Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party wins support of US-designated terrorist

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Fazlur Rehman Khalil receives PTI leader Asad Umar in Islamabad before announcing his support for Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). (Asad Umar’s official Facebook Page)
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Fazlur Rehman Khalil, a US-designated terrorist, speaks to a gathering of his followers and religious clerics in the presence of Asad Umar while announcing his support for Imran Khan’s political party ahead of this month’s general elections. (Asad Umar’s official Facebook Page)
Updated 18 July 2018
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Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party wins support of US-designated terrorist

  • Fazlur Rahman Khalil was one of the signatories of Osama Bin Laden’s declaration of global jihad in 1996 and is believed to have close ties with Al-Qaeda
  • Political analysts say that the state should deradicalize extremists and bring them into the political mainstream

ISLAMABAD: US-designated terrorist Fazlur Rehman Khalil has pledged political support to Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which has said it wants to bring hardliners and religious clerics into mainstream politics, ahead of this month’s general elections.

Khalil, who founded the popular militant entity Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), was placed on Washington’s Specially Designated Global Terrorists list in September 2014 for his alleged involvement in terrorist activities.

“Yes, he (Khalil) has announced to support our candidate, Asad Umar, in Islamabad,” PTI’s Information Secretary Fawad Chaudhry told Arab News on Wednesday.

However, he tried to play down the development, saying it was a local arrangement that only existed at the constituency level.

“Being a major political party, it is also our duty to bring hardliners and extremists into the mainstream, if they are not involved in any criminal activity,” he said.

Khalil currently heads Ansar-ul-Umma, which was designated a front for HuM by the US in 2014. Some US officials maintained at the time that Khalil’s group was responsible for terrorist attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

The US declared HuM a foreign terrorist organization in 1997, and it re-emerged as Ansar-ul-Umma in 2013.

“I have never been involved in any terrorist activity,” Khalil told Arab News by telephone.

“Some foreign forces have launched a smear campaign against me and my group,” he said, adding that he had been working for peace by spreading the teachings of his religion.

Asked about his decision to support PTI, he said that his vote was registered as a citizen of Pakistan and that there was no legal bar to him participating in political activity or supporting any candidate in the elections.

“We have a large following and we have announced to support PTI in this election,” he said, pointing out that a group of like-minded religious clerics had also announced its support for PTI candidates.

The news of Khalil’s support for PTI broke on social media on Tuesday evening after Asad Umar, a close aide of Imran Khan, announced it on his Facebook page.

Umar is contesting for a National Assembly seat from a constituency in Islamabad where Khalil is also believed to have a large following.

Umar first announced that “Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil has joined PTI,” but later edited the post following criticism on social media and said: “Fazlur Rehman Khalil, along with hundreds of his followers, has announced to support PTI.”

Islamabad-based religious cleric Khalil was one of the signatories of Osama Bin Laden’s declaration of global jihad in 1996 and is believed to have close ties with Al-Qaeda.

Professor Tahir Malik, political analyst and academic, said that there was a need to formulate a national policy regarding the inclusion of extremists in mainstream politics to streamline the process.

“The state first needs to de-radicalize these individuals through proper training and then bring them into mainstream politics. Otherwise, it’ll bring no good to the society,” he told Arab News.

Malik said that almost all political parties were seeking the support of religious clerics and custodians of shrines to win elections, but “no party seems serious in taking practical steps to address the issue of rising extremism and fanaticism in the society.”


Vladimir Putin gets lavish welcome on visit to ally Serbia

Updated 17 January 2019
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Vladimir Putin gets lavish welcome on visit to ally Serbia

  • Church bells tolled, guns saluted and people waved Russian and Serbian flags on Putin’s route through the Serbian capital, Belgrade
  • Serbia has maintained close links with traditional Slavic ally Russia despite formally seeking European Union membership

BELGRADE, Serbia: Vladimir Putin received a hero’s welcome in ally Serbia on Thursday as the Russian president attempted to maintain political and economic influence in the Balkans, which is increasingly looking Westward.
Putin’s presidential plane was escorted over Serbian airspace by MiG-29 fighter jets he recently donated to Serbia as he arrived for the one-day visit. Church bells tolled, guns saluted and people waved Russian and Serbian flags on Putin’s route through the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
Serbia has maintained close links with traditional Slavic ally Russia despite formally seeking European Union membership. It has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine and has pledged to stay out of NATO.
Putin has recently stepped up efforts to restore Moscow’s influence in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe.
Putin and his host, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, praised the relationship between the two countries. Putin handed a top Russian honor to Vucic, who gave a puppy of a Serb dog breed to the Russian president.
Vucic thanked Russia for its support for Serbia’s claim over Kosovo, a former province that declared independence in 2008, and added that “however small,” Serbia has been a “reliable partner” to Russia.
Several bilateral agreements were signed, including on the supply of Russian gas and weapons to Serbia.
On the gas, Putin said Russian companies are ready to invest about $1.4 billion into a stretch of a pipeline that would go from Turkey via EU-member Bulgaria to Serbia and then on to Hungary, “but in the end, everything will depend on other countries, including the European Union.”
Putin’s visit come as thousands have been holding weekly demonstrations against Vucic because of what they see as his autocratic rule.
Tens of thousands of Vucic’s right-wing party supporters were bused into the capital on Thursday to gather in front of the St. Sava Orthodox church, which the two presidents visited. They were chanting slogans including “Serbia-Russia, we don’t need the European Union!“
Vucic’s critics say the gathering was staged to suggest that the Serbian leader has many more supporters than opponents, who have been marching the same route since December to demand free elections and media.
Several liberal Serbian rights groups issued a statement on Thursday protesting “glorification of Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime.”
It said that Putin’s visit “indicates that the Serbian rulers are ready to sacrifice human rights and better living standards of citizens because of their servile attitude toward Putin’s regime.”
Russia’s interest in Serbia relates to its strategic position between East and West. Of Serbia’s eight neighbors, five are NATO members and two more are seeking membership; and four are in the EU and two more are working toward accession. Serbia remains Moscow’s only ally in the region.
Unlike NATO, Putin formally does not oppose Serbia’s EU path and analysts believe that this is because he wants a staunch ally — or perhaps a Trojan horse — within the 28-nation bloc.
Putin’s popularity in Serbia is mostly because the Kremlin is supporting Serbia in its rejection of Kosovo’s independence. In contrast, most Western countries have recognized Kosovo’s statehood.