Pakistan army pushed political role for hard-line groups

Author: ReutersSat, 2017-09-16 05:01ID: 1505579887448562500LAHORE: A new Pakistani political party controlled by militants with a $10 million US bounty on his head is backing a candidate in a by-election on Sunday, in what a former senior army officer says is a key step in a military-proposed plan to mainstream militant groups.
The Milli Muslim League party loyal to Hafiz Saeed — who the US and India accuse of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people — has little chance of seeing its favored candidate win the seat vacated when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was removed from office by the Supreme Court in July.
But the foray into politics by Saeed’s militants charity is following a blueprint that Sharif himself rejected when the military proposed it last year, retired Lt. Gen. Amjad Shuaib told Reuters.
“We have to separate those elements who are peaceful from the elements who are picking up weapons,” Shuaib said.
Pakistan’s powerful military has long been accused of fostering militant groups as proxy fighters opposing neighboring arch-enemy India, a charge the army denies.
Saeed’s religious charity launched the Milli Muslim League party within two weeks after the court ousted Sharif over corruption allegations.
Yaqoob Sheikh, the Lahore candidate for Milli Muslim League, is standing as an independent after the Electoral Commission said the party was not yet legally registered.
But Saeed’s lieutenants, JUD workers and Milli Muslim League officials are running his campaign and portraits of Saeed adorn every poster promoting Sheikh.
Another extremist Fazlur Rehman Khalil has told Reuters he too plans to soon form his own party to advocate strict Islamic law.
“God willing, we will come into the mainstream — our country right now needs patriotic people,” Khalil said, vowing to turn Pakistan into a state government by strict Islamic law.
Saeed’s charity and Khalil’s Ansar ul-Umma organization are both seen by the US as fronts for militant groups the army has been accused of sponsoring. The military denies any policy of encouraging radical groups.
Both Saeed and Khalil are proponents of a strict interpretation of Islam and have a history of supporting violence — each man was reportedly a signatory to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa declaring war on the US.
Analyst Khaled Ahmed, who has researched Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity and its connections to the military, says the new political party is clearly an attempt by the generals to pursue an alternative to dismantling its militant proxies.
“One thing is the army wants these guys to survive,” Ahmed said. “The other thing is that they want to also balance the politicians who are more and more inclined to normalize relations with India.”
The military’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency first began pushing the political mainstreaming plan in April 2016, according to retired general Shuaib, a former director of the army’s military intelligence wing that is separate from the ISI.
He said the proposal was shared with him in writing by the then-ISI chief, adding that he himself had spoken with Khalil as well as Saeed in an unofficial capacity about the plan.
Main category: WorldTags: Mili Muslim LeagueLahorePakistanPakistan political partyHafiz SaeedMohammad Yaqoob SheikhNawaz Sharifrelated_nodes: Power plays: who could be Pakistan’s next PM?Charity run by Pakistani Islamist launches political party‘Interim’ Pakistan PM may stay put amid doubts over Sharif’s brotherShahid Abbasi elected as Pakistan’s prime minister

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