Pak. Army deals a blow to jihadists, but not to ideology

Government is adopting a ‘selective’ approach towards militant groups.

December 18, 2015 01:34 am | Updated December 04, 2021 10:57 pm IST

Maulana Abdul Aziz, the Red Mosque cleric and member of the Taliban negotiating team in Islamabad. PHOTO: AP

Maulana Abdul Aziz, the Red Mosque cleric and member of the Taliban negotiating team in Islamabad. PHOTO: AP

All cellphone coverage was blocked by the government for three hours one recent afternoon in the Pakistani capital, and it did not take people long to discover why: Maulana Abdul Aziz, the radical preacher of the Red Mosque, was sermonising again.

Banned from giving sermons in the mosque, the scene of an Army siege on extremists that killed as many as 75 people in 2007, Mr. Aziz had announced that he would relay his latest Friday sermon by cellphone, calling aides at the mosque who would rebroadcast it over the mosque’s loudspeakers.

But instead of arresting the preacher, as many moderate Pakistanis would like, the authorities simply turned off the city’s cell networks last Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the traditional time for Friday Prayer, according to senior Pakistani officials.

Mr. Aziz’s relative untouchability is a measure of how enduring the power of militant Islamist ideology has remained in Pakistan. Even as the Pakistani military has driven some jihadist groups out of business or into hiding over the past year, other technically banned jihadist or sectarian groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat are still thriving, with little apparent effort by the government or military to curb them.

While the Sharia law the hard-liners here tend to espouse calls for their women to be kept in purdah — strictly separated from men at all times — some Pakistani women have been at the fore in pushing the Islamist agenda themselves. A recent example popped up in Islamabad at the Jamia Hafsa school, a girls’ madrassa attached to Mr. Aziz’s Red Mosque. About 15 of the older students recently posted a video of themselves in full burqas in front of the flag of the Islamic State, praising the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Mr. Aziz, sitting this week in the Martyr Osama Bin Laden Library at the school, said the girls who took part in the video were scolded for their actions. “We have nothing to do with this video,” he said.

Often derided in the Pakistani press as Mullah Burqa — he tried unsuccessfully to escape the Red Mosque siege disguised in a burqa — Mr. Aziz, after a period of detention following the 2007 siege, has re-emerged as an apparently untouchable force in Pakistani society. That is true even as some of the armed groups he has openly admired in the past have been marginalised by an effective Pakistani Army campaign over the past year.

That is the case with the once-powerful Pakistani Taliban, as even a senior official of the insurgents, meeting privately with a Western journalist last week, conceded.

He attributed the Pakistani Taliban’s declining fortunes to the Taliban’s bloody attack on a military school in Peshawar last December, in which 145 students were slaughtered.

“They have been defeated militarily,” said Saleem Safi, a prominent journalist and commentator on Geo TV here. “But their ideology has not been defeated. Islamic extremism or militancy can emerge in a changed shape in this region anytime.” — New York Times News Service

Top News Today


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.