ISLAMABAD - The interior ministry has added the name of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) in its list of banned organisations for its suspected involvement in terrorism activities and sectarian violence.

The organisation was previously operating as Sipaha-e-Sihaba Pakistan (SSP) that was banned during General (r) Pervez Musharraf regime in 2002 for the same reasons. Though no official word came from the interior ministry on the issue, however, the ministry sources unofficially confirmed a BBC report that ASWJ and three other groups  Shia TalbaTanzeem, People’s Amman Committee and TNA Gilgit  had been banned in Pakistan. They said the ministry has already issued a notification on February 15 and the copies of it had been forwarded to all the provinces and relevant departments. ASWJ had been to the first schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 through that notification, thereby barring it from operating in the country.

An official of the ministry informed on the condition of anonymity that the ministry had received some intelligence reports that the organisation had propped up its anti-Shia activities after the release of Malik Ishaq and Ghulam Rasool Shah  two prominent activists of banned Lashker-e-Jhangvi (JeJ), an armed wing as well as splinter group of SSP.

LeJ founder Malik Ishaq remained in jail for more than a decade on charges of terrorism, sectarian violence and murders. A secretion violence incident also took place in Muzafargarh, a southern Punjab district, when Malik Ishaq was to visit the area after his release. Two men were killed and ten injured when members of Shia community clashed with the supporters of Malik Ishaq on his arrival in Muzaffargarh. Malik had started tours across the Punjab soon after his release.

Earlier, Islamabad Capital Territory Administration (ICTA) has twice banned the entry of ASWJ President Ahmed Ali Ludhianvi and Malik Ishaq in the capital in the last couple of months when they had to address public rallies there.

A federal state minister and National Assembly member from district Jhang, an SSP stronghold, Sheikh Waqas Akram on the floor of the house had severely criticised the performance of the interior ministry and the Interior Minister Rehman Malik for allowing the free movement and participation of the activists of banned outfits in the public rallies of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (Council for Pakistan Defence).

ASWJ President Ahmed Ali Ludhianvi, talking to The Nation, strongly reacted to the ban imposition and said that the decision had been made under the influence of US dictation and the organisation would challenge it in the court.

He said that he had only learnt from media reports that ASWJ had been banned but had received no official communication from the ministry so far. “The ministry at no level has provided them the opportunity for any explanation in this regard,” he added. He was sure that the organisation had been banned on the directions of US and said that it would be tantamount to undermine the defence f Pakistan.

“We were busy in holding rallies of Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) all over the country to strengthen the defence of the country, and this activity of ours is the main reason for the ban,” he held. ASWJ is the member organisation of DPC, a conglomerate of around 40 rightwing parties and groups. He said that ban had been imposed so that in future no one could dare think about the defence of Pakistan.

The interior ministry’s list of proscribed organisations, excluding ASWJ is as under:

(1) Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ); (2) Sepha-e-Muhammad Pakistan; (3) Jaish-e-Muhammad; (4) Lashkar-e-Tayyaba; (5) Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan; (6) Tehreek-e-Jaafria Pakistan; (7) Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM); (8) Tehreek-e-Islami; (9) Al-Qaeda; (10) Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan (ex-SSP); (11) Khuddam-ul Islam (ex-JM); (12) Islami Tehreek Pakistan (ex-TJP); (13) Jamiatul Ansar; (14) Jamiatul Furqan; (15) Hizbul Tehrir; (16) Khairun Naas International Trust; (17) Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA); (18) Islamic Students Movement of Pakistan; (19) Lashkar-e-Islam; (20) Ansarul Islam; (21) Haji Namdar Group; (22) Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP); (23) Balochistan Republican Army (BRA); (24) Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF); (25) Lashkar-e-Balochistan (LeB); (26) Balochistan Liberation United Front (BLUF); (27) Balochistan Musalla Defah Tanzeem (BMDT); (28) Shia Tulaba Action Committee, Gilgit; (29) Markaz Sabeel Organisation, Gilgit; (30) Tanzeem Naujawanan-e-Sunnat (TNA), Gilgit; and (31) Peoples Aman Committee (Lyari), Karachi.

Staff Reporter adds from Lahore: Mainstream religious and religio-political parties have condemned ban on Alhe Sunnat Wal Jamat, saying it was an attempt to weaken and politically harass Difa-e-Pakistan Council. The parties believe that the decision was taken on the US pressure without any moral or legal justification.

Talking to TheNation, Jamaat-e-Islami Information Secretary Muhammad Anwar Niazi said that the government banned ASWJ to please the US. He said that there was no reason to ban a patriotic party. He said that increasing popularity of DPC was the reason behind ban on a component party.

Spokesman of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Yahya Mujahid said that instead of taking a unilateral decision, the government should have gone to the courts to prove allegations, if any, against ASWJ. He said that it was wrong to ban any party without solid proof. He said that the nation would not accept ban on any component party or organisation of DPC.

“The party was working for so many years before the constitution of DPC. The government imposed ban on Alhe Sunnat Wal Jamat at a time when religious parties are carrying out struggle for the defence and solidarity of the country. Ban on a component party on foreign pressure is aimed at weakening DPC”, he said.