Pakistan’s Peshawar High Court has ordered the release of a radical anti-US cleric and the father-in-law of Pakistani Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah who went to Afghanistan with thousands of volunteers to help the Taliban fight against Americans after the 2001 US-led invasion, a defense lawyer said Tuesday. He was released after eight years follwing his arrest on charges of sedition and terrorism. The development comes amid rising US-Pakistani tensions following President Donald Trump’s accusations that Pakistan was harboring militants and the withholding of American aid to Islamabad. The court granted bail to 84-year-old Maulana Sufi Muhammad, the chief of banned militant outfit Tehreek-e-Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), due to his old age and poor health.
The court granted him bail less than a week after the Trump administration suspended about USD 2 billion in security aid to Pakistan for failing to clamp down on the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network terror groups and dismantle their safe havens. Vying for implementation of Sharia in Pakistan, TNSM was declared a terrorist outfit and banned in 2002. It operates mainly in the Dir region, Swat and Malakand districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Muhammad was arrested in 2009 by Pakistan army during military operation “Operation Black Thunderstorm” in Swat against the Taliban. He was arrested along with his two aides for inciting violence and committing terrorism. He was charged with sedition, aiding terrorism and conspiracy. He was accused of sending thousands of volunteers to Afghanistan to fight against the US-led international forces seeking to topple the Taliban regime.
The court ordered release of Muhammad, who is currently hospitalised, against two surety bonds of Rs 700,000 each. His arrest came following a peace deal between the then PPP government and TNSM. Under the deal, the then President Asif Ali Zardari had signed the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation law for Swat, paving way for the implementation of Sharia law in the Malakand region on April 19, 2009. In January 2011, Muhammad denied to an anti-terrorism court that he had any links to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and that he only sought enforcement of sharia in Malakand.
Washington accuses Pakistan of turning a blind eye to militants. Pakistan denies the charge. Last week, Trump said that the United States had “foolishly” given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid in the last 15 years and had gotten nothing in return but “lies & deceit.”
Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, accused the Trump administration of ignoring the sacrifices made by Pakistan in the war on terror. The claim is unfair, Chaudhry told The Associated Press over the weekend, before heading back to Washington.
“We have been the victim of terrorist attacks and how can we tolerate the presence of militants on our soil,” he said.
Ties between Islamabad and Washington could be further strained by the release of Mohammad, who back in 2001 issued an edict, or fatwa, for holy war against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has banned the Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammed, or TNSM, pro-Taliban group.