An irritant in Islamabad

A rally by Lal Masjid cleric brings back memories of violence in the capital

An irritant in Islamabad
Last Friday, Lal Masjid cleric Abdul Aziz orchestrated a rally to launch a “movement to enforce Shariah” in Pakistan, amidst a heavy presence of police and Rangers. Earlier, in a fiery Friday sermon, Abdul Aziz had encouraged his followers to take to the streets and help enforce Sharia law in Pakistan.

The rally was led by Abdul Aziz and his wife Umme Hassan, the head of the Jamia Hafsa. It featured Lal Masjid students, who marched from the mosque in Islamabad’s G-6 sector, to Jamia Hafsa in G-7.

“They shouted slogans against the government,” says Humayun Rafi, 45, a resident of G-7. “They said they wanted to impose Shariah law in Pakistan. At the time I didn’t know who they were. Later on, when I read the news about the rally, I figured it was the same Abdul Aziz who had caused so much violence during the Lal Masjid siege in 2007.”

Islamabad Capital Territory’s district magistrate had warned Aziz against taking out a rally “without informing and seeking permission from authorities, which could have jeopardized the law and order situation in Islamabad”.

“The rally violates the undertakings Abdul Aziz gave to the government in August with regards to observing the restrictions put on his movements in accordance with the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997,” says an Islamabad-based lawyer. “Abdul Aziz continues to make a mockery of Pakistani law and Constitution, right in front of the government and the army, and no one seems interested in curtailing this ISIS-supporting extremist.”
"But for the regard of decency, I would have torn the letter to pieces"

“If no one does anything, things could get out of control, and we could see a repeat of 2007 – only worse,” he feared.

In April 2007, Lal Masjid clerics threatened to unleash suicide bombers if the government would counter its Sharia movement. That eventually led to a street battle between security forces and Abdul Aziz’s militants, during which at least nine people were killed and over 150 injured.

In December last year, Jamia Hafsa students released a pro-ISIS video, asking the government of Pakistan to impose Islamic laws.

Aziz’s name was included in a watch list under the Fourth Schedule of the ATA, in August this year. Friday’s rally was in violation of Section 11EE of the ATA, according to the district magistrate’s letter to Aziz.

“But for the regard of decency, I would have torn to pieces the deputy commissioner’s note,” Abdul Aziz said in a statement issued late on Sunday. “You shed your uniforms for the sake of dirty democracy of Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. But when I invite people to Holy Quran and Sunnah, you send a threatening letter to me,” he said in another message on social media.

Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) Chairman Tahir Ashrafi condemned Abdul Aziz’s movement and urged him to stick to Constitutional jurisdictions. “If anyone wants to start a movements for Shariah law while restricting themselves to the boundaries set by the Pakistani law and Constitution, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that,” Ashrafi says. “But if Maulana Abdul Aziz’s history is anything to go by, his course of action shouldn’t be allowed in any way.”

A military helicopter flies over Lal Masjid in July 2007
A military helicopter flies over Lal Masjid in July 2007

“Quran and Sunnah already form the supreme law of Pakistan,” he said. “Therefore, any endeavor to implement Shariah law should be via the Parliament. Otherwise, there will be violence and anarchy, and everyone would want to impose their version of Shariah.”

The concern is widespread. “Aziz is not just a merchant of violence, but the very type of element that is responsible for brainwashing young minds to extremism, intolerance and fascism,” says Gul Bukhari, a human rights activist and a columnist for The Nation. “What one doesn’t understand is why the government is letting the obvious threat of volcanic proportions fester.”

A source close to the Interior Ministry says that rather than risking a backlash of violence by Aziz’s supporters all over the country, they would have him become irrelevant.

“This sounds good on paper, but then the government needs to share and assure us how it intends to make the man irrelevant,” Gul Bukhari says. “Just saying this and hiding away will not do the trick.”

On November 17, the Interior Minister issued a letter to the civilian and military intelligence agencies asking them to closely monitor his activities.  The letter said that Aziz had a history of disrupting law and order in the federal capital.

A government official said on condition of anonymity that the state won’t tolerate Abdul Aziz’s violent activities. “We know his acts can damage Pakistan’s image and seriously disturb law and order in the city,” he said. “There is no question of tolerating any incitement to violence. We are working with the security agencies and closely monitoring Aziz’s actions.”