ISLAMABAD - Despite the barrage of trenchant criticism from opposition political parties and civil society activists, authorities here feel compelled to treat the head cleric of Lal Masjid with soft hands as they fear any action against him can lead to a spiral of violence and law and order situation in the capital. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has recently come under criticism for not arresting Maulana Abdul Aziz, the Lal Masjid head cleric, despite the fact that he is wanted in two cases registered at police station Aabpara in the capital.

According to a report submitted by the SHO Aabpara police station in a local court on the occasion of Maulana’s appearance in connection with the cases last week, the police did not touch the cleric fearing a backlash from his supporters. The police officer told the court in a confidential document that the supporters of the cleric might have resorted to violence in case the police decided to nab him.

Official sources in the interior ministry say that some officers of the capital administration and the police had been negotiating with Maulana Abdul Aziz on behalf of interior minister, persuading him to get his bail from a court of law. The move was intended to give a face saving to both the government and the cleric but the latter declined to acquiesce. "It was the Rangers' deployment at his residence a week before that compelled him to appear in the court," a senior officer in the ICT administration said.

On the other hand, Mufti Tehseen Ullah, the spokesman for the Lal Masjid, also confirmed the pressure from the Rangers and police forced Aziz to appear in court recently. He got a pre-arrest bail from a local court in two cases registered against him on charges of misuse of load speaker and hurling threats on civil society. Earlier, Maulana had announced not to approach court for bail in the criminal cases. In another development, the Lal Masjid administration yesterday also issued a statement, saying that a video released in 2014 featuring some unknown women and allegedly of former students of Lal Masjid showing allegiance to self styled militant organization Daesh had nothing to do with Moulana Abdul Aziz or Ummah-e-Hassan, wife of Maulana and head of Jamia Hafsa, a girls seminary. 

"Neither this video was released in consultations with Maulana nor Umme-e-Hassan nor this was done under their supervision. Some elements wanted to get their nefarious designs fulfilled and spread sectarianism on the basis of this video," the spokesman to the Lal Masjid said. The clarification about the video,  two years after its release, and Maulana Abdul Aziz's decision to get bail are reflective of the fact that the administration's pressure worked, claimed a senior officer at the interior ministry.

On the other hand, it also spurred wide spread speculation that perhaps Maulana has entered into an underhand deal with the government, an impression that was dispelled by the spokesman. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan came under fire in the last session of the parliament when the opposition lawmakers claimed that he gave a wrong statement in the house that Lal Mosque cleric could not be arrested because there was no criminal case or evidence against him. Mufti Tehseen Ullah said that Maulana Abdul Aziz got pre-arrest bail from the court after people were taking impression that perhaps an operation against the Lal Masjid was being started. "Talks about an operation were around the city after the deployment of Rangers, and Maulana thought he should not be a reason for any kind of law and order in the capital,” he said.

Replying a question about the clarification issued about video regarding Daesh, he said it was proper time to give a message to the authorities that Lal Masjid had no connection with ISIS. "We got the impression that the video might be used against Maulana Aziz which made us issue the clarification", he added. However, he did not elaborate or clarify as to who were the individuals who had appeared in the video and whether they were students of the Jamia Hafsa or not.