Controversial and radical cleric Abdul Aziz of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid has resurged with calls for imposition of Sharia in Pakistan, as he led the Friday prayers at Lal Masjid —after almost a year– and announced to reinitiate his campaign to enforce a system based on the Holy Quran and Sunnah. The Capital Territory had to resort to beefed up security around the mosque and threats of arrests to have him call of his planned rally, but he still gave a Friday sermon, and the subject was the same; forceful imposition of Shariah.

First let us be clear about one thing, Maulana Abdul Aziz is the embodiment of class that was to be targeted under the National Action Plan (NAP). His teachings are radical and intolerant, he is not above using religion to indoctrinate, and has used and threatens to use force. Had he been the cleric of a smaller mosque in a less high profile district, he would already be behind bars based on his recent antics. Unfortunately he is the cleric of the Lal Masjid and the attached seminary, Jammia Hafsa, and as such requires greater finesse.

This narrative from the state has been repeated time and again, and every time it fails to provide results. The Lal Masijd continues to challenge and provoke the government, banking on the government’s preference for peace to avoid confrontation. Each time the government looks for a negotiated way out, Maulana Abdul Aziz emerges a little bit stronger and the government weaker. The message is clear; any cleric can defy the state if he can gather around him enough followers so that he can promise retribution. The fact that the mosque is in central Islamabad – few kilometers away from the seat of government and the GHQ of the armed forces only adds to his mystique. His every defiance undercuts the narrative on the war on terrorism. The Chief of Army Staff and the Prime Minister’s fierce words mean nothing if they cannot implement the NAP in their own territory.

Maulana Abdul Aziz has become a great thorn in the side of the Pakistani society that needs to be removed. He is much more than the sum of his individual crimes – which in themselves merit the sternest of actions – he has become a symbol of the army and the state’s failure, a figurehead for scattered militants and an inspiration to those who still wish to impose religious doctrine on people. Abdul Aziz is the litmus test for NAP – and more importantly – the establishment.