ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday refused to recognise the Milli Muslim League (MML) — a political front of the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) — as a legitimate political party and warned electoral candidates not to use the party’s name in election campaigns.

In Lahore, the returning officer (RO) for the by-poll in NA-120 restrained Sheikh Mohammad Yaqoob from displaying photos of the proscribed organisation’s leaders on his campaign banners. A spokesperson for the ECP clarified that Mr Yaqoob, who was contesting the by-poll as an independent candidate, had been allotted the symbol of an energy saver. He said action would be taken under the ECP’s code of conduct if Mr Yaqoob failed to comply with the returning officer’s directives.

The JuD had launched the MML last month. While several countries, including the US and India, consider JuD a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba — the militant group accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks — the JuD denies links to violence.

In fact, the organisation enjoys considerable popularity, especially for its charity work under the banner of Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF). The JuD has not been designated a terrorist organisation in Pakistan but has been on its terror watch-list for several years.

Warns independent candidate in NA-120 against using Milli Muslim League insignia

The United States has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of JuD’s founding chief Hafiz Saeed. The government had placed him under house arrest earlier this year.

The ECP had taken notice of the JuD chief’s pictures and the insignia of the MML displayed on the banners used in Mr Yaqoob’s election campaign in NA-120.

RO Mohammad Shahid issued a show-cause notice to the candidate for this, terming it a violation of the code of conduct set by the ECP. He directed Mr Yaqoob to comply with the code of conduct or face proceedings.

During his campaign in the constituency, Mr Yaqoob’s supporters were seen wearing vests bearing the MML’s insignia. Mr Yaqoob had also reportedly distributed sacrificial meat among the ‘poor’ residents of the constituency during Eidul Azha holidays.

“JuD’s sister organisation FIF was also providing free medical service in the constituency but the police had cracked down on its camps,” a JuD official told Dawn.

Growing trend

The ECP’s warning comes at a time when several proscribed outfits are planning to launch political fronts ahead of the general elections scheduled next year.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, founder of the Kashmiri militant outfit Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM), is set to launch a political party under the name Islah-e-Watan Party.

Khalil, a Rawalpindi-based cleric, had been tagged by the US State Department as a “specially designated global terrorist” on Sept 30, 2014. He had co-founded the Harakatul Jihadul Islami in 1980, and was reportedly a signatory to Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa that had called for an international front against the West. He stepped down as chief of the HuM in February 2000.

Pakistani authorities arrested him in May 2004 for allegedly helping transport Pakistani militants into Afghanistan. However, he was released after six months due to lack of evidence. He then founded the Ansarul Ummah, but the outfit was disbanded after some years.

Last year, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ)-backed independent candidate Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi had routed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz candidate Azad Nasir Ansari in the PP-78 by-election in Jhang.

Although there were 25 candidates contesting the election, a close contest was expected between Ahmad Ludhianvi of the ASWJ and Ansari. The ASWJ chief eventually withdrew from the by-election, paving the way for a victory for Jhangvi.

Outlawed ASWJ chief Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi had not only contested the poll for a National Assembly seat from Jhang but had been declared a successful candidate by an election tribunal in a controversial decision which had de-seated Sheikh Mohammad Akram of the PML-N.

He had contested elections from the platform of the Pakistan Rahe Haq Party, which is registered with the ECP.

Many observers believe that there is no mechanism to officially communicate the names of banned outfits and individuals associated with them. This allows leaders of such outfits to get their parties enlisted with the ECP with different names in order to contest elections.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2017

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