ISLAMABAD, Oct 15: While a large number of residents left Islamabad for their native areas and the remaining ones remained busy preparing for Eidul Azha, the management of Lal Masjid started encroaching on the adjacent amenity plot on which Jama Hafza and the children’s library stood before being demolished in 2007. As the CDA offices were also closed for Eidul Azha, the Lal Masjid management started building a boundary wall around the amenity plot.

The construction of the boundary wall started early Tuesday and continued throughout the day. The labourers were told to finish the job before Eid prayers on Wednesday.

Those who asked about the construction activities at the site were told that the government “had been kind enough to give the land to Lal Masjid only for prayers.”

A young cleric standing among the construction workers on Tuesday told Dawn: “We have a deal with the government under which we have been allowed to level the ground to accommodate the large number of faithful coming to the Lal Masjid to offer prayers on special occasions.”

However, he said there was no permission to build any structure on the plot.

But the construction workers told Dawn that the Lal Masjid management had hired them to build a 270-foot wall around the plot.

“We have agreed to complete the work at the discounted rate of Rs9 per foot compared to the current market rate of Rs11 per foot,” they added.

Contrary to the claims of the Lal Masjid management, the federal government denied any such deal over the amenity plot.

“There is nothing of this kind between the federal government and Lal Masjid. But if some adjustment has been made between the Islamabad administration and the mosque management, we are not aware of it,” said Umar Hameed, the additional secretary and spokesman for the interior ministry, while talking to Dawn.

He also said the local authorities should be aware of such developments and act before these matters become bigger problems.

Lal Masjid was built in 1965 with Maulana Mohammad Abdullah as its khateeb. However, soon he built his residential quarters on a piece of government land behind the mosque.

The children’s public library adjacent to the mosque was established in 1980s.

In 1992, the Jamia Hafsa building was erected by encroaching on 7,500 square yards or around 16 kanals of land designated for a women’s library, a social club, an authors’ corner and a gymnasium adjacent to children’s library.

The Lal Masjid conflict actually originated when in January 2007 female students of Jamia Hafsa occupied the children’s library in retaliation to the CDA notice to the mosque management to vacate the illegally-occupied land and the demolition of seven small unauthorised mosques in different parts of the city.

These mosques were also built on encroached land.

As the standoff continued, the seminary students occasionally took to the streets trying to enforce their version of the Sharia in the city.

The situation worsened in the following months leading to the army operation in July when a Rangers’ personnel posted outside the mosque was killed in firing.

Jamia Hafsa and the children’s library were demolished after the operation as the National Engineering Services of Pakistan (Nespak) declared them ‘unsafe’ because of the heavy damages sustained during the encounter between the troops and the militants holed up inside.

In 2011, the PPP-led government struck a deal with the Lal Masjid administration and 20 kanals of land was allotted to them at H-11 sector for the establishment of Jamia Hafsa there.

However, when Dawn contacted Chief Commissioner Islamabad Jawad Paul, he denied any such adjustment with the Lal Masjid management.

“The owner of the plot is the CDA. May be they (CDA) have given some permission but I doubt it,” said the chief commissioner.

On the other hand, most of the officers in the CDA had already left for their hometowns and those in city were concerned only with making arrangements for lifting offal during the Eid days.

A CDA official said the chairman of the civic agency had left for Lahore and was not attending phone calls whereas the mobile number of the member estate was also not responding.

“Nobody is around, but the matter will be taken up seriously after Eid,” said an official in the CDA public affairs department.

While the construction work continued and the CDA was visibly set to lose a piece of prime land to the encroachment, the officials believed that the matter would be taken up after Eid holidays which end on October 21.

Even the special branch officials posted between Aabpara police station and the Aabpara market expressed concern over the development.

“We can only report and I have already informed my authorities about the matter on the phone,” said one of the special branch officials roaming around the area.

“This is the best time to build the wall and even lay a floor on the land because the government system is down up to Sunday and after that people will remain busy doing nothing for two to three more days.”

The official said police itself cannot do anything without directives of the magistrate or the owner of the land, which was the CDA.

“So, technically speaking, if the matter is dragged during the next week too, everybody will be busy in Muharram arrangements in the last 10 days of Zil Haj.”

When contacted, an official in the administration wing of Lal Masjid said under an agreement signed with the CDA in 2012, the ground can be used for prayers but without making any construction there.

He added that under the deal the civic agency had to prepare the floor for prayers but it did nothing even after the passage of over two years.

“As a result, we are now bound to lay the floor ourselves,” he added.

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