Islamabad: Pakistan removed a radical Sunni Muslim leader from a terrorist list on Thursday, in a surprise twist that paves the way for his candidates to contest next month’s election even as another key ally of ousted leader Nawaz Sharif was disqualified.
The clearing of Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, head of the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) group, by the caretaker government that is running Pakistan during the two months of campaigning ahead of the July 25 general election was called “a shocking development” by the local Express-Tribune newspaper.
ASWJ has in the past been accused of inciting violence against Pakistan`s minority Shi`ite Muslims as the political face of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militant group. It denies links with LeJ.
The Election Commission of Pakistan was due to release a final candidates list by Friday, one that could include dozens of ASWJ candidates as well as others supported by Hafiz Saeed, an anti-India cleric labelled by the United States and India as the mastermind behind the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.
Missing from the final list of candidates, however, will be some of the country`s most established politicians from the outgoing ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), whose founder, Nawaz Sharif, says elements of the powerful army and the judiciary are seeking to keep it from winning.
The Supreme Court, which removed Sharif as prime minister last year, on Thursday barred his former privatisation minister, Daniyal Aziz, from contesting the election.
“Pakistan`s history in terms of using state institutions to manage political processes are well known,” Aziz told Reuters. “The hope and prayer was that we had moved beyond that, and the facts are before you.”
Since his removal, Sharif has argued that the Pakistani military establishment, aided by top members of the judiciary, is using a series of cases against him and others in his party to tip the scales in favour of opposition politician Imran Khan.
Khan is running on a socially conservative, anti-corruption platform. He denies colluding with the military establishment and praises the disqualifications and prosecutions of PML-N figures as a long-needed crackdown on graft.
The ban on Aziz came just a day after an Election Commission tribunal barred the outgoing prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who took over after Sharif was ousted, from standing for election in his home constituency, though he is contesting another seat in Islamabad.
The Supreme Court had held Aziz in contempt of court for describing its removal of Sharif last July as politically motivated. Aziz says he was misquoted.
In the case of Abbasi, an Election Commission tribunal ruled that he had failed to declare an accurate value of his assets in his nomination papers.