Islamabad, Feb 21 (IANS) An effort made by the Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) to end the standoff at Islamabad’s famous Red Mosque has remained fruitless as cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz refused to accept the legal points forwarded by the government related to his demands.
After meeting Interior Minister Ijaz Ahmad Shah on Wednesday, PUC Chairman Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi proceeded to Lal Masjid on Thursday morning and discussed the issue with Aziz, the deposed prayer leader of the mosque, Dawn news reported on Friday.
Speaking to Dawn news, Ashrafi said the message and concerns of the government had been conveyed to Aziz.
He also forwarded a report to the Interior Ministry on Thursday stating that there were only four armed men inside the mosque who were the bodyguards of Maulana Aziz and possessed legally obtained weapons.
But speaking on behalf of Aziz, the cleric’s nephew and son-in-law Haroon Rasheed denied that any deal or settlement had been made, adding that the standoff continued with the area cordoned by police.
Aziz, who heads eight seminaries with some 5,000 students, started the protest because the government had refused to give him land on the outskirts of the city for the construction of an Islamic school, or madrassa, while also asking him to hand over another centre of Islamic studies and to leave the Red Mosque, Efe news reported.
The cleric occupied the mosque last month and on February 5, security forces surrounded the building but failed to prevent some 250 students from joining the cleric inside the next day.
In 2007, Aziz launched a violent campaign to impose Sharia Islamic religious law in the country and made threats of suicide attacks if his demands were not met.
That campaign prompted the security forces to storm his headquarters at the mosque after receiving reports of armed militants being present inside – an operation in which around 100 people were killed – after a week of unsuccessful negotiation attempts by the government.
Aziz had been captured trying to escape – disguised as a women in a burqa – after which his followers, most of them students of the madrasa, surrendered to the authorities.
The cleric was released on bail in 2009 after being arrested on multiple charges of inciting hatred, murder and kidnapping.