Gilani asks to counter banned groups

Islamabad:Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has directed the Interior Ministry to counter the political activities of banned and extremist groups in the Defa-e-Pakistan Council, in which the Jamaat-ud-Dawah is the driving force.

During a meeting of his cabinet on Thursday, Gilani asked the Interior Ministry to take up with provincial governments the inclusion of banned groups in the Defa-e-Pakistan Council after several ministers expressed concern on the matter.

Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, has played a key role in putting together the Defa-e-Pakistan (Defence of Pakistan) Council.

In recent weeks, the conglomerate of about 40 extremist and hardline religious groups has organised a string of massive rallies at which speakers targeted the US and India.

Several ministers expressed "grave concerns" during the cabinet meeting on the inclusion of banned groups in the Defa-e-Pakistan Council and asked the government to take action against them, The News daily quoted its sources as saying.

A couple of federal ministers from southern Punjab pointed to the presence of banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi chief Malik Ishaq at the Defa-e-Pakistan Council`s rally in Multan on January 30 and said it appeared that the militant commander had the "patronage" of the PML-N government in Punjab, the Dawn newspaper quoted its sources as saying. The cabinet decided to take up Ishaq`s free movements with the Punjab government.

Prime Minister Gilani directed the Interior Ministry to ask provincial authorities to take action against all groups that were participating in political activities despite being banned.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the cabinet meeting that permission for Defa-e-Pakistan Council`s recent rallies in Lahore and Multan had been granted by district coordination officers. Since these officers were under the administrative control of the Chief Minister, the federal government could only seek an explanation from the Punjab government, he said.

After being imprisoned for 14 years, LeJ chief Malik Ishaq was released from Lahore`s Kot Lakhpat Jail in July last year when he was granted bail by the Supreme Court. While he was still in prison, he was accused of masterminding the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.

Ishaq was charged in 44 cases but convicted in only two, for which he received prison terms totalling six-and-half years. He was acquitted in 34 cases and granted bail in seven others while one case was discharged. He has been accused of involvement in the killing of at least 70 people, a majority of them Shias.

Leaders of several banned groups, including the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and LeJ, are part of the Defa-e-Pakistan Council.

Though Hafiz Saeed and several other leaders of the JuD were placed under house arrest after the Mumbai attacks, the group was not banned by the Pakistan government. Saeed and other JuD leaders were later freed on the orders of the Lahore High Court.

In recent weeks, Saeed has stepped up his attacks on India and the US. He has opposed the granting of Most Favoured Nation-status to India and vowed to continue the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir. Saeed has also demanded that Prime Minister Gilani should set a date for ending ties with the US and pulling out of the war on terror.