Pakistan defined irony yesterday when, on the same day it presented its case against terror financing to the FATF, it removed a banned outfit’s chief from a terrorism regulatory list. As Pakistan tried to showcase its measures to curb terror finance, with the same breath the government lifted the ban and unfroze the assets of Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi and his organisation, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jama’at (ASWJ), a banned group notorious for its sectarianism against the Shia belief.

It is unclear who issued the orders for the removal. While NACTA officials said that they had received recommendation from the Punjab government to remove Ludhianvi from the fourth schedule, Hassan Askari, the caretaker Chief Minister, has specified that it came from the federal government, indicating that this order was not an inclusive one.

It should be kept in mind that Pakistan would not just forgive a banned organisation the day of its FATF review without any reason. This decision was indeed a strategic one and meant as a goodwill gesture towards an authority. This authority could be Saudi Arabia, whose anti-Iran bias complements ASWJ’s objective of countering Shia influence in Pakistan from the Iranian revolution. It could also be a nod towards western powers and Afghanistan, who are now attempting to negotiate with the Taliban, as Pakistan has previously relied on Ludhianvi to coordinate in peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. Or maybe-and most dangerous of all- it could be to appease the rash of new Islamist parties which have become influential in politics since last year, and give them a jump start for the elections. The timing of this decision, a month before the elections, lends credibility to this theory.

Whatever the purpose of this decision, the fact that Ludhianvi, who has ties with the violent Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant groups, is now free to purchase and carry arms and has the complete right to contest an election, is chilling. The previous year was already behest with refusal of banned outfits to refrain from by-elections and this decision will only make curbing disregard of ECP rules more difficult. A more formidable outcome is the possibility of Ludhianvi, a proponent of sectarians and division, winning which is not unlikely, considering he did win from Jhang in 2013. Only that time, the Supreme Court disqualified him due to his placement on the Fourth Schedule; now there will be no law left to stop him.