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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Pakistan seeks ban on new political party 'affiliated' with militant group

Tthe newly formed Milli Muslim League's (MML) is allegedly linked to a militant group whose founder has been labelled a terorist by the US

Pakistan's interior ministry has called for the electoral commission to bar from politics a new party backed by an Islamist with a $10 million US bounty on his head.

In a letter dated September 22, the ministry recommended the Election Commission of Pakistan reject the newly formed Milli Muslim League's (MML) application to become an official party as it is "affiliated" with Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), a militant group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.

"The registration of MML is not supported," the ministry said in the two-page document, seen by Reuters.

Spokesmen for the election commission and the interior ministry acknowledged the correspondence and confirmed the letter was authentic.

The United States has designated LeT founder Hafiz Saeed a terrorist. He currently heads the Jamaat-ud-Dawa Islamic charity, a terrorist but the US views him as the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks and has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his imprisonment.

Saeed is currently under house arrest. Pakistan's reluctance to press charges against him has been a sore point in relations with Washington and India over the past decade.

The ministry said MML is "ideologically of the same hue" as LeT and its affiliated charities Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-e-Insanyat Foundation (FIF).

Tabish Qayyum, a spokesman for the MML, denied the fledgling party had links with any banned militant group and said the ministry's letter was unlawful.

"MML isn't a bus or truck which needs registration," he said.

The ministry's stance appears to be at odds with what political sources and a retired army general have said is a plan proposed by the military's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to 'mainstream' some Pakistan-based anti-Indian militant groups, in the hope of deradicalising them by bringing them into politics.

The interior ministry's letter was written a week after MML caused a stir by winning 5 percent of votes in a parliamentary by-election in Lahore on September 17.

The document said foreign countries have raised diplomatic objections to MML's existence and the interior ministry has sought the opinions of intelligence agencies on the group.

One of the agencies, the ministry said, has warned against letting proscribed and monitored organisations enter politics with a view to gaining legitimacy.

The interior ministry said in the security agency's view, "given the clamour, philosophy, outreach and modus operandi to operate, it is difficult to believe that MML will tread its own path completely at variance with its mother organisation."

Therefore the recommendation was to avoid registering such groups as that "would breed violence and extremism in politics."

In the Lahore by-election, Yaqoob Sheikh, who swears loyalty to Saeed, stood as an independent candidate but was backed by MML and had Saeed's colleagues running his campaign.

Saeed's portraits adorned posters promoting Sheikh, who the United States has also designated a terrorist and a senior LeT commander.

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