ISLAMABAD: Maulana Abdul Aziz, who has been under increasing pressure in recent weeks, announced on Sunday that he had forgiven former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf and the other characters involved in the Lal Masjid operation.

He was accompanied by family members, including his wife Umme Hassan and Haroon Ghazi, the son of his late brother – Abdul Rasheed Ghazi – who was killed in the 2007 military operation against the mosque, at Sunday’s press conference.

He said that he and his family forgave Gen Musharraf and others “for the sake of peace in the country”, adding that he had wanted to forgive the military ruler far earlier, but it took him time to convince all of his family members.

But, as he pointed out, this did not mean that Gen Musharraf was cleared of all wrongdoing in the Lal Masjid operation case, which is currently pending before the Supreme Court.

“I cannot forgive the blood of others who were killed during the operation, because they don’t belong to my family; only their relatives can forgive,” he said, adding that Umme Hassan wanted to wait until the cases against us had been decided to dispel the impression that they had reconciled.

The embattled cleric had been under increasing pressure in recent weeks after civil society activists Jibran Nasir and Khurram Zaki, separately, stepped up their campaign to lodge cases against him. Mr Nasir first approached lawmakers, who took up the matter on the floor of the house.

MNAs such as Saman Jafri, Shireen Mazari and Senator Farhatullah Babar had all criticised the interior minister for being soft on Maulana Aziz.

This had prompted frantic activity among law enforcement circles, and there were reports that the cleric had met with security officials who were urging him to post pre-arrest bail. Maulana Aziz finally appeared before a judge on Feb 2 to obtain pre-arrest bail in two cases.

It was here that he first announced his intention to forgive Gen Musharraf. According to Advocate Tariq Asad, who represents the complainants of the Lal Masjid case in court, Maulana Aziz had no authority to forgive Gen Musharraf for anyone’s murders.

On Feb 4, both Mr Nasir and Mr Zaki instituted cases against the cleric, over incitement to violence, mutiny against the state and hate speech against other sects. In response, Lal Masjid registered a case against the two men the next day, accusing them of inciting sectarian hatred and plotting against Maulana Aziz.

At Sunday’s presser, Maulana Aziz said, “It is strange that the state prepares jihadis for the prosperity of Islam, and when those jihadis demand that the Islamic system be imposed in the country, it is taken as a challenge to the writ of the state.”

Without naming anyone, Maulana Aziz said that certain elements were threatening him, adding that even his security had been withdrawn. He claimed that he had not contacted Gen Musharraf before making this announcement and clarified that he was not under pressure from anyone to do so.

Talking to Dawn, analyst Amir Rana said that pressure against Maulana Aziz began to build following the attack on the Army Public School, in December 2014. Even the Wafaqul Madaris was pressing him to make a gesture of good faith, he said.

“The Deobandi community was of the view that it was already under pressure because of the Taliban threat, so certain steps had to be taken to ease the pressure. This shows that the state can do many things and address many issues, if it wants to. Only the will to do so is required,” he said.

When asked whether Maulana Aziz was in a position to pardon Gen Musharraf, Advocate Salman Akram Raja said that while anyone could forgive any person over personal issues and grievances, but if a case was in court, the complainant had to go and record a statement saying he wanted to forgive Gen Musharraf.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2016

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