Friday, June 29, 2018
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?"
Retaliation? 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.
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).
By Ramananda Sengupta Sources said despite Pakistan's desperate attempts to avert or at least delay the listing, the financial watchdog believed that Pakistan had failed to curb terror financing on its soil. In a major political and economic blow, Pakistan was placed on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) late on Wednesday after a plenary meeting in Paris, according to diplomatic sources. The FATF however, is yet to make a formal announcement. Sources said despite Pakistan's desperate attempts to avert or at least delay the listing, the financial watchdog believed that Pakistan had failed to curb terror financing on its soil. In February, after a US proposal endorsed by Britain, France and Germany, to nominate Pakistan as a country having “strategic deficiencies” in “countering financing of terrorism,” the 37-nation Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global body that combats terrorist financing and money laundering, had placed Pakistan on a watchlist of countries where terrorist outfits are still allowed to raise funds. Islamabad was given till June to get its act together and submit a report explaining why it should not be placed on the grey list. The proposal was initially opposed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China, but China later withdrew its opposition, saying it did not want to “lose face by supporting a move that’s doomed to fail,” the Dawn quoted official sources as saying. “Assuming the listing is true, it is hardly surprising,” said a senior Indian official. “What is surprising is that Pakistan was not moved to the black list, of Non-Cooperative Countries or Territories, given that its so-called actions against terror financing are pure hogwash,” he said. “Just the other day, the government removed a ban on the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, earlier known as Sipah-e-Sahaba, a proscribed extremist group, and unfroze the accounts assets of its leader Ahmed Ludhianvi. Which means he can legally continue to raise funds for his outfit, which has close ties with the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. ” “If indeed Pakistan is sincerely trying to curb terrorist financing as it claims, then who is financing the terrorists that operate in Afghanistan, and the LeT and other assorted scum that are openly targeting India?” asked another official. If Pakistan is officially put on the grey list, it will impact it’s economy badly, and that too at a time when the nation is gearing up for the elections slated for July 25. Even before the FATF meeting, international credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded Pakistan’s rating from stable to negative June 20, citing “heightened external vulnerability risks.” http://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2018/jun/28/financial-action-task-force-puts-pakistan-on-grey-list-1835126.html
Repeal Discriminatory Laws Against Religious Community.
The Pakistani government should immediately act to allow the full and equal participation of members of the Ahmadiyya religious community in the general elections scheduled for July 25, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should drop discriminatory provisions in the electoral law that effectively exclude Ahmadis because of their religious beliefs.
The Ahmadiyya community regards Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of their sect, as a prophet, a claim that the dominant Muslim faiths and Pakistani law reject. To register as voters, Ahmadis must either renounce their faith or agree to be placed in a separate electoral list and accept their status as “non-Muslim.” Self-identification as Muslims, however, is the cornerstone of Ahmadiyya religious belief, and thus they end up not voting at all.
“The elections in Pakistan can’t be ‘free and fair’ if an entire community is effectively excluded from the electoral process,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Religious disagreements cannot justify denying people their right to vote.”
The choice is between practically renouncing our faith or vote. This is not a real choice.
Omer, an Ahmadi activist in Rabwah
In 2002, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf abolished the separate electorate system and restored the original joint electorate scheme with one major amendment. Through an executive order, he created a separate category for Ahmadis. Executive Order No. 15 states that elections for the members of the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies shall be held on the basis of a joint electorate, but the “status of Ahmadis [was] to remain unchanged.” As a result, Pakistani citizens have been moved to a single electoral list, leaving only Ahmadis on a “non-Muslim” list. The new Election Act 2017 retains the provisions regarding the status of the Ahmadis. If anyone raises an objection against a particular voter identifying them as non-Muslim, the election commission can summon the person and ask that they declare they are not Ahmadi or be put on a supplementary special voter list.
“The choice is between practically renouncing our faith or vote,” said an Ahmadi activist. “This is not a real choice. It would have been better had the government outright banned Ahmadis from voting since then they would rightly receive international criticism for doing that.”
In addition to being denied suffrage, the Ahmadiyya community has faced deadly violence by militant Islamist groups. The separate list of all registered Ahmadi voters with contact information places them at greater risk of targeted attacks. In recent years, hundreds of Ahmadis have been injured and killed in bombings and other attacks by militants.
The government effectively legalizes and even encourages persecution of the Ahmadiyya community. The penal code explicitly discriminates against religious minorities and targets Ahmadis in particular by prohibiting them from “indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim.” Ahmadis are prohibited from declaring or propagating their faith publicly, building mosques, or making the call for Muslim prayer. Pakistan’s “Blasphemy Law,” as section 295-C of the Penal Code is known, makes the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy. Under this law, the Ahmadi belief in the prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is considered blasphemous insofar as it “defiles the name of Prophet Muhammad.”
“This is a vicious cycle,” said an Ahmadi businessman. “We are persecuted and discriminated by laws which ensure that we don’t get a voice in the parliament, and since we don’t have a voice, there is nothing that we can do to have these laws changed.” The authorities continue to arrest, jail, and charge Ahmadis for blasphemy and other offenses because of their religious beliefs. In several instances, the police have been complicit in harassment and filing of false charges against Ahmadis, or stood by in the face of anti-Ahmadi violence.
Pakistani laws against the Ahmadiyya community violate Pakistan’s international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), including the rights to freedom of conscience, religion, expression, and association; to profess and practice their own religion; and to vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections. Pakistan ratified the ICCPR in 2010. The government of Pakistan should also investigate and prosecute as appropriate intimidation, threats, and violence against the Ahmadiyya community by militant Islamist groups.
“The Pakistani government’s continued use of discriminatory laws against Ahmadis and other religious minorities is indefensible,” Adams said. “As long as such laws remain on the books, the Pakistani government will be seen as a persecutor of minorities and an enabler of abuses.”
Persecution of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan The Ahmadiyya community has long been persecuted in Pakistan. Since 1953, when the first post-independence anti-Ahmadiyya riots broke out, the relatively small number of Ahmadis in Pakistan have lived under threat. The community boycotts the census but estimates that there are approximately four million Ahmadis in Pakistan out of a total population of 220 million.
Between 1953 and 1973, this persecution was sporadic, but in 1974 a new wave of anti-Ahmadi disturbances spread across Pakistan. In response, Pakistan’s parliament, instead of acting to protect the community, introduced constitutional amendments that defined the term “Muslim” in the Pakistani context and listed groups that were deemed to be non-Muslim under Pakistani law. The amendment, which went into effect on September 6, 1974, explicitly deprived Ahmadis of their identity as Muslims.
In 1984, Pakistan amended its penal code, giving legal status to five ordinances that explicitly targeted religious minorities, including a law against blasphemy; a law punishing defiling the Quran; a prohibition against insulting the wives, family, or companions of the Prophet of Islam; and two laws specifically restricting the activities of Ahmadis. On April 26, 1984, General Zia-ul-Haq issued these last two laws as part of Martial Law Ordinance XX, which amended Pakistan’s Penal Code, sections 298-B and 298-C.
Ordinance XX undercut the activities of religious minorities generally, but struck at Ahmadis in particular by prohibiting them from “indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim.” Ahmadis thus could no longer profess their faith, either orally or in writing. Pakistani police destroyed Ahmadi translations of and commentaries on the Quran. They banned Ahmadi publications, as well as using any Islamic terminology on Ahmadi wedding invitations, offering Ahmadi funeral prayers, or displaying the Kalima – the statement that “there is no god but Allah, Muhammad is Allah’s prophet,” the principal creed of Muslims – on Ahmadi gravestones. In addition, Ordinance XX prohibited Ahmadis from declaring their faith publicly, propagating their faith, building mosques, or making the call for Muslim prayer. In effect, virtually any public act of worship or devotion by an Ahmadi could be treated as a criminal offense.
With the passage of the Criminal Law Act of 1986, parliament added section 295-C to the Pakistan Penal Code. The “Blasphemy Law,” as it came to be known, made the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy. General Zia-ul-Haq and his military government institutionalized the persecution of Ahmadis as well as other minorities in Pakistan with section 295-C. The Ahmadi belief in the prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was considered blasphemous because it “defiled the name of Prophet Muhammad,” meaning that Ahmadis can be sentenced to death for simply professing their faith. Though the numbers vary from year to year, Ahmadis have been charged every year under the Blasphemy Law.
In October 2017, after parliament changed the language of the oath for incoming members by replacing the words “I solemnly swear” with “I believe” in a proclamation of Muhammad as the religion’s last prophet, hardline Islamist groups held protests in the federal capital, Islamabad. They viewed the change to be “blasphemous” and to be extending a concession to Ahmadi beliefs. The government blamed a “clerical” error for the change and quickly restored the earlier wording.
Ahmadis also face legal barriers in obtaining government identification and travel documents. Pakistani law requires citizens to declare their religion when applying for a Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) or passport. Every person who declares themselves a Muslim when applying for a passport has to sign a declaration titled “Declaration in the Case of Muslims” that states, “I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani to be an imposter nabi and also consider his followers … to be Non-Muslims.” The identification card application process requires a similar declaration. The requirement effectively mandates Ahmadis to renounce a tenet of their faith to obtain basic travel documents. One consequence of the passport declaration has been to bar Ahmadis from performing the Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage that Ahmadis believe to be a religious duty.
Selected Personal Accounts
Human Rights Watch spoke to 13 members of the Ahmadiyya community from June 18 to 23, 2018, regarding exclusion from the electoral process, obstacles to obtaining travel and identification, and other discrimination. All interviews were conducted in Lahore. Selected accounts are below. All names have been changed to protect the people quoted.
Exclusion from the Electoral Process
Raza, 35, an Ahmadi lawyer: Since 2002 there is a patently unjust situation where there are two electoral lists, one for the Ahmadis and the other for everyone else living in Pakistan. An Ahmadi can only vote if he acknowledges that he is a non-Muslim, and that violates the very basic tenet of an Ahmadi’s faith. Omer, an activist working in the town of Rabwah, the largest residential settlement of Ahmadis in Pakistan: The choice is between practically renouncing our faith or vote. This is not a real choice. It would have been better had the government outright banned Ahmadis from voting since then they would rightly receive international criticism for doing that. Whereas now, the government tries to represent at international forums as if the Ahmadiyya community “boycotts” elections, which is not true. We want to vote, just not at the cost of our freedom of conscience.
Ramiz, 70, community elder residing in Lahore:
The exclusion from the elections has a devastating effect since we are left without a voice in the parliament, leaving the field open for those who want to demonize the Ahmadiyya community. It is similar to what happens in Pakistani media, where no Ahmadi spokesperson is invited and a bunch of clerics first [wrongly] explain what our faith is and then demolish it.
Mansoor, a businessman based in Lahore:
There is not one election poster in the town of Rabwah [which has a 95 percent Ahmadi population]. Political parties do not even bother campaigning and asking for our vote. This is a vicious cycle – we are persecuted and discriminated by laws which ensure that we don’t get a voice in the parliament, and since we don’t have a voice there is nothing that we can do to have these laws changed.
Passport and National Identification Card
Mahmood, a 65-year-old retired teacher, on being barred from making the Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj to Saudi Arabia:
I cannot put down “Islam” as my religion on the passport since then I will have to sign a statement which declares my faith as a fraud. I consider myself a devout Muslim. However, I have no choice but to admit that I am a non-Muslim. This is awful since I have always wanted to go for the Hajj pilgrimage but “non-Muslims” are not allowed.
Bashir, a banker based in Lahore:
The National Database and Registration Authority [NADRA] officials sometimes don’t even ask the religion or sect and simply assume it to be Muslim and put that down. This happened to my daughter. She has not had it changed to “Ahmadi” since then somebody might make an accusation of apostasy on her.
Asma, currently living in the United States, spoke about the difficulty of having his religion changed from “Islam” to “Ahmadi” on the CNIC:
My national identification card had “Islam” as my religion for the past many years, and I attempted to rectify the error four years ago. The NADRA official refused and said that this will make him complicit in “apostasy.” He shouted at me and told me that I will burn in hell for this, while I pleaded with him that it was a clerical error. I finally had it changed after paying bribe money to an official.
Twisting arms to shape the election results for a hung parliament and government will only create deep internal chasms, causing instability and isolation from the international community.
The uncertainty regarding the post-election scenario is gradually replacing the uncertainty of whether elections are even going to be held on time or not. Despite the appointment of the caretaker governments, fears persisted for some time about the fate of the elections.
Such fears are the direct outcome of four years of non-stop intrigues and political engineering to hamstring the elected dispensation and, if possible, overthrow it to disrupt the continuity of the democratic process. The role of certain vital state institutions, particularly the higher judiciary since the Panama issue, further compounded these fears.
These covert machinations, some under the cover of ultra-judicial activism, did not bear the desired fruits and are bound to create frustration and anger. Thus, the forthcoming July 25, 2018 elections are turning into a do or die situation for each side. It would be appropriate to hypothesise as to whether this political engineering will continue unabashedly during polling and after the elections.
Among many other instances, the arrest of Qamarul Islam Raja by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) soon after the granting of ticket to him by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to contest against Chaudhry Nisar from NA-59 and PP-10, Rawalpindi, has been interpreted as pre-poll rigging by the beleaguered party.
In the presence of access to multiple sources of information, the prevailing social and political environment has opened a window of opportunity for informed debates on basic human, constitutional, and economic rights. The ECP’s partiality and the ultra vires judicial activism are under severe criticism through those same multiple sources of information, facilitating political education that has the potential to sharpen and shape an alternate political discourse.
The recent social and political dynamics have torn asunder conundrums to challenge the hitherto unchallengeable precepts. Pakistani society is awakening from a long slumber and passiveness to confront traditional immunities and privileges.
A classic example is the PTM’s questioning of the extra-constitutional status and acts of powerful state institutions undermining the concept of citizenry. This new social and political phenomenon not only found acceptability across the board, but also established a precedent of demanding accountability of each state institution.
No longer should the voter be seen as a flock to be shepherded in a specific direction or to be kept tied with personality cult. Two recent precedents, both reported in the South Punjab, a region traditionally in grip of feudalism and Sajada Nasheens (successors to spiritual persons), allude to the beginning of the end of blind following.
Two video clips went viral on social media that calibrate the emerging trend of public accountability by the voters. Confronting the powerful candidates during election campaign might not have happened for the first time, but certainly the uniqueness of the incident is made public through the alternate media.
In one video a voter publicly questioned Sardar Jamal Laghari during his election campaign in DG Khan about his previous performance as representative of the constituency. The second clip showed a group of youths questioning Sikandar Bosan in Multan, not only about what he delivered as a member of the Federal Cabinet and Parliament but also faced embarrassment when the group called him a turncoat. Mr Bosan, who remained part of PML-N’s government till its last day, switched to PTI to contest the forthcoming election on its ticket, which created an uproar among PTI workers and aspirants.
Imran gambled by inducting wholesale electables in the hope of increasing his prospects of ascending to the coveted office of premiership. Imran is bulldozing and imposing his decisions on the charged workers whose imagination of transparency, inter and intra party democratic norms and good governance were fired by him for two decades.
Gone are the days when the geese layed golden eggs. The security establishment is gradually losing its levers to capitalise on its rental and transactional relations. In this changed scenario, only a genuinely elected dispensation would be well placed to negotiate Pakistan’s case abroad
Today these workers are being forced to accept what they were brain washed against. Such blatant political opportunism and clashing of vested interests of PTI’s stalwarts like Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Jehangir Tareen are testing the limits of the party. The sit-ins in front of Imran’s Banigala residence have seriously fractured the party’s position as a serious contender to dislodge the PML-N in the Punjab. Currently, with polling just a month away, if not all, a revolt like situation exists in the majority constituencies.
The PTI’s internal situation and Imran’s rigid position on electables indicate that he is no longer capitalising on his party’s organisational strength, political program or principles and loyalty factors. This is clear negation of his past claims of struggling for these values. Perhaps, he is relying heavily only on the ability of political engineering, promises and assurance by the power to be.
However, the ground realities as mentioned above are different from the past. The political machinations and engineering are not going without public notice which has stirred counter narratives and resistance. Moreover, in the present international and regional scenario, the naked interference in the political process by the establishment further increased the political and economic cost for Pakistan.
As many commentators have predicted, the establishment prefers a hung parliament. If a coalition government is formed, it can ensure its hold on the policy levers of the state. But what will be the cost for Pakistan when the situation, particularly the internal, regional and international, requires a strong Parliament for crucial political consensus (a cobbled together coalition under the king’s party is not synonymous of consensus) to steer the country out of a mounting storm?
Politically and economically, the state paid a heavy price — particularly after the Panama debacle — due to the imposed political uncertainty. The economic indicators already show a downward trend not helped by the ominously looming FATF sword. In these circumstances, a weak coalition government cobbled together through political engineering receiving policy dictates from somewhere else instead of the Parliament will be unable to face the incoming challenges.
Gone are the days when the geese were laying golden eggs. The security establishment is gradually losing its levers to capitalise on its rental and transactional relations in the western capitals. Currently, they only dial Rawalpindi for delivery according to the previous contracts. In this changed scenario, only a genuinely elected dispensation would be well placed to negotiate Pakistan’s case, particularly when it comes to the economy.
Twisting arms to shape the election results for a plaint parliament and government will only create deep internal chasms, causing instability and isolation from the international community that will compound the crises we face.
Asif Shahzad, Saad Sayeed
Pakistan removed a radical Sunni Muslim leader from a terrorist list on Thursday, in a surprise twist that paves the way for his candidates to contest next month’s election even as another key ally of ousted leader Nawaz Sharif was disqualified. The clearing of Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, head of the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) group, by the caretaker government that is running Pakistan during the two months of campaigning ahead of the July 25 general election was called “a shocking development” by the local Express-Tribune newspaper.
ASWJ has in the past been accused of inciting violence against Pakistan’s minority Shi’ite Muslims as the political face of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militant group. It denies links with LeJ.
The Election Commission of Pakistan was due to release a final candidates list by Friday, one that could include dozens of ASWJ candidates as well as others supported by Hafiz Saeed, an anti-India cleric labelled by the United States and India as the mastermind behind the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.
Missing from the final list of candidates, however, will be some of the country’s most established politicians from the outgoing ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), whose founder, Nawaz Sharif, says elements of the powerful army and the judiciary are seeking to keep it from winning.
The Supreme Court, which removed Sharif as prime minister last year, on Thursday barred his former privatisation minister, Daniyal Aziz, from contesting the election.
“Pakistan’s history in terms of using state institutions to manage political processes are well known,” Aziz told Reuters. “The hope and prayer was that we had moved beyond that, and the facts are before you.”
Since his removal, Sharif has argued that the Pakistani military establishment, aided by top members of the judiciary, is using a series of cases against him and others in his party to tip the scales in favour of opposition politician Imran Khan.
Khan is running on a socially conservative, anti-corruption platform. He denies colluding with the military establishment and praises the disqualifications and prosecutions of PML-N figures as a long-needed crackdown on graft.
The ban on Aziz came just a day after an Election Commission tribunal barred the outgoing prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who took over after Sharif was ousted, from standing for election in his home constituency, though he is contesting another seat in Islamabad.
The Supreme Court had held Aziz in contempt of court for describing its removal of Sharif last July as politically motivated. Aziz says he was misquoted. In the case of Abbasi, an Election Commission tribunal ruled that he had failed to declare an accurate value of his assets in his nomination papers.
Abbasi denied the charges and termed the decision illegal, saying he would appeal against the ban.
“It is an election for the parliament. They have made it a joke,” he told television news channels. Sharif has been barred for life from returning to politics, and is separately facing criminal charges in an anti-corruption court that could see him sentenced to prison in the coming weeks.
Islamist parties have seldom had a major impact in Pakistani elections, though they have created a high profile and have at times, according to analysts, enjoyed covert support from Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.
Still, a rash of new Islamist political parties have entered the political sphere in the past year, an apparent fulfilment of an army-backed proposal to “mainstream” extremists groups into politics that Sharif rejected while in office. The military has denied it is behind any of the new religious right parties.
“Pakistan has leaned on Ludhianvi to help in very interesting ways - ranging from reaching out to the Afghan Taliban to pitch the idea of peace talks, to trying to reduce violence in Pakistani neighbourhoods,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.
“Taking Ludhianvi off the terror list may be meant as a goodwill gesture towards someone that the state would like to keep in its good graces.”
Ludhianvi’s ASWJ shares roots with the more violent Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant group based in central Punjab province, which had strong ties to al Qaeda and has waged a deadly campaign against Shi’ites for more than two decades. It was unclear who authorised the removal of Ludhianvi from the watchlist, with federal and provincial authorities both saying others were responsible.
An order from the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) dated June 14 that was obtained by Reuters specifies that Ludhianvi be taken off the “schedule four” list of people with links to terrorism and his bank accounts unfrozen. However, a senior official with NACTA said the body was acting on recommendations from the Punjab government. “We got a recommendation from Punjab government that Ludhianvi was no more on fourth schedule and wasn’t required on watchlist, and we just removed him,” a NACTA official said.
But, Hasan Askari Rizvi, the caretaker chief minister of Punjab province, indicated that the decision came from the federal government.
“Punjab Government is implementing decisions of Election Commission and the federal government in this regard,” Rizvi told Reuters. He said Ludhianvi’s assets would be unfrozen and he would be free to travel.
Ludhianvi said he had only been on the watchlist as a result of “bogus cases”.
“I have been cleared of all these cases by the courts, and Punjab home department removed my name,” he told Reuters by telephone. “I am, God willing, contesting the upcoming election just like I did in 2008 and 2013.”
Ludhianvi has made forays into politics before.
The Sunni cleric was a leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), a sectarian group that emerged in the southern Punjab area of Jhang in the mid-1980s with the support of Pakistani intelligence and which was later linked to hundreds of killings of Shi’ites. Recently, though, Ludhianvi has shown signs of seeking to rehabilitate his group’s image.
Earlier this year, he was one of more than 1,800 Pakistani Muslim clerics who signed an Islamic directive, or fatwa, forbidding suicide bombings, in a book unveiled by the government.