ISLAMABAD: The announcement by the officially banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) regarding the formation of a committee for holding peace talks with the government has once again brought the chief cleric of Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdul Aziz, into the limelight.
The cleric, who had become famous during the 2007 military operation in Lal Masjid, is in the three-member committee announced by the TTP on February 1.
The committee will be negotiating a peace pact with the four members of the government committee.
Earlier, the TTP had nominated five people as part of their committee. These were Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan, Maulana Samiul Haq, Maulana Abdul Aziz, Professor Mohammad Ibrahim of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and Mufti Kifayatullah, a former legislator of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) from Mansehra.
However, Imran Khan and Mufti Kifayatullah did not consent to be part of the TTP team. Therefore, the TTP committee now comprises Maulana Samiul Haq, Professor Ibrahim and Maulana Aziz.
The government committee comprises of Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Affairs Irfan Siddiqui, veteran journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, former ambassador and expert on Afghanistan affairs Rustam Shah Mohmand and former ISI official Major (retired) Amir Shah.
In 2007, Maulana Aziz was facing 27 criminal cases in different courts. Though the cleric was last year acquitted in all these cases, his name has still not been removed from the fourth schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).
Fourth schedule is a section of the ATA under which a terrorist suspect is kept under observation, and it is mandatory for him to mark his attendance with the local police at regular intervals.
After getting acquitted in all the cases, Maulana Aziz in August 2013 was informed that his name was still in the fourth schedule. He had been placed on the said schedule on August 3, 2005 by the then chief commissioner of Islamabad.
The notification stated: “The chief commissioner Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) has received information that Maulana Abdul Aziz, resident of Lal Masjid, is affiliated with and involved in activities related to the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan, which had been banned by the federal government in 2002.”
Maulana Aziz therefore challenged the inclusion of his name in the fourth schedule in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on August 28, 2013.
The petition was fixed before a division bench of IHC comprising Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui and Justice Noorul Haq N. Qureshi on August 29, but the matter could not proceed as Justice Siddiqui recused himself from the bench. He maintained that he had been a lawyer of Maulana Abdul Aziz and therefore could not hear his petition.
The matter was subsequently placed before another bench and the court in October last year sought reply from the federal government. However, the government’s reply is yet to be received and the matter was not fixed before the IHC bench for further hearing.
When contacted, Maulana Wajihullah advocate, the counsel for Maulana Aziz, said the delay on the part of the government had caused the matter to linger on.
He however claimed that the cleric did not face any hardship due to the fourth schedule and was living a routine life.
Meanwhile, legal expert Ahsanuddin Sheikh Advocate told Dawn that until his name was removed from the fourth schedule, Maulana Aziz would remain a suspect in the eyes of the law.
“Legally speaking, his name should not be on a team which is negotiating a peace deal because the presence of his name on the fourth schedule suggests that he is not dependable,” he said.
“If the cleric believes his name has been placed in the schedule based on false information, he has the right to challenge the action of the federal government which is in turn bound to clear his name,” he added.
When contacted Jawad Paul, chief commissioner of Islamabad, said that his predecessor had put the name of Maulana Aziz in the fourth schedule and he (Mr Paul) was not aware of the details.
He did not comment when asked whether it was legitimate for the government team to negotiate with a person who was under observation for his alleged connection with banned outfits.
“It is a policy matter and I cannot comment on this,” he said.