Decoding Hafiz Saeed’s New Political Party: What Do Experts Say?
JuD chief Hafiz Saeed. 
JuD chief Hafiz Saeed. (Photo: Reuters)

Decoding Hafiz Saeed’s New Political Party: What Do Experts Say?

A storm is brewing in Pakistan, as a brand new political party makes ripples in the country’s power corridors. This is no regular party. It comes from the stable of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), an organisation designated as a front of the terrorist grouping Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and spearheaded by Hafiz Saeed – the mastermind of the infamous 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

The party, called the Milli Muslim League (MML), was formed on 7 August and will be headed by Saifullah Khalid, a close aide of Saeed and a key JuD member. The party claims its objective is to turn Pakistan into a "real Islamic and welfare state".

The new party has already filed for registration with the country's Election Commission. While it was supposed to be formally launched on 14 August, Pakistan’s Independence Day, that did not materialise – as a clearance from the Election Commission lies pending, which may take some months.

Nevertheless, it has propped up a candidate for a seat that was vacated by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his disqualification by the country’s Supreme Court. The candidate will contest as an independent against Sharif’s wife, Kalsoom Nawaz Sharif, for the seat.

The formation of the party also comes at a time when the house arrest of Saeed, in detention since January, has been extended by another 60 days.

Both India and US have raised concerns about the development. Commenting on the issue, India's External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said: "The person who traded in bullets to take lives, is he trying to hide behind the ballot"? Meanwhile, a former US administrator called the development "ludicrous".

In the backdrop of this, The Quint spoke to two experts in the area of international strategic issues to decode the implications of the birth of the MML.

Also Read: Meet Hafiz Saeed’s LeT Replacement, His Son Talha Saeed

Why Form a Political Party After All These Years?

Praveen Swami, editor, strategic affairs at Indian Express, says fundraising is one of the foremost reasons behind the JuD’s new party.

(Photo: The Quint)

“After all, a political party would be subject to lesser scrutiny, when compared to say, an NGO,” adds Swami.

Ajai Shukla, columnist on strategic affairs and diplomacy at Business Standard, said the MML's formation was being "driven by the desire of Hafiz Saeed, and other senior LeT leaders to expand Lashkar's footprint in Pakistan at a time when the grouping is under pressure from the Pakistani state”.

Saeed had earlier decried a democratic system and the electoral process as going against Islam. So why this move now?

Their entry into democratic politics is clearly an acknowledgement that the path of armed jihad alone is no longer viable, and a political footprint and mass support is essential.
Ajai Shukla

Will the Party Taste Electoral Success?

Electoral success for a religious party in Pakistan goes against the tide of history, the two experts pointed out. History suggests JuD's MML won't fare too well.

Though there has been a strong wave of religious sentiment in the country, historically, religious parties have not done really well, except for a brief time when Musharraf was in power... I don’t think electoral success is the motive of the MML.
Praveen Swami

Shukla echoes this sentiment, pointing how in the country's general elections, all the religious parties combined have accounted for only "10-15 percent of the national vote”.

Also Read: Remembering Partition: 70 Years Since the India-Pakistan Divide

Where Does MML Feature in Pakistan’s Volatile Political Environment?

The formation of the MML comes at a time when Pakistan is in a political flux, with Nawaz Sharif stepping down as the PM after he was disqualified by the Supreme Court in connection with the Panamagate case, and Sharif's petroleum minister minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi taking over the reins.

Going by Swami's understanding of the country's political trajectory, it seems like Sharif's ouster created a political environment that was ripe for the JuD to announce a political party.

“If Nawaz Sharif was firmly in control, then they (the JuD) wouldn’t have launched this party,” says Praveen Swami.

Both Swami and Shukla say that the MML seems to enjoy the backing of the army.

This, Shukla says, is to counter, Nawaz Sharif's party – the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N).

(Photo: The Quint)

Nawaz Sharif has made it "absolutely clear that he is not going down without a fight," he adds.

What Are Its Implications For India?

Both experts point out that there won't be any considerable impact when it comes to diplomatic relations with India. This comes at a time when both the sides have been locked in an impasse for a long time, with vitriolic exchanges popping up from time to time.

For India, the creation of MML is not a major issue, since it will not be interlacing with India.
Ajai Shukla

Also Read: How Nawaz Sharif Can Strengthen Democracy Beyond Pakistan’s Punjab

(With inputs from PTI)

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