A day after backdoor negotiations between deposed khateeb of Lal Masjid Maulana Abdul Aziz and the Islamabad administration failed to make headway, the standoff continued for the third day on Sunday.
A tense environment had prevailed over the weekend near the capital’s state-owned mosque, which has been occupied by its deposed Maulana Aziz, with the cleric’s supporters raising slogans amidst a heavy police presence.
The maulana remains 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.
In an apparent bid to garner support, Maulana Aziz reached out to seminaries of Deobandi school of thought in Islamabad. Three major seminaries of the Deobandi school of thought — Jamia Fareedia, Jamia Rasheedia and Jamia Muhammadia — declined Maulana Aziz’s request to send their students either to hold a protest against the blockade of Lal Masjid or to offer prayers on the main road outside the mosque.
Explaining Maulana Zahoor’s stance, his son Maulana Tanvir Alvi said: “It is a clear policy of Wafaq that students should be learners and not activists or politicians.”
Maulana Zahoor’s decision did not sit well with the deposed Lal Masjid cleric, who said that “the standards [of the Wafaqul Madaris Al Arabia] were different when Maulana Fazalur Rahman launched his political drive and the students were seen actively participating in his dharna“.
Aziz occupies mosque
Maulana Aziz had returned to Lal Masjid around two weeks ago, reiterating his claim to be its prayer leader. The situation, however, turned serious on Thursday night when over a hundred female students entered the Jamia Hafsa in Islamabad’s Sector H-11 by breaking its official seal. 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.
On Saturday, in a bid to end the standoff, the proscribed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) volunteered to play a role and met officials outside the state-run mosque, while security personnel met the Islamabad administration officials to defuse the situation. A delegation of ASWJ, led by its Islamabad president Hafeez Nazeer, came to Lal Masjid on Saturday and met the officers posted outside. The delegation assured the assistant commissioner of their support and cooperation for a peaceful solution to the standoff.
None of the sides seemed to back off from their positions as the followers of Maulana Aziz and the administration enhanced their strict posture possibly in a show of strength.
Speaking to Dawn, Maulana Aziz said: “The rhymes we are playing are not aggressive or instigative, at least if compared to the dharnas with dance and music.
“There is always a way out. But this government is more politically immature and tyrant than the Musharraf regime,” he said while comparing the political sense of former dictator Pervez Musharraf with the incumbent government.
The maulana said his only demand was to implement the 2007 decision of the Supreme Court.
He said neither he would leave Lal Masjid nor the female students, who had entered the Jamia Hafsa H-11, would do so.
“We are not afraid of anything,” he had declared.
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 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.
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.