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ICC Note: As Pakistan prepares to head to the polls next week for national parliamentary elections, many fear the rise of Islamic extremists and sectarian groups. Among these groups vying for seats in Pakistan’s general elections are the Milli Muslim League, seen by the US State Department as a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group. Christians fear the rise of these groups given that their political success may lead to greater intolerance in Pakistan.

07/17/2018 Pakistan (CBN) – Millions of people in the world’s second-largest Muslim nation are preparing to head to the polls next week for national parliamentary elections.

A record number of 11,855 candidates are vying for 849 seats in Pakistan’s general elections. More than a hundred political parties are taking part in the 2018 elections. Among them, an unprecedented number of Islamic extremists and sectarian groups, some with ties to Al Qaeda and terror-related violence.

One of the most prominent individuals on the campaign trail is Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the accused mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. The United Nations declared him a terrorist and the US has a $10 million bounty for him.

Though he’s not running himself, Saeed’s political party the Milli Muslim League (MML), is fielding more than a dozen candidates. In April, the US State Department placed MML on its list of foreign terrorist groups, calling it a front for the Islamic terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which was co-founded by Saeed.

“Formed in the 1980s, LeT was responsible for the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India that killed 166 people, including six Americans, and has killed dozens of Indian security forces and civilians in recent years,” the State Department said. “LeT continues to operate freely within Pakistan, holding public rallies, raising funds, and plotting and training for terrorist attacks.”

Saeed’s son, Talha Saeed, a designated terrorist under the US Treasury Department, is among 265 extremist candidates running in Pakistan’s elections next week. Many of them have espoused radical Islamic sentiments and have expressed a desire to make Pakistan a “citadel of Islam.”

Experts say there’s no evidence that these militant candidates are prepared to shed their dangerous views.

“Their objectives are very clear, they may be sectarian in their nature, many actors they still believe in militancy and they haven’t compromised or even they haven’t given any indication that they are going to shun the violence,” worries Mohammed Amir Rana, an analyst who tracks radical groups in the region for Pakistan’s Institute of Peace Studies. “What we have seen is that they are expanding their outreach, and this election process somehow has provided them the breathing space.”

At a recent campaign rally in Faisalabad, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed made it clear to the crowd his view of Christians and Jews.

“Our war against Crusaders, Hindus, and Jews will continue, they are all infidels,” Saeed declared during his speech. “America says about us, ‘don’t let them get into mainstream politics, don’t let them run in elections’. America understands that if we are in politics, the door to its intervention will be shut down.”

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