It has become a near regular occurrence; once or twice a year Maulana Abdul Aziz attempts to deliver sermons or forcefully occupy Lal Masjid, with the authorities managing to remove him shortly after. However, the problem looks to be that these frequent forays have emboldened Aziz, who has now barricaded himself in the mosque once more with a group of female students and has refused to leave until his demands are met. Our law enforcement agencies have laid siege to the mosque and are adamant that they will not give in to demands that are predicated on flouting our laws or constitution.
What the rebellious cleric wants has not changed over the years. Possession of the old children’s library plot nearby, a large piece of land for Jamia Hafsa – alongside Rs 250 million – and being reinstated as the khateeb of Lal Masjid are all impossible to grant for us, and the Maulana probably knows this too. But the demands themselves do not look to be the only motivation behind this incursion – Aziz is clearly looking to test the government and dealing with him swiftly is the only way to establish that the writ of the state is not to be taken lightly.
Our fight against extremism is one where the whole country stands united, and it is not possible to grant Abdul Aziz the space he wants – to teach impressionable minds his ideology and gain control of the religious narrative by becoming the khateeb of Lal Masjid. No rebellious cleric that practically incites his supporters against the state will be allowed to hold the capital hostage to fulfil personal ambitions and accumulate power. This is why it is equally important that the Auqaf Department looks to find a more permanent solution to the Lal Masjid issue. If a senior member of our religious fraternity is sent to the mosque, Abdul Aziz and his allies may find it harder to coerce them into leaving.
Our progress made towards getting Pakistan’s name off the Financial Action Task Force grey list and other steps in rooting out extremism and terrorism must not be allowed to go to waste as a result of one individual’s determination to set himself against the state. This does not only apply to Maulana Abdul Aziz but others as well; if anyone thinks that brazenly looking to take the capital hostage will result in getting what they want, they would be sorely mistaken.
Beyond the ramifications on foreign policy or fighting against extremism, it is important to nip this issue in the bud because of the optics as well. Lal Masjid is in the heart of the capital and the message Aziz’s actions send is not positive. We hope that the government finds a resolution to this issue as soon as possible and sends Abdul Aziz packing once more.