Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Who is Malik Riaz Hussain?

After seven years of brutal struggle the Red Mosque is resurgent again and General Musharraf, the man who had been instrumental in its (temporary) destruction is in a soft prison.

The New York Times looks into the background of a tycoon by the name of Malik Riaz Hussain who has donated millions to bring back the red mosque to its original glory. When the question was raised about his motivations, he had this to say:"I have huge interests in Islamabad and Rawalpindi," the businessman, who has close ties to the military, told The New York Times in a 2010 interview. "Bad law and order is bad for my business."

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"If Pakistan truly has freedom of expression, then we should be able to express our love for our heroes," said Mr. Aziz, a willowy, bespectacled man with a wiry gray beard, in a room with the sign "Martyr Osama bin Laden Library" on the door. "And we love Osama bin Laden."

But the Red Mosque's resurgence is about more than publicity stunts. As a jihadi brand, it has burnished its credentials as a citadel of Islamist revolt. And, just as they did seven years ago, the mosque's clerics are exploiting the government's failure to offer an alternative vision of Pakistan's future.


Today, Mr. Aziz delivers thunderous Friday sermons from the lavishly refurbished Red Mosque, a stone's throw from the Parliament building. And he oversees a network of madrasas that teach 5,000 students.

Only seven years ago, the mosque was in the throes of a pitched battle against the authorities. Mr. Aziz tried to escape the siege under the cover of a burqa, a purse clutched in his gloved hands, but was captured and paraded by the intelligence services on national television, still wearing the black cloak.

The cleric's brother, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, and his elderly mother died in the firefight. After the siege was over, Mr. Aziz was charged with murder, abduction, arson and terrorism. Yet within a couple of years, the mosque and Mr. Aziz were back in business.

Malik Riaz Hussain, a sympathetic property tycoon, provided a temporary home for hundreds of madrasa students and spent at least $150,000 on refurbishing the bullet-pocked mosque. He attributed his generosity to pragmatism rather than to religious conviction.

"I have huge interests in Islamabad and Rawalpindi," the businessman, who has close ties to the military, told The New York Times in a 2010 interview. "Bad law and order is bad for my business."

The city provided land worth millions of dollars in central Islamabad for the rebuilding of Jamia Hafsa, a women's madrasa that was bulldozed after the 2007 siege. The madrasa, whose construction is not complete, is home to the Osama bin Laden library.

But it is the courts that have been most indulgent toward Mr. Aziz and his followers. Over the past year, judges have dismissed all of the 27 criminal charges against Mr. Aziz, who at times has used the courtroom as a pulpit to call for the imposition of Shariah law.

Instead, the court's attention has mostly focused on Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's former military ruler. A judicial inquest determined that General Musharraf, not Mr. Aziz, was responsible for the deaths during the siege of the Red Mosque, even though armed jihadis from banned militant groups had joined the students inside.

In October, a senior judge, prompted by Mr. Aziz's lawyers, charged General Musharraf for his role in the siege and placed him under house arrest. In recent weeks the Martyrs Foundation, a group that represents the families of students who died in the siege, petitioned the Supreme Court to prevent General Musharraf from leaving Pakistan until the completion of his treason trial, underway now.

The police, however, are more skeptical of Mr. Aziz. In a recent court hearing, the Islamabad police chief argued that the cleric's name should remain on an official schedule of suspected terrorists for his longstanding links to Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a sectarian militant group known for violence against Shiite Muslims.

At the Bin Laden library, Mr. Aziz offered a qualified denunciation of violence — it was justified only in self-defense, he said — and denied accusations that his reverential gesture toward the onetime enemy of America was a publicity stunt.

"A majority of Pakistani people love Osama bin Laden," he said.


Opinion polls do not support that assertion, but it is true that many Pakistanis — torn among Taliban violence, anger toward America and continued uncertainty about the place of Islam — harbor ambiguous feelings toward Bin Laden.

At Jamia Hafsa, Mr. Aziz has named a dispensary after Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who is serving an 86-year prison term in the United States on charges of attempting to kill an American soldier and an F.B.I. official in Afghanistan.

Whatever its direct ties to militancy, the Red Mosque remains a powerful battle cry for extremists. The nominal leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, has issued statements in support of the Red Mosque, while former students have carried out bomb attacks on Westerners and Pakistanis.

The Red Mosque has also staged a comeback on the Internet: Its Facebook page is named after the 313 Brigade, a fearsome band of armed female students that conducted raids on suspected brothels and video stores in Islamabad in 2007, in the months before the siege.


Early this year, the government inducted Mr. Aziz into the talks with the Taliban, hoping to use him as a militant interlocutor. But in February the cleric abandoned the process. No talks are possible, he said at a news conference, before Shariah law replaces Pakistan's Constitution.

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Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/07/world/asia/paying-homage-to-bin-laden-mosque-re-emerges-as-bastion-of-militancy.html
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