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SPECIAL: What has Propelled Hafiz to ‘Go Political?’  

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PAKISTAN-LAHORE-MILITANT-LEADER-ARREST by .
Chief of Pakistan's Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) Hafiz Saeed (C, front) leaves after being detained by police in eastern Pakistan's Lahore on early Jan. 31, 2017. Authorities in Pakistan have detained Hafiz Saeed, chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the group accused of planning the 2008 attacks in the Indian commercial center of Mumbai that had killed 166 people, the group's spokesman said Tuesday. (Xinhua/Sajjad) (lrz)

Pakistan’s ‘friendly’ terrorist Hafiz Saeed rebranded the UN prescribe Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), itself an off-shoot of the Lashkar-e-Toyaba (LeT) into a ‘regular’ political party, called the Milli Muslim League (MML). He has thus staked his claim to being called “Muslim League”, the party that founded Pakistan….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

PAKISTAN-LAHORE-MILITANT-LEADER-ARREST by .
Chief of Pakistan’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) Hafiz Saeed (C, front) leaves after being detained by police in eastern Pakistan’s Lahore on early Jan. 31, 2017 (File).

Floating a political party or contesting an election while in detention is not a new phenomenon in South Asia, or elsewhere. But doing the first, and preparing for the latter, when you are declared a terrorist outfit by the UN and a million dollar prize is set your the head by the world’s most powerful nation is certainly new.

Pakistan’s ‘friendly’ terrorist Hafiz Saeed – friendly to any government that has ruled in Islamabad since the 1980s – thinks it is his hour, when there is tremendous political instability and turmoil in his country.

He has rebranded the UN prescribe Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), itself an off-shoot of the Lashkar-e-Toyaba (LeT) into a ‘regular’ political party, called the Milli Muslim League (MML). He has thus staked his claim to being called “Muslim League”, the party that founded Pakistan.

He has done that in time for the general elections due in August next year. He can be expected to use it for his own propaganda, even though he is under house-arrest. He may well draw its constitution and even election manifesto. The basic aim, not surprisingly, is to usher in complete Islamic regime and society in Pakistan.

Democracy or democratic activity is not even a façade. In the past, Saeed has often denounced democracy and the electoral process, saying it is not compatible with Islam.

“We have decided to make a new political party, so that Pakistan is made a real Islamic and welfare state,” said Milli Muslim League president Saifullah Khalid, a close aide of Saeed.

Isn’t that what the Pakistani Taliban want? Isn’t that the other Islamist parties, who become ‘mainstream’ and used to power and pelf in electoral politics of Pakistan, and hence, marginalized by the more virulent ones, also want?

The moot point here is that right-wing, religion-driven politics remains on the ascendance on Pakistan.

Saeed seems to have realized the need to launch a political party to escape being pressurized and buffeted by the rulers in Islamabad.

“The making of a party indicates the need of JuD to hide itself further so to avoid criticism,” noted Pakistani strategic analyst Ayesha Siddiqa has said.

(WORLD SECTION) PAKISTAN-LAHORE-ANNIVERSARY-NUCLEAR
Hafiz Saeed addresses a rally in Lahore (File)

Saeed has “gone political” to escape – or so he hopes – the perceived restrictions that the United Nations and the U.S. declarations against him impose. If reports circulating in diplomatic circles in Islamabad are to be believed, the Chinese also want him restrained since the presence and propaganda of the likes of Saeed muck up the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), create ‘public chaos” at home – the official reason for which Saeed remains under house arrest, and shoo-away potential investors. China is worried that Pakistan’s security record may render Beijing exclusively holding the CPEC baby.

Yet, Saeed’s well-timed, if audacious move, obviously has the blessings of the Khaqqan Abbasi Government. Even without these blessings, Saeed must be thumbing the nose at the new rulers who are riven with doubts and differences and are far, very far, from setting their house in order.

The time is, indeed, perfect in that what LeT or JuD cannot say, the MML can, as a political party. There is a notional – though ineffective –ban on media carrying news about the LeT by Pemra, the official media regulator of Pakistan. But the MML hopes to be governed by the rules applicable to other political parties and once the election process begins, it would gain the protection of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). So, everything about MML, and hence Saeed, becomes ‘legit’ as they say in American parlance for things legitimate.

Why is the claim of being “Muslim League”? This is a matter of conjecture. Is it a ‘friendly float’ with the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) led by the ousted prime minister? By all assessments, the PML(N) remains the strongest political party that also governs and controls the most-powerful Punjab province.

Punjab is also where Saeed is strong. The suspicion of his being surreptitiously ‘friendly’ to Nawaz stems from the fact that Nawaz, along with other right-of-centre and Islamist parties, had entered into an alliance with the militant groups during the 2013. The common targets then were the ‘secular’ parties like the PPP of the Bhuttos and the Awami National Party (ANP). The ‘secular’ ones lost a hundred workers during the pre-poll violence in 2013 of which the PTI of Imran Khan was also a beneficiary. Will the PML(N) again align with Saeed’s MML and the militants to hold the ‘secular’ ones at bay?

Whatever the foreseeable future in the next few months, as of now, it is clear that with MML, Saeed is seeking political space and a measure of legitimacy. If the American lawmakers protest or the Chinese officials quietly nudge Abbasi, the latter can easily shrug his shoulders and say his government cannot be seen as targeting anyone who is engaged in political activity in the run-up to the elections.

Saeed was always protesting that JuD is only a charity working among the poor and those affected by natural calamities. None – the UN, the US and the Europeans – has believed him as he has remained the mastermind against the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. The question then arises is that what was the need of turning a ‘charity’ into a political party?

Now that Saeed’s plans to float the MML are in the open, how should India view it?

“For India, the acceptance of the JuD/MML as a political party under the Pakistani Constitution will give one more piece of evidence of state involvement in proxy activities in Kashmir. However, given the geo-strategic importance that international players accord to Pakistan, the evidence is likely to remain lost in the maze of the grey zone that Pakistan has successfully created to cover its dubious activities,” said  Lt. Gen.(rtd.) Syed Ata Hasnain, an Indian analyst.

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