Standoff between Maulana Aziz, officials continues as cleric's followers show up for support

Updated Feb 09 2020

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Two police personnel stand outside the Lal Masjid as two female students stand atop the mosque on Saturday. — Photo by Muhammad Asim
Two police personnel stand outside the Lal Masjid as two female students stand atop the mosque on Saturday. — Photo by Muhammad Asim
Maulana Abdul Aziz (C), flanked by followers, prays for those who were killed in the July 2007 military operation in Islamabad, in July 2009. — AFP/File
Maulana Abdul Aziz (C), flanked by followers, prays for those who were killed in the July 2007 military operation in Islamabad, in July 2009. — AFP/File

A tense environment prevailed on Saturday near the capital's Lal Masjid, which has been occupied by its deposed khateeb Maulana Abdul Aziz, with the cleric's supporters chanting slogans amidst a heavy police presence.

Like during the previous two governments, Maulana Aziz is testing the nerves of the government by occupying the state-owned mosque for the past two weeks and reiterating his claim to be its prayer leader.

The standoff continued on Saturday, with the Maulana remaining holed up inside the mosque along with several female students. Police have cordoned off the area by placing barriers and barbed wires on the roads around the mosque.

With no solution in sight, both sides appeared to have adopted a strict posture, possibly to mount pressure on each other. The Islamabad assistant commissioner (AC) City was present outside the mosque today and discouraged interaction between police and the supporters of Maulana Aziz who continued to arrive at the site the whole day in a bid to cross the barricades.

Since the area was closed to the general public, around two dozen supporters of Maulana Aziz offered evening prayers on the main road from Aabpara to Melody by blocking it.

After the prayers, some females occupying the mosque approached the boundary wall of the mosque and started raising slogans. The men who had offered the evening prayers on the road responded to the slogans.

However, the men dispersed after a few minutes when, on the directives of the AC City, police personnel started to gather in a formation on their side of the barbed wire. Soon the females too went inside the mosque as women police personnel approached that part of the mosque's boundary.

Talking to Dawn via telephone, Maulana Aziz lashed out at the PTI government over the standoff situation, saying Prime Minister Imran Khan's government was worse than the rule of former military ruler retired Gen Pervez Musharraf.

He alleged that the current government was "not only incompetent but tyrants of a higher degree as well".

Aziz said the government was "totally directionless" in its decision-making and was bent upon "creating a scene out of the fragile situation".

The cleric said that all his demands were based on the judgement of the Supreme Court issued in October 2007 by then-chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

“We have shown restraint for 13 years but this government was not even willing to talk and find a negotiated solution,” Aziz said, adding that the seminary built at the cost of Rs35 million in H-11 sector has been taken over by the government.

Sunday Bazaar to be held as usual

The chairman of the officially notified Masjid Committee, Chaudhary Abdul Sattar, criticised the aggressive posture adopted by Maulana Aziz, saying the residents of the entire G-6 sector were in trouble due to the situation.

Meanwhile, official sources said that security personnel had a meeting with the Islamabad administration over the issue.

The authorities have decided that the G-6 Sunday Bazaar will be held at its designated site tomorrow and the traffic police will make special plans to handle the influx of vehicles.

“It was noted that the impression will be negative if the bazaar adjacent to the Lal Masjid is not held,” said a senior elected member of Municipal Corporation Islamabad. “The maulana will claim that he has succeeded in disturbing life and spreading his message.”

Aziz occupies mosque

Taking advantage of the situation when the authorities seemed to be busy with other issues, and the slackness of the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration to notify either a prayer leader or a deputy, Maulana Aziz had re-entered the Lal Masjid two weeks ago.

Currently, the capital administration has laid a siege to the area outside the mosque and Maulana Aziz along with female students remains inside.

Possibly to test the reaction of the authorities, the cleric delivered a Friday sermon last week but it was ignored despite repeated warnings by one of his former comrades Hafiz Ehtesham Ahmed, who claims to be the spokesperson of Lal Masjid’s Shuhada Foundation.

“The matter was brought to the notice of police that Haroon Rasheed, who had been picked up by security personnel earlier, was also illegally occupying the official residence of naib khateeb in Lal Masjid,” said Hafiz Ehtesham.

However, the matter turned serious when around 100 female students of Jamia Hafsa, G-7, broke into the sealed building of the seminary at H-11 on Thursday night. As a result, officers from the capital administration approached Lal Masjid to meet Maulana Aziz. But talks remained inconclusive as the cleric insisted that a senior authority equivalent to a federal minister should negotiate with him.

According to an official of the capital administration, the demands of Maulana Aziz cannot be implemented as he wants to become the khateeb of the mosque again. He also wants Rs250 million along with a large piece of land to establish Jamia Hafsa and the possession of the adjacent old children’s library plot, he added.