ISLAMABAD — Pakistan on Tuesday announced the arrest of an army brigadier accused of having contacts with a banned international Muslim political group campaigning for an Islamic state ruled by sharia law.
The information was released seven weeks after US Navy SEALs found and killed Osama bin Laden in the military town of Abbottabad, reviving disturbing questions about ignorance or complicity within Pakistan's powerful military.
Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said the officer had been arrested after he was "found in contact with Hizb ut-Tahrir", a pan-Islamic group banned by Pakistan but on the fringes of extremist activities in the country.
"The investigation is on and we follow a zero tolerance policy of any such activity within the army," Abbas told AFP.
Abbas refused to release other details, saying that doing so could jeopardise the investigation to establish "all the facts" but vowed that the military would take "strict disciplinary action" in keeping with its laws.
Security officials named the officer as Brigadier Ali Khan, who worked for two years at the army's headquarters in Rawalpindi before his arrest last month.
"Let the investigation get completed, then of course he'll be charged. We take very strict notice of these activities," said Abbas.
A BBC Urdu-language report quoted a relative of Khan as saying that he did not return from work on the evening of May 6.
Since bin Laden was killed, Pakistan has been under increasing pressure from the United States to crack down on militant sanctuaries in its northwestern border areas with Afghanistan and cut all ties with extreme Islamist networks.
Relations between Pakistan and the United States have nosedived to their lowest point. The army was humiliated by the perceived violation of sovereignty and the discovery that the world's most-wanted man had been living under their noses.
Western officials have long accused Pakistan's military and its feared Inter-Services Intelligence agency of maintaining links to blacklisted Islamist militant groups to offset the power of arch-rival India.
Pakistan has denied those links and points out it has been fighting for years against homegrown Taliban, losing thousands of soldiers, and has arrested senior Al-Qaeda suspects since joining the US-led "war on terror" in late 2001.
Diplomats suggest there is increasing awareness within parts of the military that relations to extremist groups can be a strategic liability, given years of suicide attacks and bombings targeting the military at home.
But Hizb ut-Tahrir is on the margins of banned networks that are most active in Pakistan and has a presence in some other countries in the Middle East. It has been blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the United States.
According to its website, it is a political party whose objective is to resume the Islamic way of life by establishing an Islamic state that executes the systems of Islam and carries its call to the world.
Although the group does not outwardly advocate violence, it has been accused of links to violent extremist groups.
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