Banned outfit under stricter surveillance, says minister


ISLAMABAD: The interim federal cabinet insisted on Friday it was tightening the noose around banned organisations and sectarian outfits under FATF commitments.

But certain members of such outlawed groups are operating with impunity under altered names, posing a serious challenge to the government authority.

On June 27, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) officially removed the ban on Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) and unfreezed assets of its top leader, Ahmad Ludhianvi.

This controversial decision was taken on the recommendations of the Punjab Home Department just hours before the country was placed on the Financial Action task Force (FATF) grey list for failing to curb terror funding.

Govt decides to go tough on UN-banned outfits

NACTA’s move not only removed Ludhianvi’s name from the Fourth Schedule, an official list to monitor activities of terror suspects, but also lifted travel restrictions.

This attracted fierce criticism from public and political circles given that ASWJ previously operated under the name of Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), long accused of instigating sectarian violence.

Some senior leaders of this group still face court cases, including innumerable sectarian murders.

Earlier this week, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi met ASWJ chief Ludhianvi and sought his support in the general election for National Assembly’s constituency NA-53 Islamabad from where Abbasi is contesting on PML-N ticket. In response, the ASWJ announced full support to Abbasi in NA-53.

In a related move, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) former MNA Asad Umar, who is contesting elections from NA-54, Islamabad, joined hands with Mualana Fazlur Rehman Khalil. He is not banned by the Pakistani authorities but has been placed by the US on its Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) list since September 30, 2014.

In an apparent bid to deflect criticism, the federal cabinet on Wednesday approved ‘strict’ surveillance of banned organisations.

The cabinet also decided to take stern measures against such organisations and their leaders, including blocking terror-funding, it is learnt on good authority.

Sources said that the cabinet also considered withdrawing NACTA’s notification, reversing the removal of Ludhianvi’s name from the Fourth Schedule, re-freeze his assets and re-impose the ban on ASWJ, but decided to pass the buck on the next elected government.

“This government … decided to refer the matter to the next (political) set-up,” said a senior government official, requesting anonymity.

However, the decision caught another government functionary by surprise, who dealt with security-related matters.

“This sounds strange. The caretaker government can remove restrictions on ASWJ and get its leader off the fourth schedule, but refers the matter to the next government when it comes to reversing this decision.”

Briefing the media after the cabinet meeting, Information Minister Syed Ali Zafar said that ‘policy decisions’, in line with Pakistan’s commitments under FATF, had been taken. He did not elaborate.

A government official said that security agencies had taken stern measures against terrorist organisations such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), but now an organisation allegedly linked with LeJ is allowed to operate.

“ASWJ has long been regarded as the political face of the LeJ and allowing such an organisation to operate freely does not make any sense. It amounts to undermining the gains made in counterterrorism operations launched across Pakistan over the (past few) years.”

We oppose banned outfits contesting polls: Bilawal

Interestingly, members of ASWJ and other sectarian groups are contesting the general election and are forging alliances with various mainstream political parties across the country.

Senior PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah, accused of acting softly against banned groups when he was the Punjab’s law minister, said that no group could be termed outlawed after notified otherwise. “If the government notifies that any group is not outlawed anymore, it means it is legally allowed to operate. Political parties cannot be blamed for making alliances with such groups that are legally allowed to operate.”

Regarding the meeting between the ASWJ chief and Abbasi, Sanaullah said that he was not aware about the details.

Memo confirmed personal threats to party heads including Imran Khan, Bilawal, Shehbaz Sharif and Akhtar Mengal.

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    Original news : https://tribune.com.pk/story/1763053/1-banned-outfit-stricter-surveillance-says-minister/