An outlawed Islamist "charity" known to be a front for extremist forces has formally launched a political party. The Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) launched the newly formed outfit, Milli Muslim League, on Monday, 7 August, adding a new dimension to the Pakistani political arena, which is already witnessing sharp twists and turns, especially in the wake of the resignation of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister over the Panama Papers scandal.

The chief of JuD, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, labelled by the UN as a "terrorist", carries a $10m bounty on his head in the US. Saeed is the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack and is currently under house arrest in Pakistan under local anti-terror laws.

Saifullah Khalid, an Islamic hardliner, was announced as the chief of the political party and he immediately pledged that the organisation would work towards establishing "a real Islamic and welfare state".

Khalid had made it clear that Saeed will remain a reverential figure for the newly formed party but did not outline what his exact role would be. Due to growing international pressure, Saeed was placed under house arrest in January and his detention was extended by two months recently.

"We have decided to make a new political party, so that Pakistan is made an Islamic and welfare state in the true sense of the word, and also, so that we can find a better solution to the issues faced by our beloved country," Khalid told reporters at the party launch in capital Islamabad.

The party has made a formal request to the Pakistan election commission seeking to allow its members to contest the upcoming elections. "First of all, Professor Hafiz Mohammad Saeed should be honourably released. There are no charges against him. He has always been found not guilty by the courts. He has been put under house arrest on charges of being innocent," asserted Khalid.

Officially, the JuD denies being a front for the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba but styles itself as a humanitarian charity. The group also denies any involvement in the Mumbai carnage in which 166 people were killed. Neither the US nor India have responded to the latest development as yet.

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed
Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of the banned Islamic charity Jamat-ud-Dawa, speaks with media as he is escorted to his home where he will be under house arrest in Lahore, PakistanREUTERS/Stringer