Pakistan holds International Counter Terrorism Forum

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Pakistan holds Int’l Counter-Terrorism Forum amid US concerns

Pakistan is hosting a three-day International Counter-Terrorism Forum in the capital city of Islamabad at a time when the US designated the political party Milli Muslim League (MML) as a terror outfit, saying it has links with a militant group blamed for a 2008 attack in India.

The forum, with the aim of highlighting the country’s endeavors and achievements in the war against terror, kicked off on Tuesday.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said in the inaugural speech that the country has transformed from a “Victim to Victor of Terrorism,” overcoming a long and dark decade of terrorist victimization.

The remarks came a day after the US labeled MML as a terror group, linking it to Hafiz Saeed, an Islamist leader, founder of the group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and chief of the banned Islamic charity Jamat-ud-Dawa. Saeed is already on the US list of terrorists with a 10-million-US-dollar bounty on his head.

July 20, 2016: Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of the banned Islamic charity Jamat-ud-Dawa, looks over the crowed as they end a “Kashmir Caravan” from Lahore with a protest in Islamabad, Pakistan. /Reuters Photo

India and the US blamed him for a 2008 terror attack on the city of Mumbai in which 166 people lost their lives, an allegation Saeed strenuously denies.

Announcing the new addition to the terror list, the US State Department said, “These designations seek to deny LeT the resources it needs to plan and carry out further terrorist attacks.”

“Make no mistake: whatever LeT chooses to call itself, it remains a violent terrorist group. The United States supports all efforts to ensure that LeT does not have a political voice until it gives up violence as a tool of influence,” it said in a statement on Monday.

The State Department on Tuesday again touched upon the issue of the MML in a daily press briefing, expressing concern over Saeed running for office in national elections due to be held this summer.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert called Saeed the “mastermind behind the Mumbai attacks,” saying the US “would certainly have concerns about him running for office.”

November 30, 2008: Candles placed for victims of the Mumbai attacks are seen in front of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. /Reuters Photo

Relations between Pakistan and the US have plunged since Donald Trump became president.

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Trump said in a New Year tweet, referencing Pakistan.

However, both countries appear to be adopting the same position on the MML issue.

Pakistani authorities, which added the LeT to a list of banned organizations in 2002, now says the government would challenge an interim legal ruling that allows MML to contest national elections due to be held this summer.

The interior minister said in an interview in Islamabad on Tuesday that taking action against terrorist-linked groups is an international obligation.

“This point and some more material will be shared with the court to get it undone,” Bloomberg quoted him as saying.

What is MML?

The group gained attention after it fielded a candidate to contest a September 2017 by-election for a seat vacated by deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

The country’s electoral commission denied the group the right to contest elections in October 2017, blaming it on links with militant groups.

A high court last month directed the election agency to register the MML as a political party.

The changing perception

Addressing the inaugural session of the International Counter-Terrorism Forum, Iqbal added that contrary to the perception a few years ago – that Pakistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world – global publications are now declaring the country an emerging economy.

June 12, 2017: Ahsan Iqbal Pakistan’s Minister of Planning and Development speaks with a Reuters correspondent during an interview in Islamabad, Pakistan. /Reuters Photo‍

He briefed the audience on what he said were the sacrifices made by the people of Pakistan, saying 60,000 citizens were killed in the war against terror.

“The narrative of peace and development is very clear to the nation,” he said, adding that the terrorists targeted all sections of the society with attacks on mosques, churches, temples, and shrines.

The minister, however, underlined the need for the country to undertake collaborative efforts to achieve a decisive victory, saying the war on terror is not over yet.

(With input from news agencies)

[Cover: Saifullah Khalid (2nd L), president of Milli Muslim League (MML) political party, holds a party flag with others during a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, August 7, 2017. /Reuters Photo]

By Nadeem Gill

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