Lal Masjid standoff persists as Maulana Aziz refuses to budge on demands

Updated February 21, 2020

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Like the previous attempt made by a group of Ulema, an effort made by Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) Chairman Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi to end the Lal Masjid standoff on Thursday remained fruitless as Maulana Abdul Aziz (pictured) refused to accept the legal points forwarded by the government related to his demands. — AP/File
Like the previous attempt made by a group of Ulema, an effort made by Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) Chairman Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi to end the Lal Masjid standoff on Thursday remained fruitless as Maulana Abdul Aziz (pictured) refused to accept the legal points forwarded by the government related to his demands. — AP/File

ISLAMABAD: Like the previous attempt made by a group of Ulema, an effort made by Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) Chairman Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi to end the Lal Masjid standoff on Thursday remained fruitless as Maulana Abdul Aziz refused to accept the legal points forwarded by the government related to his demands.

After meeting Interior Minister Ijaz Ahmad Shah on Wednesday, the PUC chief proceeded to Lal Masjid on Thursday morning and discussed the issue with Maulana Abdul Aziz, the deposed prayer leader of the mosque.“I am hopeful that the matter will start moving in the right direction within 24 hours,” Hafiz Ashrafi said, adding: “The main aim is to ensure that not a bullet is fired from either side and the blockade is lifted to ease hardships being faced by the local residents.”

Talking to Dawn, Hafiz Ashrafi said the message and concerns of the government had been conveyed to Maulana Aziz.

He also forwarded a report to the interior ministry on Thursday noon stating there were only four armed men inside the mosque who were bodyguards of Maulana Aziz and possessed legally obtained weapons.

Sources in the interior ministry said Hafiz Ashrafi had also reported that there was no threat to peace as the number of people inside the mosque was not enough to pose any challenge to the law enforcement agencies posted outside.

Ulema council chief conveys legal points to former Khateeb of the masjid

His report was important as certain quarters in the government were suggesting posting Rangers or Frontier Constabulary (FC) outside Lal Masjid to thwart any aggressive posture from inside.

Hafiz Ashrafi was accompanied by a few clerics belonging to the PUC whereas Maulana Aziz was flanked by his nephew and son-in-law Haroon Rasheed.

Speaking on behalf of Maulana Aziz, Mr Rasheed denied that any deal or settlement had been made. The standoff continued with the area cordoned by police, he added.On the other hand, an official of the interior ministry termed the demands of Maulana Aziz unjustified and illegal.

The main demand of the cleric was that he should be recognised as the khateeb (prayer leader) of Lal Masjid and the government should pay Rs30 million in lieu of the construction cost of Jamia Hafsa in H-11 and allotment of a new plot in the CDA limits against the cancelled H-11 plot.

But a senior official of the interior ministry said the government had legal bindings and the law cannot be altered only to accommodate one person.

“It has been made clear that Maulana Aziz has retired and is not authorised to deliver Friday sermons and lead prayers at the state-owned Lal Masjid,” the official said, adding: “Similarly, the H-11 plot was cancelled on the directives of the Supreme Court in April 2019.”

CDA’s Directorate of Building Control had issued a notice to Jamia Hafsa at H-11 that it would be sealed because the construction was raised without legal requirements and a non-objection certificate (NOC) from the authority.

“While they continued the construction without proper approval, how is the government responsible for expenses incurred on the building?” the official said.

A delegation of clerics met the interior minister on Tuesday but failed to convince both the parties to end the standoff. While the clerics stressed that the government should lift the blockades and clear the roads outside the mosque, officials of the interior ministry said Maulana Aziz should leave the mosque for good as it was not a private entity.

Meanwhile, the adamant attitude of Maulana Aziz has not only led to the failure of two reconciliation efforts but is also encouraging the prayer leaders of other mosques not to leave the posts even after their retirement.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2020