Lal Masjid standoff continues as ulema fail to meet interior minister

Updated February 18, 2020

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Another effort for negotiations will be made today. — Dawn/File
Another effort for negotiations will be made today. — Dawn/File

ISLAMABAD: Daylong efforts made by a 12-member committee of religious scholars to meet Interior Minister Ejaz Shah for resolving the standoff at Lal Masjid remained unsuccessful on Monday.

The ulema had volunteered themselves for arranging negotiations between the capital administration and former khateeb of Lal Masjid Maulana Abdul Aziz.

Coordinator of the committee Hafiz Nazeer from Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat told Dawn that the committee had tried to contact the interior minister for a meeting “but every time we were told that he was not available due to his other engagements.”

Another effort will be made tomorrow (Tuesday) morning,” he said.

“After a long time, security situation in the country has normalised and we do not want another issue,” Hafiz Nazeer said.

Capital admin removed cordon around mosque for a few hours on Saturday on intervention of 12-member committee of religious scholars

The district administration had lifted the cordon outside Lal Masjid after the committee met Maulana Aziz and persuaded him to restart the stalled negotiations with the administration on Saturday.

“But all of a sudden, the mosque was cordoned again on Saturday night.” The committee then contacted Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat and complained about the administration’s move to back out of its commitment. “The DC replied that the order had come from the high level,” he added.

The demands of Maulana Aziz included a compensation of Rs30 million which he claimed to have spent on the construction of Jamia Hafsa at H-11. Later, the allotment of the land on which the madressah was built was canceled.

When contacted, an officer of the capital administration told Dawn on condition of anonymity that the mosque was cordoned again on Saturday as a part of security for the visiting secretary general of the United Nations (UN).

“We are willing to negotiate with Maulana Aziz and resolve the issue peacefully but for this he has to vacate Lal Masjid first,” he said.

The officer said the cleric had been asked to vacate the mosque along with his students and shift to Jamia Hafsa at G-7 for talks but he refused.

“It is a government mosque and will be managed by officials, not individuals,” he said.

Harood Rasheed, a nephew of Maulana Aziz, told Dawn that the cordon around Lal Masjid was lifted on Saturday in a bid to resume the stalled talks but the area was again blocked after a few hours.

He said the demands included appointment of Maulana Aziz as the khateeb of Lal Masjid and permission to him and his family to stay in houses inside the mosque.

Residents face problems

People living in the vicinity of Lal Masjid are facing problems due to the closure of the area, including roads between Aabpara and Melody.

The surroundings of the mosque were cordoned and the roads blocked two weeks ago.

Lal Masjid is the central and one of the biggest mosques of the federal capital and residents of not only the surrounding areas but of G-6 and G-7 also come here to offer prayers daily.

The local residents especially elderly and children have been facing problems because they cannot go to other mosques located at a distance for prayers.

“So many days have passed and the whole area has been cordoned off. It is surprising people are denied entry into the place of worship after encircling it with barbed wires and heavily guarded police. I have no other option but to offer prayers at home because I can’t go to far-off mosques nor can my children,” said Abdul Ghafoor, who lives in a street at G-6/2.

The residents sometimes are seen offering prayers on the main road.

The two-way road in front of the mosque connecting sectors G-6/4 and G-6/2 and a portion of the main road between Aabpara and Melody has been closed for all kinds of traffic.

As a result, there is always traffic jams on the adjacent alternative roads, especially during working hours. This is not the first time the area has been cordoned. It has become sort of a chronic issue which emerges often.

Students studying in the Lal Masjid seminary have also been affected due to the uncertain situation.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2020