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Pakistan Army Admits to Links Between ISI and Militants, Presents Bizarre Defence

Milli Muslim League (MML), a new militant party controlled by 26/11 attacks masterminds Hafiz Saeed, backed a candidate in the September by-election for a seat vacated by ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore. The United States has offered a $10 million bounty for Saeed's capture.

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Updated:October 6, 2017, 11:52 AM IST
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Pakistan Army Admits to Links Between ISI and Militants, Presents Bizarre Defence
File photo of Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafeez Saeed. (Photo: Reuters)
Islamabad: The Pakistan military has admitted to links between militant groups and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), saying “links” do not necessarily mean “support”.

"There's a difference between support and having links. Name any intelligence agency which does not have links. Links can be positive…,” Pakistan army spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor said in a press conference on Thursday.

At the press meet, Ghafoor also admitted that the Pakistani government was discussing ways to try to integrate militant-linked groups into the mainstream of the country's politics.

Milli Muslim League (MML), a new militant party controlled by 26/11 attacks masterminds Hafiz Saeed, backed a candidate in the September by-election for a seat vacated by ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore. The United States has offered a $10 million bounty for Saeed's capture.

Reuters reported last month that the foray into politics by MML and other militant groups followed the integration plan. Three of Sharif's confidants and a retired army general said it had been presented by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to Sharif last year, but the then premier had rejected it.

Ghafoor did not comment on the military's role in any such strategy but told a news conference in Islamabad the plan was aimed at developing a “constructive role” for them.

Asked about the MML party loyal to Hafiz Saeed, the army spokesman said it was part of "a process that has started".

"It is in my knowledge that the government has started some discussion over it, that, how do we mainstream them, so that they could do constructive contribution," Ghafoor said.

A government spokesman did not respond to calls by Reuters.

HOUSE ARREST

Pakistan's interior ministry has asked the country's electoral commission not to register Saeed's party but hasn't taken any other steps to stop it. Another militant party is campaigning for a by-election later in October.

It remains unclear whether the army or the ISI went ahead with its plan despite Sharif's rejection, or if the military and the civilian government have recently agreed on the idea.

Another Islamist designated a terrorist by the United States, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, told Reuters he, too, planned to form his own party soon.

Within two weeks of Sharif's ouster, the MML party was announced. It later got the backing of Saeed and his lieutenants in the by-election to secure 5% of the vote.

The other hardline party, Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan, gained over 6% of votes by riding on the back of a blasphemy killer Mumtaz Qadri whom it called a hero and a martyr.

Saeed has been under house arrest since January in Lahore.

MML is the political wing of Saeed's Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD).

JuD and Khalil's Ansar ul-Umma organisation are both seen as fronts for militant groups the army has been accused of sponsoring against neighbours India and Afghanistan. Pakistan denies this charge.

Reports of the plan to bring militant-linked groups into the political mainstream have stirred debate at home and abroad.

"Now, how to take it further — that, the time to come will tell," Ghafoor, the army spokesman' said, "For that, the government will take a decision."
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