The Party of Liberation movement says it rejects militancy, yet views the country's army chief as a traitor for waging war against the Taliban.
Banned Islamists fighting twin battle
RAWALPINDI // Among the many Islamist political movements in Pakistan, only one has unequivocally and consistently demonstrated against military operations aimed at crushing the Taliban: Hizb-ut-Tahrir. On May 31 the movement, whose name means "Party of Liberation", organised protests across the country, chanting slogans accusing the Pakistani army of fighting "America's war".
In the northern Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, a garrison town outside the capital, a crowd of 200 of the party's supporters were dispersed by a police baton charge and tear gas. Imran Yousafzai, th Isambard Wilkinson e deputy spokesman of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) in Pakistan, admitted that another Islamist political party, Jamaat-i-Islam, had also staged a protest against the operation in Swat valley. But he said its leadership had "compromised its position" by signing an all-party declaration that supported operations against militants.
Mr Yousafzai said more than 100 HT members were arrested during the protest and remain in jail. The former president, Pervez Musharraf, in 2004 banned the group on the grounds that a former member was alleged to have been involved in a plot on his life. HT claims to be gaining influence in Pakistan despite the ban. "The majority of Pakistanis want a form of religious law, as survey after survey shows - and that is despite the brutal form to which the militants introduced Sharia in Swat," Mr Yousafzai said.
HT's theory on fighting in Swat is that it is merely carrying out "Obama's Af-Pak strategy, to extend the war into Pakistan". "What they want to do is to tie people up in fighting in Pakistan so that they did not attack occupation forces in Afghanistan," he said. The movement was founded in 1952 by a Palestinian sheikh, Taqiuddin Nabahani, an Islamic jurist in Haifa during the British Mandate (1922-1948) who studied at Cairo's Al Azhar University and was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
HT, which claims to have hundreds of thousands of members around the world, has an extensive central Asian network, though its strongest base lies further to the east, in Indonesia. It is working on establishing an Islamic caliphate and claims to have a plan for such a state. Its members take part in demonstrations, hold public meetings and hand out leaflets largely unobstructed. In Aug 2007 tens of thousands of people demonstrated in support of a caliphate in a stadium in Jakarta.
"We have two main aims: firstly, in the long term, to implement a blueprint of an Islamic constitution, which we have made," Mr Yousafzai said. "Secondly, to work in major cities and take people out in the street to force the government to not take part in democracy." He could not deny that the grand scheme was not yet tested by reality, but insisted: "We are serious people. We have worked out all the details."
The group pledges non-violence, but past members have alleged that in some countries, including Pakistan, a key strategy was to foment a military coup. In 2006, the BBC's Panorama television programme aired a speech made in August that year by Ata Abu-Rishta, the global leader of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, when he called for the "destruction" of Hindus living in Kashmir, Russians in Chechnya and Jews in Israel. But after terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 and Britain in 2005, the group issued statements saying the "rules of Islam do not allow the harming of innocent civilians".
In fact, Mr Yousafzai said that although jihad was justified against an occupying force, only an Islamic state's army was permitted to wage holy war. The Pakistani army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kiyani, however, is a "traitor" in Mr Yousafzai's eyes because of the military operations against the Taliban in Swat and elsewhere along the Afghan border. Pakistan became the centre of an unusual scuffle for hearts and minds last month when a former HT member began preaching against militancy. Maajid Nawaz gave speeches to thousands of university students across the country emphasising the need to renounce radicalism.
"We must reclaim Islam," the British citizen of Pakistani descent told 100 students on a campus close to Islamabad last month. "We must reclaim Pakistan." While Pakistan has poured troops and weaponry into its fight against the Taliban and other extremist groups, it has adopted few of the softer measures aimed at dissuading militancy. Mr Yousafzai said he was aware of Mr Nawaz's activities in Pakistan.
"I heard he was once an active member in Pakistan," he said. "I am sad to say that he is now working against Islam." A member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir punched Mr Nawaz in the face after he gave a talk in Lahore. Mr Nawaz receives a salary as director of the Quilliam Foundation, a think tank that challenges extremism and promotes pluralism, and is partly funded by the British government. "He has been hired by the British secret services," Mr Yousafzai said. "He is working to crush Islam."