The News International in its editorial discussed the situation. It seems astonishing that a politician, who holds a position of considerable responsibility as a former prime minister and the chairperson of the PML-Q, should conduct a meeting with a man accused of a litany of heinous crimes and discuss his possible release. Yet this is precisely what the recent meeting between former Lal Masjid head Maulana Abdul Aziz and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was all about. Shujaat has stated, with some apparent measure of pride, that he hopes the freedom of Maulana Abdul Aziz, who was arrested after he attempted to flee Lal Masjid last summer clad in a burqa, can be secured.
It appears that Shujaat, and other party members who have endorsed his plan, have no realization of how dangerous their game is or what consequences it could have. The meeting between the two men also gives rise to suspicions also voiced in the past -- of links between the Chaudhrys of the PML-Q and orthodox religious elements who have played a part in fuelling the climate of terror within which we live. A finger towards such links has most recently been pointed by the PPP, and by its late leader Benazir Bhutto, who made public her own apprehensions regarding this nexus following the October 2007 suicide attack on her rally in Karachi.
But the issue goes beyond this matter. Any release of Maulana Abdul Aziz, a man who played a key role in unleashing the havoc Lal Masjid's extremist forces inflicted on Islamabad last year, will send out a distinct message to other militant outfits. It will tell them that leaders are willing to make compromises, even with those accused of murder, kidnapping and the exploitation of children; that such persons can escape the reach of law and that their desperate acts are supported by those in key positions of influence. Such a signal can, of course, have only a negative impact on the sensitive situation now prevailing in Swat and in other places. Also, surely even Shujaat must realize that freeing Maulana Abdul Aziz would risk a return to Islamabad of the kind of madness witnessed earlier, during which frenzied, baton-wielding disciples of Lal Masjid clerics laid siege to a library in order to capture the government land it stood on and took women, including some Chinese nationals, hostage. If Abdul Aziz now walks out of prison, the suggestion surely is that such acts do not deserve penalty and may, therefore, be repeated by others who choose to follow a similar course of action.
Pakistan today faces a terrible terrorist scourge. The very nature of life, even in large cities, has altered within years because of this menace. What all politicians representing mainstream parties need to realize is that they must stand united to root out this threat. Any sign of weakness -- whether it comes on the basis of belief or a hope of gathering popular support -- will be taken advantage of by extremists. What is most urgently needed then is a willingness to stand firm against these persons, to do all that is possible to prevent them from endangering lives and safety and to ensure they are exposed before the public as men who misuse religion to serve their own purposes. There can be little doubt, after the scenes of mayhem and violence witnessed in Islamabad just months ago, that Maulana Abdul Aziz ranks among these men. He must then be prevented from resuming his role as the head of a force of zealots, and all those politicians attempting to secure his freedom before a court of law can deliver a verdict on his guilt or innocence must be firmly dissuaded from doing so, for the sake of future peace, stability and public safety.