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Pakistani Opposition Decries Alleged Former Militant's Spot On Ruling Party List

The chairman of the opposition Pakistan People's Party, Bilwal Bhutto Zadari.
The chairman of the opposition Pakistan People's Party, Bilwal Bhutto Zadari.

Pakistan's opposition has decried the nomination of a candidate with links to a militant Pakistani Islamist group to the legislative assembly in Pakistan-administered Kashmir with the support of the ruling Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) party.

The chairman of the opposition Pakistan People's Party, Bilwal Bhutto Zadari, recently accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of issuing a party nomination to Muhammad Mazhar Saeed, a.k.a. Abdullah Shah Mazhar and with links to the militant Jaish-e Mohammed (JeM).

Neither Khan nor his government has officially responded to the reports of Mazhar's allged ties to banned groups, and Mazhar himself has insisted he never held any "official" position for the Taliban.

The JeM is blacklisted by the United States and its allies and was banned in Pakistan in 2002.

Mazhar was elected to the Pakistan-administered Kashmiri legislature in a seat reserved for religious scholars after the PTI secured a majority in elections there on July 25.

Zardari complained at a press conference in Karachi on July 31 that Mazhar's position "will give an opportunity to India to criticize" Pakistan.

A Pakistani online newspaper reported last week that Mazhar had “worked on a key position in a province of Afghanistan after the collapse of the government of President [Mohammad] Najibullah,” a reference to the period from 1992 when the mujahedin and Taliban gained fragile control of Kabul.

The reports led to government criticism on social media, including by members of the PTI.

Lawmaker Aamir Liaquat Hussain demanded that Khan avoid nominating Mazhar.

Mazhar, 48, is from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

He has acknowledged being in Afghanistan "under the rule of the Islamic Emirate" run by the Taliban but rejected as "baseless allegations" the suggestion that he held an "official post" for the Taliban.

"I am a representative of Kashmiri nation," he told Radio Mashaal in a telephone interview this week. "I seek the freedom of my nation and Islam, international law, and the United Nations’ charter have given me the right to demand freedom."

Media reports dating back to 2002 identify Mazhar as a key leader of the JeM.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistani journalist who was kidnapped and killed in 2011, wrote in his book Inside Al-Qaeda And The Taliban that Mazhal had worked as the "supreme commander" of the JeM, an anti-India militant group active in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir and blamed for a deadly attack in 2019 in the region against Indian paramilitary police

A leader of the ruling PTI in Kashmir told Radio Mashaal that the “central leadership” had issued Mazhal a nomination ticket.

“The central leadership of the religious parties decided to nominate [Mazhar] -- because we have a political alliance with them, therefore we agreed," the PTI's secretary-general in Pakistani-administered Kashmir told Radio Mashaal. "But I want to emphasize that he will not attempt to present a bill to the legislature which is in clash with our [party] manifesto."

The election commission of Pakistan-administered Kashmir says it has received no complaints over the nomination of Mazhar.

“If anyone has a proof of his disqualification, they can challenge it anytime,” Farhat Ali Mir, an official of the election commission in Kashmir, said on August 2.