Islamabad, Pakistan – The United States has imposed sanctions on Pakistani political party the Milli Muslim League (MML), the political front of armed group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), designating it and its leadership as “terrorists”, a State Department statement said.
The US added the Milli Muslim League and Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir (TAJK) as aliases of Lashkar-e-Taiba, and specifically named seven MML leaders as “terrorists”, said the statement, issued on Monday.
“Today’s amendments take aim at Lashkar-e-Taiba’s efforts to circumvent sanctions and deceive the public about its true character,” said Nathan Sales, the State Department’s Counterterrorism Coordinator. “Make no mistake: whatever LeT chooses to call itself, it remains a violent terrorist group.”
An MML spokesperson told Al Jazeera it would challenge the decision and work to “remove misconceptions” regarding its work.
“Political association is a fundamental human right,” said spokesperson Tabish Qayyum, who was named in the US sanctions list. “This [designation] is against the US’s own position when it comes to democracy … we have always rejected all kinds of terrorism.”
Qayyum, along with party chief Saifullah Khalid and leaders Muzammil Iqbal Hashmi, Muhammad Harris Dar, Fayyaz Ahmad, Faisal Nadeem and Muhammad Ehsan have been added to the US’ list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
“We want to remove the misconceptions of the United States.”
Increasing pressure on Pakistan
The US and India blame LeT for planning and carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which saw at least 160 people killed in a series of coordinated attacks in the Indian port city.
LeT is also blamed for carrying out attacks targeting Indian security forces in the disputed Kashmir region.
LeT founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed denies any involvement in armed activity but says his group, now operating under the name of its charitable arm, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), supports the cause of Kashmiris who demand independence from India.
Saeed was controversially released in November, after a court ordered an end to his house arrest under anti-terrorism laws, saying the government had failed to prove his involvement in armed activity.
Pakistan has come under increasing international pressure to crack down on armed groups allegedly operating on its soil, including LeT, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network.
In February, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international illicit financing watchdog, said it would place Pakistan on its ‘grey list’ for failing to do enough to curb illicit financing and money laundering.
MML competing in by-elections
MML candidates have competed in several by-elections since its formation in August last year.
At the time, MML chief Saifullah Khalid said that while Saeed had no role in running the party, he was its ideological leader.
Saeed, LeT and JuD are all subject to UN sanctions, including the freezing of assets, an arms embargo and a ban on international travel.
Pakistan’s Election Commission had banned the MML from using Saeed’s image in any election banners or campaign materials, a ban the party has regularly flouted. The party’s official registration with the Election Commission remains disputed.
In February, Pakistan began seizing hospitals and other facilities operated by the JuD, after expanding restrictions placed on the group.
It is unclear, however, if the seized assets are still being operated by JuD.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s Web Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.