In these politically vulnerable climates, where Pakistan has been targeted by international criticism for harbouring terrorist organizations, the inclusion and confidence of controversial and radically religious parties in the NA-120 elections is a worrisome sign.

Therefore, it is encouraging to see that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has taken a much needed step by disavowing Milli Muslim League (MML) from its registration. Furthermore, it has declared again that neither the party’s name nor its election symbol is registered with the ECP, effectively making Sheikh Muhammad Yaqoob an independent candidate for NA-120. The ECP also sent out a warning to Yaqoob to refrain from presenting himself as a candidate for MML and to cease using Jamaatud Dawa’s (JUD) name to enhance his political campaign.

This step comes after MML’s incessant political involvement in Yaqoob’s campaign, with photographs of the proscribed group’s leadership displayed upon Yaqoob’s campaign banners and posters advertised across the constituency. Signed messages from Hafiz Saeed urging support for Yaqoob left the so-called independent candidate virtually indistinguishable from the controversial MML.

ECP’s step is a lesson it has learnt after the criticism it received in the by-elections in Jhang district. The victory of Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi, whose name is on the terror watch list, directed attention to ECP’s ineptitude in ignoring Jhangvi’s association with banned sectarian outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba and allowing him to get by as an independent candidate. ECP’s steps this time show that they are more vigilant in this election; yet some would argue that Yaqoob’s overwhelming connection to JUD is too large to ignore and in this politically sensitive environment, it would be prudent for ECP to outright disqualify Yaqoob.

MML is an offshoot of JUD, an organization internationally termed as “extremist” by India, Australia, United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and Russia. It is headed by Hafiz Saeed, who has been declared a terrorist in the United States and India, and after tremendous pressure, placed on house arrest by Pakistan.

Trump’s harsh comments have put tremendous pressure on Pakistan to tackle its extremist organizations and this has been exacerbated by China’s identification of militant groups in Pakistan as a regional threat in a BRICS declaration. At home its failure to stop proscribed groups who superficially change their identities to escape restrictions is also heavily criticized.

Hence, Sheikh Muhammad Yaqoob could make a case for his right to run as an independent candidate. However, after flagrant display of MML’s political symbol and use of its offices for political campaigning, Yaqoob’s independence from the internationally infamous JUD is a farce and ECP should take due diligence in the matter.