Fears of Islamist infiltration of the Pakistan army’s ranks have been heightened after it was revealed yesterday that a senior officer is being held on suspicions of links with a banned extremist group.
Brigadier Ali Khan, a senior officer at the army’s general headquarters, was detained on 5 May and is being interrogated by military intelligence for suspected links to Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT), an extremist outfit that has been attempting for the past 15 years to infiltrate the army’s ranks to effect a military coup that would precipitate the establishment of a nuclear-armed caliphate.
“We follow a zero per cent tolerance for any breach of discipline or indulgence of any illegal activity,” said Major General Athar Abbas, the military’s chief spokesman.
The arrest comes just weeks after a sophisticated and brazen militant attack on a naval base in Karachi, widely suspected to have been helped from the inside.
Brigadier Khan’s family professes his innocence and has dismissed the allegations as “total rubbish”. Three generations of his family have served in the army. His father was a non-commissioned officer, while his son and son-in-law are both serving officers.
Banned in 2004, HT has a very small presence in Pakistan and has not been responsible for violence. But it has tried to use the aftermath of the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden to seize on the discontent and incite officers to revolt. “It is a slap in the respected officers’ faces that on 2 May, American helicopters intruded in the dark of night and barged into a house like thieves,” an HT pamphlet says, according to a Wall Street Journal report. “It could not have been possible without the acquiescence of your high officials.”
Maajid Nawaz, a former HT member who has renounced extremism and serves as director of the counter-extremist Quilliam Foundation, said: “This problem has been exported to Pakistan from Britain.” Mr Nawaz was involved in an abortive plot to recruit Pakistani cadets visiting Sandhurst. Two recruits were reportedly arrested in 2003.
“When I arrived in Pakistan in 1999, their [HT’s] target was the English-speaking classes and the military,” Mr Nawaz added. HT attempts to infiltrate the Pakistan army through two approaches. “The first is to explore family connections,” said Mr Nawaz. “The second is to recruit them when they make foreign trips.”