The rapid and determined strides taken by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)-linked Milli Muslim League (MML) in Pakistan's political arena is deeply worrying. Over the weekend, Hafiz Saeed, who is chief of the Jamaat ud Dawa, a front organisation of the LeT, inaugurated the MML's office in Lahore. This, despite the fact that the JuD and LeT are banned organisations in Pakistan. Additionally, the two outfits have been declared terrorist organisations in a host of other countries, including India and the United States. The MML is not a legal entity, the Election Commission having refused to grant it recognition or registration as a political party on the advice of the Interior Ministry. The lack of official status to the MML is unlikely to allow the EC's rules to deter it from contesting. In the past, the LeT reinvented itself repeatedly to bypass restrictions on its terror activities. Following the United Nations listing LeT as a terror outfit, its bank accounts were frozen. It quickly morphed into JuD and continued its terror activities under a new name. Similarly, it will find ways to circumvent electoral rules now. During recent by-elections, for instance, it fielded its candidate as an independent. It can be expected to repeat this strategy in the general elections.
Some argue that MML's contesting elections is positive. Electoral politics, after all, is known to compel militant outfits to abjure violence, pursue more moderate means and work towards compromise and building consensus. Nepal's Maoists, for instance, gave up armed struggle to contest and win elections. However, the MML is a different beast. Its terror activities continue to enjoy the patronage of powerful sections in the Pakistani establishment and there are no signs that it wants to pursue democratic politics. Consequently, its entry into politics is likely to mainstream terrorism and radicalism in Pakistan, rather than tame the LeT. This is of concern to Pakistan as well as India, Afghanistan and other countries that have borne the brunt of LeT terrorism.
The MML proxy candidate may not have won the recent by-election but he did not do badly either, coming fourth in the electoral race and garnering more than twice the combined tally of Pakistan People's Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami. The JuD has a strong network of activists and supporters. Its charity work, especially during natural disasters, has made it popular among the masses. Additionally, it is flush with funds provided by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which could help it coast to victory in at least a few seats. In a closely contested election, successful MML candidates could wield enormous influence in government formation and shape its agenda.