Pakistan army officer held for 'links with extremists'

Brig Ali Khan Brig Khan has a long and distinguished record

A senior officer serving in Pakistan's army has been detained for alleged contacts with banned extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Brig Ali Khan is being interrogated by military intelligence, the army says.

"We follow a zero tolerance policy of any such activity within the army," a military spokesman said.

Brig Khan, serving at Pakistan's military headquarters in Rawalpindi, was detained last month. His family say he is innocent.

The brigadier is one of the most senior serving officers accused of links with extremists in Pakistan in recent years.

"He is under detention and an investigation is in progress for his contacts with a proscribed militant organisation," military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas told BBC Urdu's Asif Farooqi.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is a global Islamist group that wants to revive the Islamic caliphate and unify Muslim countries under Islamic laws. It describes itself as a peaceful political organisation - but its critics say it incites hatred and violence.

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It's a fashion here that whosoever offers prayers and practises religion is dubbed as Taliban and militant”

End Quote Anjum Khan Brigadier's wife

The group is active in Western countries, but the Pakistan chapter of the organisation is not particularly prominent, correspondents say.

Pakistan's army has long faced accusations that it harbours extremist sympathisers within its ranks, and some analysts say the detention could be an attempt to persuade critics that these concerns are being acted on.

The brigadier's lawyer told the BBC his client was being victimised for criticising army top brass after US troops killed Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani soil.

'Brilliant' record

A senior military officer, who wished to remain unnamed, told our correspondent that senior officers were both surprised and "disturbed" when a secret report was presented to them about the "inappropriate" activities of the brigadier.

Analysis

Brigadier Ali Khan is not thought to have been directly involved in planning army operations, but he was said to be an influential officer, and one who had a very good service record.

It is unclear if his detention is part of a larger push. But the Pakistani army has come under tremendous outside pressure since Osama Bin Laden was found and killed, with many asking questions about its links to militant groups.

There are suggestions of other similar arrests that we have not been told of in the past. The finding of radical elements within its ranks is something the army is thought to have gone to considerable lengths to keep quiet.

The army here is reflective of the wider society it serves, and just as there are some across Pakistan who sympathise with radicals, so that is likely to be the case with the army. All the more so because for many years, it was an organisation that was openly orientated towards supporting jihadi groups, something it now insists has changed.

The officer comes from a family with three generations of military service.

Brig Ali's father was a junior commissioned officer, and his younger brother is a colonel serving in the intelligence service. His son and son-in-law are both army captains.

A military source told our correspondent that Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan's army chief, had asked for a briefing about the brigadier, and after being satisfied about the weight of the "evidence", ordered the arrest himself.

Brig Khan's wife, Anjum, called the allegations against him "rubbish".

"Every general knows Brig Ali Khan. Even Gen Kayani knows him," she told Reuters. "We can never think of betraying the army or our country.

'Victimisation'

The brigadier's family say he disappeared on 6 May.

A day earlier he had openly criticised military chiefs at an internal meeting following the US raid that killed Bin Laden, his lawyer told BBC Urdu.

Pakistani army troops on parade in Islamabad (file photo 2005) Pakistan's army has been accused of harbouring extremists for years

"These are baseless allegations and a case of victimisation," Inam ur Rahim said. "We are going to go to the high court tomorrow to apply for his release."

This is not the first time allegations have been made about links between elements in Pakistan's military and banned organisations.

At least two army officers were court martialled last year for links with Hizb ut-Tahrir.

In 2004 several low-ranking military personnel were convicted in connection with attempts on the life of former President Pervez Musharraf.

Last week, Pakistan's military denied that a major was among several people who had been detained following the killing of Bin Laden. They were accused of being CIA informants and passing on information that helped the US track down the al-Qaeda leader.

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