KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Pakistani political party placed on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations vowed on Wednesday to continue its political activities and participate in upcoming elections.
The Milli Muslim League (MML) is controlled by Islamist leader Hafiz Saeed, who has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head. The group shot to prominence after fielding a candidate in a September 2017 by-election to fill a seat vacated by deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
The U.S. State Department on Tuesday termed MML an alias for militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), or Army of the Pure, blamed for a bloody 2008 attack in India.
“We clearly state that on U.S. announcements we will not discontinue our political activities at any cost,” MML president Saifullah Khalid said, reading from a statement in Karachi.
“Milli Muslim League will fully participate in the 2018 elections and will field candidates from across Pakistan.”
Saeed is the founder of LeT, which is also on the U.S. terrorist list and blamed by the United States and India for a four-day militant attack on Mumbai in 2008 in which 166 people were killed.
Saeed has repeatedly denied involvement in the attack.
Images of Saeed appeared on MML campaign posters during rallies held in two major Pakistani cities leading up to by-elections last year.
The party was subsequently barred from participating in polls by Pakistan’s electoral commission, a decision that was overturned by the courts.
“We have confidence in our higher judiciary ... MML will be registered and it will emerge as a big national party in future,” Khalid said.
Khalid termed the U.S. decision a violation of basic human rights and an open intervention in Pakistan’s internal affairs, asking for the State Department to bring evidence before the courts.
“Make no mistake: whatever LeT chooses to call itself, it remains a violent terrorist group. The United States supports all efforts to ensure that LeT does not have a political voice until it gives up violence as a tool of influence,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
Under pressure from the United States, the United Nations and international institutions to crack down on terrorist financing, Pakistan drew up secret plans last December for a “takeover” of charities linked to Saeed.
Saeed has since taken the government decision to court.
Saeed’s freedom in Pakistan, where he holds rallies, has been a thorn in Pakistan’s relations with old rival India and the United States.
Reporting by Syed Raza Hassan; Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Nick Macfie