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ISLAMABAD: Ahmed Lud­hianvi, leader of the proscribed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), on Tuesday expressed confidence that his party would be taken off the list of banned organisations.

Though his claim was not verified by any official Dawn spoke to, Mr Ludhianvi said he had held meetings with officials and the political leadership in this regard.

He said that meeting officials or political leaders from the centre or Punjab was a routine matter for all politicians, including himself.

“I have one bone to pick with the system — whenever there is a need to pacify enraged ASWJ workers or to negotiate with militants, I am called in for the sake of Pakistan. But, legally, I am a proscribed person and my party is still a banned group,” he told journalists.

He was referring to negotiations with the militants who had attacked the General Headquarters (GHQ) in 2009. The ASWJ leader said: “The decision-makers of the state have acknowledged my grievances, but if they are not ready to allow us to work as a legal entity in the country, I will not cooperate with them in the future.”

He said the ban only supported extremists within their ranks and weakened the genuine leadership, criticising the state authorities for failing to curb terrorism that had engulfed the country.

“We have had four or five operations in the recent past, such as Zarb-i-Azb, the National Action Plan and now Raddul Fasaad, but where are we heading?”

He called upon the government to lift the ban, not only on his party, but also on the arch rivals, the Shia Ulema Council (SUC) led by Allama Sajid Naqvi.

“They have filed a case before the Lahore High Court for the implementation of an apex court decision removing the ban,” he said, adding: “The court asked the interior ministry to respond within one month, but it has already been over a year now.”

Mr Ludhianvi seemed optimistic that the ban on their mainstream opponents would soon be lifted by the court.

“After the ban on [SUC] is lifted, we too will approach the court of law,” ASWJ chief said.

Both Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Tehreek-i-Jaferia Pakistan (TJP) were banned in 2002 by the Musharraf regime.

The SSP later began to operate as the Millat-i-Islamia Pakistan, which was banned by the interior ministry. It currently functions under the banner of ASWJ, which is also on the list of proscribed groups.

On the other hand, the TJP became the Tehreek-i-Islami, which was also banned. It now operates as the SUC.

The ASWJ leader also claimed that the party and the TJP had been the victims of conspiracies by those with vested interests, who benefited from anarchy and unrest. “These are local as well as foreign players,” he added.

“But for the sake of peace in the country, I am not only ready to meet Allama Sajid Naqvi, but I will even to go to his house and initiate a joint struggle to end the culture of hate and extremism. But this meeting has to be under state patronage so that the decisions taken are implemented,” he said.

He criticised the incumbent leadership for not honouring the commitments they made back in the late 1990s, when all parties had agreed on a joint code of conduct.

He claimed that some workers had resorted to violence in the early 1990s after being subjected to targeted killings and state persecution, but said that group had long been expelled from the party.

The ASWJ chief said his party had no links with Malik Ishaq or other leaders of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, adding that their popularity could be gauged from the results of recent by-elections in Jhang and local government elections in several districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab.

Talking to Dawn, SUC secretary general Arif Wahidi welcomed Mr Ludhianvi’s offer to sit together to iron out differences between the two parties. However, he said, any such meeting would be held only after the ASWJ stopped extending support to extremists and terrorists who were involved in hate speech.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2017