Tashfeen Malik, the female shooter in the San Bernardino attack that killed 14 last week, is believed to have links with Abdul Aziz’s Lal Masjid. Or at least that’s what US officials are being reported to have conveyed to the Pakistani government representatives in a recent meeting in London. Insiders confirm that evidence was provided to the Pakistani contingent showcasing Tashfeen’s affiliation with Lal Masjid, coupled with the unsaid, and yet deafening, call to ‘do more’.

Believing that Tashfeen Malik was sent by Lal Masjid cleric Abdul Aziz on a terror mission to California would be generous overestimation of the madrassa’s reach, if not aspirations. More crucially though, buying the interior ministry’s off the record claims that Aziz is ‘no longer a threat’ domestically, is underestimation of the same.

Granted, the man who notoriously refused to condemn the APS attack last year is now seen condemning Paris attacks, and even the San Bernardino shooting. Granted also, that he might no longer have as strong a network in place to target heads of the Pakistani state through suicide bombers, or unleash them throughout Punjab. Even so, this is the same man who only four weeks ago launched a “movement to enforce Shariah” in Islamabad, reminiscent of circa 2007, in blatant defiance of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997. When informed through an official letter about his ATA breach, Aziz said in a social media message: “But for the regard of decency, I would have torn to pieces the deputy commissioner’s note.”

Such audacity to flout at the government, the military and law enforcement agencies, while sitting smack in the middle of the state capital, is only possible if it’s bulwarked by the assurance that no one is going to touch him. Whether that assurance comes from Aziz’s friends – and apprentices – in the government and establishment, or from his personal reading of the security situation, only he would know best.

Many believe that the government and establishment’s ‘reluctant’ symbiosis with Aziz, all the while the National Action Plan (NAP) was being trumpeted, stems from wariness vis-à-vis potential violent blowback on the streets. It is argued that the reason why Lal Masjid was given a pass, while hate speech and extremism in mosques and madrassas were being targeted elsewhere, was to ensure that jihadists don’t unite under the Lal Masjid umbrella, before the groundwork is laid to take Abdul Aziz down from his pulpit. Last month’s insolent “movement to enforce Shariah”, in utter defiance of everything that the government has fed us in the name of the NAP for the past 11 months, bursts this otherwise substantial counterargument.

Are we to believe that the same security machinery that ground Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – Pakistan’s biggest existential threat over the past decade – into centrifugal fragments rummaging around for a binder, and transformed Karachi’s ‘unconquerable’ volatility into palpable stability in a matter of months, doesn’t quite have the foundation in place to take on Abdul Aziz? If such is indeed the case, maybe the idea that he can orchestrate a shooting in California might not be that outrageous after all.

Tashfeen Malik’s posthumous entry into this non-starting showdown between the state and Aziz is completely superfluous as far as the state taking any action is concerned. If Aziz is a ‘strategic asset’ worthier than the TTP, or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Islamabad is perfectly capable of consuming eons of ‘do more’ calls without any eyelids being batted, or damns being given, in the Parliament or GHQ.

While Abdul Aziz has distanced himself and Lal Masjid from the San Bernardino shooter, facts pertaining to Tashfeen’s links with the mosque, or Pakistan in general, just like the magnitude of Abdul Aziz’s current wherewithal, are irrelevant to the bigger picture anyway. The picture that paints Tashfeen as a success story for Lal Masjid’s jihadlings.

Tashfeen might never have set foot in Lal Masjid, nor had any connections with Abdul Aziz, but rest assured that is not what is being taught in the ‘Sleepy Hollow’ of the mosque and Jamia Hafsa; the hidden chambers where the fatwa against the Pakistan Army was deliberated over in 2003, suicide bombers were trained to kill Pervez Musharraf and guidelines were issued for the 2005 London bombings. In those chambers, which were famously unscrewed and laid bare in 2007, Tashfeen is peddled as a hero who ‘embraced martyrdom for Allah’ fighting the ‘infidels’ in America – the emblem of Satan. That the ISIS-supporting Tashfeen is believed to be a Lal Masjid product will only fuel the ambitions of the Jamia Hafsa students that pledged allegiance to ISIS in a social media video last year.

Tashfeen might never have been Abdul Aziz’s jihadling, but for those that are, she is now the face of global jihad, whose war cry was reiterated by Aziz and his wife Umme Hassan, when they marched from Lal Masjid in Islamabad’s G-6 sector, to Jamia Hafsa in G-7, rallying for Sharia law. 

Whether it’s Beijing’s disinterest – which would be ironic considering that it was the abduction of the seven Chinese workers that forced Musharraf’s hand in 2007 – or fan clubs in the Parliament or GHQ, the pretext behind Aziz’s impunity from law and the NAP needs to be addressed with alarming urgency.

That Aziz and his jihadlings haven’t orchestrated violence in the recent past, doesn’t mean that they don’t intend to do so. Abdul Aziz might not have the same ominous resources, but in Tashfeen he has chanced upon a world-renowned apprentice, whose story might help Lal Masjid's jihadlings graduate to full-blown jihadists. And so, the next time a vociferous rally is allowed to come out of Lal Masjid, it would be surprising if it settles for sloganeering and journey's end at Jamia Hafsa.