Pak­istan Army Pushed Po­lit­i­cal Role for Mil­i­tant-Linked Groups


LA­HORE (Dis­patches) - A new Pak­istani po­lit­i­cal party con­trolled by an Is­lamist with a $10 mil­lion U.S. 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 United States 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 Is­lamist char­ity is fol­low­ing a blue­print that Sharif him­self re­jected when the mil­i­tary pro­posed it last year, re­tired Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Am­jad Shuaib told Reuters.

Three close Sharif con­fi­dants with knowl­edge of the dis­cus­sions con­firmed that Sharif had op­posed the “main­stream­ing” plan, which se­nior mil­i­tary fig­ures and some an­a­lysts see as a way of steer­ing ul­tra-re­li­gious groups away from vi­o­lent ji­had. “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 Is­lamist des­ig­nated a ter­ror­ist by the United States, Fa­zlur Rehman Khalil, has told Reuters he too plans to soon form his own party to ad­vo­cate strict Is­lamic law.

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