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Lal Masjid cordoned off once again after deadlime to vacate expires

Lal Masjid cordoned off once again after deadlime to vacate expires

ISLAMABAD: Lal Masjid has once again been cordoned off by law enforcement Wednesday evening after the deadline given to former cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz, his family and students to vacate the premises expired.

Officials from the capital administration and police told Dawn the mosque was cordoned off because the occupants were given a deadline to vacate the premises by Wednesday.

They said an agreement was reached with Mr Aziz on Sunday under which he would be allotted land for Jamia Hafsa and the mosque would be vacated in return. Whereas the maulana’s nephew, Haroon Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, denied that they had agreed to vacate the mosque.

They said the move was also a part of security arrangements ahead of the visit of the president of Turkey and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s appearance before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which is close to the mosque.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will arrive in Islamabad today for a two-day visit and will stay in the Red Zone.

A police contingent that included personnel from the Counter Terrorism Force, police commandos, riot police and women officials arrived at Lal Masjid before Asr prayers and cordoned off the building.

Move comes after deadline given to cleric to vacate mosque expired and ahead of Turkish president’s visit and PPP chairman’s appearance before NAB

The contingent was deployed around the mosque on Municipal Road, Masjid Road and Shaheed-i-Millat Road, as well as at the weekly market adjacent to the mosque. Entry into the mosque has been restricted, and only area residents are allowed to enter to offer prayers.

The police deployed in the area are asking people to show their CNICs to confirm their addresses, the officials said. People are also being searched if found to be suspicious.

The capital administration has also banned the entry of women and girls in the mosque, they said. Prayers are being offered as usual, but only area residents are allowed to pray there.

The mosque is under the administrative control of the Auqaf department, and only an official from the department can be appointed khateeb or naib khateeb on a regular basis, the officials said.

They explained that the occupants had demanded the position of khateeb but neither Mr Aziz nor his nephew Haroon Abdul Rasheed Ghazi are Auqaf employees.

The house and seminary which they have claimed ownership of are built on government land at the mosque, they added.

The official said another round of negotiations was started with Mr Aziz on Wednesday, and an eight-member committee of Deoband scholars has been involved.

In addition to that committee, a group of traders from G-6 are also assisting the administration in the negotiation, they said. The capital administration, including an assistant commissioner and magistrate, are also negotiating with Mr Aziz. A fourth team, comprising Ulema of the Auqaf department was also holding talks.

The police cordon around Lal Masjid was lifted last Sunday after two weeks, when the administration and Mr Aziz reached an agreement.

Mr Aziz had demanded land for the Jamia Hafsa seminary at locations that were not acceptable to the government, the officials said, as he had demanded land in the sectoral areas. He did not accept the locations offered by the government in exchange, they said.

The officials said his demand for land made on Sunday was conveyed to the government by the administration for approval, but a decision has not been made yet.

When contacted, Mr Aziz’ nephew Mr Rasheed said that a police contingent reached the mosque “out of nowhere and besieged it all of a sudden at Asr”. He claimed residents were stopped from praying inside the mosque.

He said the residents prayed on the road instead, and the prayers were led by someone from among them. Mr Rasheed denied that any agreement was made with the administration to vacate the mosque and denied that any land was demanded for the seminary.

He said it was agreed during the last round of negotiations that Mr Aziz would remain in the mosque and lead prayers. He said they would stay in the house adjacent to the mosque and students would be in the seminary.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2020

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