessment of all the available information,” UK minister for security John Hayes told the Commons.

He was questioned by Labour’s shadow home secretary Andy Burnham whether the ban had been maintained since 2001 “because of pressure from the Indian government”, something Hayes denied “without equivocation, hesitation or obfuscation”.

Labour’s longest serving Indian-origin MP Keith Vaz welcomed the government’s decision, saying, “At every meeting that I have attended to do with the Sikh community, members of the community ask about the issue and feel that they have been discriminated against.

“There are 450,000 Sikhs living in the United Kingdom, and about 150 gurdwaras in the UK. Even though it is one organisation, because it has the word ‘Sikh’ in its name, it affects other parts of the diaspora,” he said.

He also called for a review of the ban in place against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The ban on the ISYF in the UK came in force in March 2001, which led to the organisation being banned in India in December that year and in Canada in July 2003.

The Sikh Federation (UK) had applied for the ban to be lifted last year, followed by a legal challenge against UK home secretary Theresa May for refusing to lift the ban.

The Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission (POAC) had sought further reasons for May’s refusal to lift the ban but the UK government decided instead not to further contest the ban and moved the order for parliamentary approval on February 22 this year.

Sikh Federation chair Bhai Amrik Singh said “The Home Secretary has shown courage in making this decision despite the inevitable pressure from the Indian authorities and so close after the attacks in Paris (last November). However, this also shows there was no case against the ISYF that would stand up to legal scrutiny”.

Britain’s decision to lift the ban will be formally notified to the UN and the European Council once agreed in Parliament at the end of the week.

(The article was first published in ddpunjabstarnews.com)

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  • Shriya Katoch

    it is great to see that such unfair bans have been lifted

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Emergence of Radical Political Groups Raises Concern in Pakistan

Concerns are being voiced about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

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Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
  • Tension in Pakistan increasing due to emergence of Radical Political Groups.
  • Extremist groups are gaining a footing in Country’s politics.
  • According to reports, goverment’s efforts are not enough to stop the emerging radicalism in Pakistan.

Concerns are being voiced in Pakistan about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

Taj Haider, one of the prominent and founding members of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has been in power five times since 1970, told VOA the country is again seeing the trend of extremist groups camouflaging themselves to enter into politics.

“Religion and politics cannot go hand in hand, but unfortunately this is our new reality. We have seen the recent by-elections in Lahore and Peshawar where militant-turned-political parties were able to mobilize people and gather votes,” Haider said. “And these so-called new political parties, with proven terror records, look determined to contest the upcoming elections in 2018.”

In a recent high-level party meeting presided by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Pakistan’s slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the government was sharply criticized on its inability to forcefully implement the National Action Plan and bar proscribed groups from entering the political sphere.

The National Action Plan is a 20-point strategy devised to combat extremism in 2015 that clearly states no banned groups can operate in the country by changing their names or identity.

Analysts say many other political parties are also agitated and wary about the recent political dynamic that has allowed radicalized groups to enter the political arena.

“The government has repeatedly said it will not allow the hardliners to enter into politics, but the reality is different, these parties are going into masses,” Rasul Baksh Raees, a prominent analyst from Pakistan told VOA.

“As long as these proscribed groups stick to their extreme ideologies and violence, they will be a danger to the society and democracy itself.”

Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed, head of the Pakistani religious party. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

PPP’s acute criticism came as Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), inaugurated the office of his newly launched political party Milli Muslim League (MML) in the eastern city of Lahore.

Pakistan’s Election Commission rejected MML’s party registration application in October, citing its link to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a U.S. designated terror-sponsoring organization.

But MML looks determined to contest the upcoming state and provincial elections. The party has several offices, has launched a website, and has a social media team spreading its messages through Facebook and Twitter.

Pakistan’s government has repeatedly emphasized it will not tolerate any political party with a proven record of promoting violence and terrorism to use democracy and political means to spread their extreme ideologies.

But critics still say the government is not doing enough to stop radical groups from entering politics.

“Look what happened in Lahore’s recent by-election and who can forget the power show by extremists on the roads of Islamabad. The government was totally helpless,” Raees said.

During the Lahore election in September, a MML backed independent candidate secured the fourth position in the race. The by-election was also contested by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TeL), another extremist religious party created to carry-on Mumtaz Qadri’s mission, the bodyguard who killed Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer in 2011 after he had demanded reforms in the controversial blasphemy law. Mumtaz Qadri was later sentenced to death.

Islamic Extremists
Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party (VOA)

In November, thousands of followers of the Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labaik blocked Islamabad roads for weeks and demanded the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, after accusing him of blasphemy. The government eventually surrendered to hardliners’ demands after Pakistan’s military played the role of mediator.

The experts say the emerging trend of politicizing militancy is a danger to democracy. They also point out the sectarian and hardline rationale will further complicate the situation in the country that has been trying to combat terrorism for more than a decade.

“Imagine when these hardliners, through political parties, will spread their extreme views on the grassroots level. What will be the future of this country?” Raees said.

But some politicians dismiss the blending of radicalized groups into politics. Haider believes the people of Pakistan can differentiate between politicians and extremists and will not allow militant-turned-politicians to thrive.

“If you look at the past, the religious parties including the Jamaat-i-Islami [an old religious party], despite having a huge following, were never able to clean sweep or get majority in the electoral process of the country,” said Haider.

“Even now, with all these efforts, I believe Milli Muslim League or Tehreek-e-Labaik will not be able to pull large numbers during the general elections. Religious or sectarian votes are scattered in the country and can’t be unified and will not help these newly established political parties to win a prominent number of seats.” VOA