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Pakistan Pulls Extremist From Terror Watch List

Pakistan’s government has lifted a ban on extremist religious leader Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, at a time when the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has placed the country on its terror watch list for its alleged failure to curb terror financing.

Ludhianvi, known to be a staunch Sunni Islamist, is the leader of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a radical sectarian outfit that is accused of orchestrating several deadly attacks against minority Shiites in Pakistan over the past two decades.

Some experts in Pakistan believe the decision will undermine the state’s counterterrorism regulations and its narrative that the country is targeting militant groups, along with their money-laundering and terror-financing efforts.

“We’ve just been placed on FATF’s gray list and this decision would further complicate the situation,” Rasul Baksh Raees, a Lahore-based political analyst, told VOA. “Two days ago, Pakistan presented a 26 point anti-terror-financing strategy in front of the FATF countries. Who will take it seriously if people like Ludhianvi are set free?”

Radical Sunni cleric Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi (C) addresses his supporters during his election campaign in Jhang, Punjab province April 16, 2013. Picture taken April 16, 2013. To match Insight PAKISTAN-ELECTION/SECTARIAN  REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra (PAKIS...
FILE – Radical Sunni cleric Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi addresses his supporters during his election campaign in Jhang, Punjab province, April 16, 2013.


While viewing the move as “irrational,” Raees dismissed the notion that Ludhianvi’s freedom is some sort of retaliation against the FATF’s decision.

“The country has a caretaker government setup and cannot afford to take any such rash and foolish measures,” Raees added.

Ahmad Bilal Mehboob, the head of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), said the announcement of setting Ludhianvi free has placed a question mark on the integrity of the caretaker government.

“The decision could be a result of any political pressure. I’m still unable to comprehend why would the caretaker provincial government set free the ASWJ leader, a group that has established terror ties,” Mehboob said.

According to Pakistani laws, with his name cleared, Ludhianvi can run in the upcoming general elections and will have access to his previously frozen financial assets. He also can freely travel within and outside the country.

Punjab recommendation

Speaking to VOA, provincial government officials have downplayed the lifting of the ban on Ludhianvi.  

“It is a routine matter for the provincial home department to revisit names on the terror list and remove those who are acting according to the law,” Shaukat Javed, Punjab’s provincial interior minister, told VOA.

“Ahmed Ludhianvi’s name was taken out of the watch list after a close review of his case by the provincial government,” Javed added.

Hasan Askari Rizvi, the caretaker chief minister of Punjab province, told Reuters the decision was made by the federal government. The “Punjab government is implementing decisions of [the] election commission and the federal government in this regard,” Rizvi said.

Raees is among the experts saying the decision is a “sheer mistake that should be corrected” and “it doesn’t matter whether the decision was taken by the federal government, Punjab government or NACTA.”

Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat

ASWJ is a sectarian Sunni militant group established in Punjab province in 1985 to counter the Shiite Islam in the country. It was previously known as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP).

Supporters of Ahl-i-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a political and religious group, attend a protest in Islamabad November 22, 2013. The Defence of Pakistan Council called for countrywide protests on Friday after sectarian clashes broke out during a Muhar...
FILE – Supporters of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a political and religious group, attend a protest in Islamabad, Nov. 22, 2013.

Pakistan placed ASWJ on its terror watch list in 2002. Over the years, however, the outfit has resurfaced with several identities, including Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan and Sipah-e-Muhammad.

The group has had several alliances and links with terror groups including al-Qaida and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and has been blamed for several deadly attacks against the Shiite minority in the country. 

The group is also a staunch supporter of the country’s controversial anti-blasphemy law.

In 2011, ASWJ follower Mumtaz Qadri fatally shot Punjab’s governor, Salman Taseer, after Taseer demanded changes in the blasphemy law.

In addition, ASWJ has operated as a political party and, despite being banned several times, its candidates, through affiliations with various political and religious groups, have openly participated in past elections.

Aurangzeb Farooqui, a Karachi-based ASWJ member, and several others will be contesting for seats in the upcoming elections in July.

Who is Ludhianvi?

Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the current chief of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat and the joint secretary of Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), an alliance of about 40 political and religious parties, hails from Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Ludhianvi is known to be a strong proponent of a strictly Sunni Islamic Pakistan and is referred to as Safeer-e-Aman (Ambassador of Peace) among his followers. He took charge of the outlawed ASWJ after Ali Sher Haidri, its former chief, was killed in an attack in 2009.

Ludhianvi has played an active role in politics and participated from his ancestral Jhang city in general elections in 2008 and 2013.

VOA’s Urdu service contributed to this report.

This story was originally posted on VOA News (Extremism Watch Desk).

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