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December 24, 2014

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader Malik Ishaq set to be freed

 
December 24, 2014

ISLAMABAD: The imminent release of the moving spirit behind the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Malik Mohammad Ishaq, within the next 24 hours, has already set alarm bells ringing for the Pakistani security agencies which have yet to recover from the aftershocks of the Peshawar school massacre.
Malik Ishaq will once again be a free man from Christmas Day (December 25) as the provincial review board, comprising three judges of the Lahore High Court, rejected on December 22 the Punjab government’s plea to extend his detention for three months in the wake of the Peshawar school carnage by the TTP, many of whose commanders had been affiliated with the LeJ in the past due to their common anti-State, anti-US and anti-Shia agenda.
In fact, most of the major terrorist attacks suffered by Pakistan since 9/11 have a common grandmother — the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi or the Army of Jhangvi — which is one of the most popular groups of choice for hardcore militants who are adamant to pursue their ambitious Jihadi agenda. Launched in 1996 as a Sunni sectarian group, the Lashkar today has deep links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban and is considered to be the most violent terrorist organisation which operates in Pakistan with the help of its lethal suicide squads.
As with most sectarian and militant groups, almost the entire LeJ leadership is made up of people who have fought in Afghanistan and trained by the Taliban-linked al-Qaeda elements. Therefore, Malik Ishaq’s release order, despite the fact that he had been charged in 100-plus cases of sectarian murders, has come as a rude shock to the security agencies. The Punjab special secretary home had produced Malik Ishaq before the provincial board amid strict security on December 22. The board, comprising Justice Manzoor Ahmad Malik, Justice Farrukh Irfan Khan and Justice Abdul Sami Khan, held in-camera proceedings. The Punjab government’s counsel requested to extend Ishaq’s detention for further three months in the wake of

the Peshawar school massacre, adding that his freedom would be a risk to law and order as he was known for delivering hate speeches at religious gatherings.
After arguments and counter arguments from both the sides, the provincial review board of the LHC observed that the Punjab government had failed to produce convincing evidence to keep Malik Ishaq under detention. The government side, while anticipating an adverse decision by the review board, subsequently opted to withdraw the appeal which was dismissed as withdrawn, thus ending the detention of Ishaq who will be a free man on December 25 when his detention under maintenance of public order will come to an end. The board had extended his detention for three months on September 25, 2014 as Ishaq was actually detained on July 25, 2014 under the MPO, declaring him a risk to law and order.
But the high-ups of the law enforcement agencies have advised the Punjab government to challenge the orders of the review board on Ishaq’s release in the superior courts on the basis of the confessions made by some recently arrested high profile target killers of LeJ. According to them, in a major breakthrough in solving some high-profile murder cases of religious figures and professionals, the Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) Punjab had busted in April, 2014 a gang of killers which was working under Ishaq’s command and involved in target killings. The gang members have already confessed to their involvement in the murders of advocates Shakir Ali Rizvi and Arshad Ali Shah, Dr Syed Ali Haider and his son Syed Murtaza Ali Haider, Khurram Raza Qadri of the Sunni Tehrik, and three Shia leaders — Allama Nasir Abbas, Syed Ali Hussain Qazilbash and Syed Mubashir Hussain Naqvi.
In their confessional statements, the gang members claimed that all these people were killed on the instigation and instructions of Malik Ishaq. But Ishaq had strongly refuted his involvement in any of these killings when he was subsequently interrogated by the police. Addressing a press conference at the Qila Gujjar Singh Police Lines in Lahore on April 20, 2014, Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Chaudhry Shafiq Ahmed said that the suspects identified as Abdul Rauf Gujjar of Badami Bagh, Mohammad Sabir alias Ikram Khan of Badami Bagh, Sheikh Farhan Rafique of Rehmanpura, Shafaqat Farooqi of Shahdara, Mohammad Hashim of Badami Bagh and Suleman Pathan of Bund Road, had admitted to their involvement in at least 18 murders and murder attempts on high-profile personalities, including writer Asghar Nadeem Syed and journalist Raza Rumi. The CCPO said that the gang was linked to Malik Mohammad Ishaq and was working under his command.
According to the CCPO, the gang leader, Abdul Rauf Gujjar, had launched his group with the approval of Malik Ishaq after holding several meetings with him at Madrassah Farooq Azam in Shahdara, Lahore, and was being instructed by Ishaq to target famous Shias. But Malik Ishaq has already refuted these allegations as a pack of lies by pointing out that despite keeping him behind bars for more than 12 years on terrorism charges, the police had failed to prove these allegations which were eventually dropped in 2011 when the court had ordered his release. But the police circles insist that the court had to release him due to witness intimidation. Among those who faced intimidation is Fida Hussain Ghalvi, a key witness in a murder case in which Ishaq was accused of killing 12 members of a family during a Majlis in 1997. When Ghalvi and three other men had identified Ishaq, he reportedly told them in front of a judge that “dead men can’t talk”. Subsequently, five witnesses and three of their relatives were killed during the trial. And Ishaq was acquitted because of “lack of evidence”.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg. A more remarkable case was the bombing of an Iranian culture centre in Multan, in 1997. Eight people were killed. When investigating officer, Ejaz Shafi, persuaded two witnesses to appear in court, his car was sprayed with bullets. Anti-Terrorism Court judge Bashir Ahmed Bhatti convicted Malik Ishaq but the Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 2006 because of lack of evidence. In March 2007, the same judge, scheduled to hear another case against Malik Ishaq, was on his way to the court when a remote-controlled bicycle bomb exploded near his car, killing his driver and two policemen. Malik Ishaq was charged with planning the bombing. Two years later, the prosecution’s witnesses suddenly turned hostile. Malik Ishaq was acquitted in April 2009, because of “lack of evidence”.
Whatever the reason is, the fact remains that Ishaq is acquitted every time by the court. Ishaq first gained notoriety in 1997, when he was picked up on charges of murder and making death threats. In an interview with an Urdu publication in October 1997, Ishaq admitted his involvement in the killing of over 100 Shias. Over the next 14 years, he was lodged in several prisons across Punjab, from where he allegedly oversaw a relentless campaign of deadly attacks against the Shias. After his release on bail in 2011, though he has been put behind bars, released and then and re-arrested frequently, he seems to be pursuing his militant agenda without any check.
According to Abdul Khaliq Hazara, Chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), Ishaq’s detention hardly puts him out of business. Talking to this correspondent from Quetta, Khaliq said that the law agencies have credible evidence to prove that the leadership of the Quetta chapter of LeJ, especially Usman Saifullah Kurd and Shafiqur Rehman Kurd, is string-pulled by Malik Ishaq. He said the agencies have already concluded that the explosive-laden water tanker which was used in the February 16, 2013 Quetta blast [that killed 111 Shia Hazaras] was assembled by the LeJ people in the Akbari Mandi area of Lahore. He said two of the four LeJ men who had been involved in the gory incident and killed in a shootout by the security forces a day after the Quetta carnage, belonged to Rahim Yar Khan — the native district of Malik Ishaq and Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, the president of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. However, Ishaq’s close aides insist that the police have failed to substantiate any of these allegations.
But Malik Ishaq’s walk to freedom is not at all surprising keeping in view the clout he enjoys and which can be gauged from the fact that he was flown from a Lahore jail to Rawalpindi through a special plane to hold talks with ten TTP fidayeen attackers [led by Aqeel alias Dr Usman] who had stormed the GHQ building on October 10, 2009. Aqeel was hanged last week for masterminding the GHQ attack.

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