On Friday, the Islamabad Capital Territory’s administration locked down an area around the notorious Lal Masjid to prevent its head priest, Maulana Abdul Aziz, from conducting a mammoth rally on the furor over blasphemy kicked up by the Islamabad High Court.
An Islamabad city official told the media: “Permission could not be granted to hold a conference at Lal Masjid because Maulana Abdul Aziz is a ‘proscribed person’ and the mosque is government property—only the government has the right to decide what activities are held there.” He obviously had no clue about the power Aziz wields vis-à-vis a government singularly unable to take action against this “proscribed” (sic!) person.
In 2007, then-president Gen. Pervez Musharraf took on Aziz because he was hiding a group of terrorists from China’s Xinjiang province—on whose behest he reportedly took vigilante action against a Chinese massage parlor in Islamabad. Musharraf fell from power the following year and now faces a trial for treason. Al Zarrar, the commando unit he used against the mosque, was massacred by an Al Qaeda suicide-bomber in retaliation. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan was also founded that same year to tackle the state of Pakistan. Since Musharraf’s action, the people of Islamabad have been seen siding with the Lal Masjid and its powerful priest, backed by Pakistan’s judiciary. Despite his firebrand rhetoric, he appears immune to any prosecution: patriotic Pakistan was even unable to do anything after he said Pakistani soldiers who died fighting terrorism couldn’t be called martyrs.
Similarly, in 2010, the Lal Masjid got revenge against ex-ISI officer Khalid Khawaja after Maulana Aziz found that Khawaja had tricked him into wearing a burqa in an attempt to escape Musharraf’s siege of the mosque. During one of his routine trips to Pakistan’s tribal areas, the Taliban captured Khwaja in South Waziristan and then-TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud ritually shot him to death.
Maulana Aziz is hardly a “proscribed person.” He has been, and continues to be, among the most powerful men in the capital of Pakistan.