Islamabad must keep Hafiz Saeed and his ilk out of Pakistan‘s politics

The United States has once again tightened the noose around the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), one of the most potent anti-India forces that operates from Pakistani soil, by designating the Milli Muslim League (MML) and Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir (TAJK) as fronts for the terror group. Both MML and TAJK are political forces created by LeT founder Hafiz Saeed, the former with an eye on contesting Pakistan’s upcoming general election.

While announcing the designations, an American official said the US was targeting MML and its leaders because they were complicit in LeT’s efforts to “undermine Pakistan’s political process”. In other words, the US was doing what rightly should have been done by Pakistan’s government and political leadership, had they really been intent on insulating the political arena from the venom of extremism and terrorism.

The US move against LeT is also proof that the world community hasn’t bought into Pakistan’s half-hearted efforts earlier this year to crack down on the Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation, two more fronts of LeT, to counter an effort to put the country on the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF’s) watch list. Pakistan is now set to enter the FATF’s grey list and the US designations reflect that a close watch is being kept by the world community on Pakistan’s efforts to counter terrorism and terror financing.

To be fair, Pakistan’s election commission had refused to register MML as a political party, but the judiciary, which for some reason has always been seen as soft on Saeed and his myriad groups, has, through a recent order, kept the door open on the group’s registration. Clearly, Saeed formed MML as part of the grand army-backed plan to mainstream and legitimise terror groups under the fig leaf of allowing them to form political entities that can contest elections. Retired and serving Pakistani military officials have spoken about this project, which apparently was opposed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Most of the jihadis chosen for this project are focused on Kashmir.

Pakistan has maintained a studied silence on the designation of MML, but it will be difficult for the government to allow, in any way, the registration of Saeed’s henchmen as a political party at a time when terrorism, or Islamabad’s failure to comprehensively crack down on the menace, is a key source of the tensions with the US. As Pakistan prepares for what will be only its second peaceful transfer of power, its political leadership will do well to keep Saeed and his ilk out of the body politic.