Pakistan’s minister of state for interior Shehryar Khan Afridi has been caught on video expressing support for Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed and his political front, the Milli Muslim League (MML), which was designated a terror group by the United States in April.
The two-minute video, apparently shot with a mobile phone during Afridi’s recent meeting with a group of MML leaders, has emerged at a time when India and other Western powers are preparing to make a case at an upcoming review meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that Pakistan hasn’t delivered on its commitments to crack down on fund-raising by terror groups such as the LeT.
In the video, an MML representative can be heard telling Afridi about the party’s problems in getting registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan.
“Regarding MML’s registration… the Islamabad high court has issued an order to the Election Commission of Pakistan that MML should be registered. The US has included MML in the list of global terror groups and it hasn’t been registered,” the representative says, speaking in Urdu.
“They said we have found out this is Hafiz Saeed sab’s group and we are including it among the global terror groups,” the representative adds.
Afridi, who belongs to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, responds: “Insha Allah, (let) any mother’s son (do what they want), as long as we are in the (National) Assembly and Tehreek-e-Insaf is there, leave alone Hafiz Saeed sa’ab, anyone who is supporting Pakistan’s rights… we will support them. This is our tradition.”
The minister, who too is speaking in Urdu, then adds, “It is my request to you that you come and sit in the Assembly and see whether the others also support us.”
The rest of the brief video is devoted to discussing religious matters and the oppression faced by the poor. The MML fielded candidates on the platform of Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek for Pakistan’s general election in July after it was denied registration by the Election Commission.
The FATF, a Paris-based body that tracks terror financing and money laundering, placed Pakistan on its “grey list” in June for failing to do enough to prevent fund-raising by UN sanctioned groups such as LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed. The move was backed by China, a close ally of Pakistan.
People familiar with developments said India and other Western powers, such as the US, the UK and France, which had sought action against Pakistan at the FATF, were preparing to highlight Islamabad’s failure to crack down on terror financing at the body’s review meeting in January.
“They really haven’t done much except for some cosmetic steps. Even the ordinance that was passed to ban the Jamaat-ud-Dawah has lapsed,” a person said.
In October, Pakistan’s religious affairs minister Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, who too belongs to Imran Khan’s party, shared a stage with Hafiz Saeed at an event in Islamabad. The move prompted foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to say that Qadri should have been “more sensitive”.
Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management, said the LeT was a state-sponsored terror group “controlled by and linked to the Inter-Services Intelligence that enjoys national political support” in Pakistan.
“There were some people who thought things would change with Imran Khan coming to power but his support base is tied to some of the most radical elements and he won with their backing. So, it’s not important what they say, but what they do. There is an enduring structure of power that can’t escape the logic of extremist Islamist mobilisation,” he said.