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Banned terror group ex-member no problem for Imran Khan’s party. Will contest PoK seat

Former Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan associate Mazhar Saeed Shah will contest the Ulema-e-Mashaikh reserve seat at PoK assembly despite opposition.

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New Delhi: What is the first thing you do after winning an election in a politically disputed territory? Apparently, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party thinks the answer to that question is to give an election ticket to an alleged ex-Taliban associate for a reserved seat

Having won 26 seats in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) assembly election, PTI on Saturday gave the election ticket for one of the province’s reserved seats, for Ulema-e-Mashaikh, to Mazhar Saeed Shah. 

Also known as Abdullah Shah Mazhar, Shah is alleged to be a former associate of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a far-right terrorist organisation that was banned by Pakistan in 2008 but continues to operate in factions to this day, according to a United Nations Security Council report.

Based in PoK’s Rawalakot, Haris Qadeer reports that Mazhar Saeed Shah is from the disputed territory’s northernmost district, “held important positions” in Jaish-e-Mohammad and also served as Governor of a province in Afghanistan during the Taliban’s rule.

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Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s history

Since its formation in 2007, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan has had an extensive history of involvement, and alleged involvement, in terrorist attacks on the Pakistani military as well as on civilians. The most famous instance was the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December that year, in which it initially denied its involvement before a Taliban leader claimed responsibility in a 2017 book. 

The news reached Twitter on Saturday, as users and journalists shared the developments and criticized PTI for the appointment.

Asghar Zaidi, the editor of Lahore-based investigative news website Sujag, also weighed in, drawing a connection between PTI’s appointment of Shah and the Financial Action Task Force’s job of investigating terrorism funding.

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Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s response

However, the most high profile responses came from Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairman and political dynast/heir Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. 

In a press conference on Saturday, Zardari condemned the appointment of the alleged ex-TTP associate and said that Imran Khan needs to consider the subsequent message being sent overseas, Amir Wasim reported for Dawn. 

“The people of ‘Azad Kashmir’ are peace-loving people and they believe in peaceful resistance. And you are presenting them before the world as terrorists,” Zardari added.

However, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s comments reflect that PTI’s association with Shah has provided more than enough political ammunition to the PPP, let alone India or the FATF. 

Zardari has been contesting the PoK assembly election for several days and has repeatedly stated to the press and social media that the election was “rigged”.

While any evidence behind Zardari’s claims remains to be confirmed, the polling for Ulema-e-Mashaikh as well as the seven other reserved seats, of which five are reserved for women, is scheduled to take place on 2 August.

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