ISLAMABAD — Authorities detained a senior officer serving at Pakistani army headquarters for suspected links with a banned Islamist group, the army spokesman said Tuesday.
The announcement could be an attempt by the military to counter Western suspicions that it tolerates militant sympathizers within its ranks.
Western officials have long suspected some Pakistani military officials, especially ones serving in the army’s intelligence agency, of maintaining ties with militant groups like the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Those suspicions have spiked in the wake of last month’s U.S. raid that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in an army town not far from the Pakistani capital.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said Brig. Ali Khan was detained recently for suspected links with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which he labeled a “proscribed militant organization.”
The group itself has officially rejected violence, but many observers say it promotes an intolerant mindset that can ultimately lead to it.
On what appears to be its Pakistan website, Hizb-ut-Tahrir calls for officers in the Pakistan army to oust the country’s government because of its alliance with the United States and establish an Islamic regime.
Gen. Abbas said the detention shows the army is determined to weed out bad actors, but also stressed that Brig. Khan was not linked to the Taliban, which is seen as much more of a threat by the West than Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which means “Party of Liberation.”
“We follow a zero percent tolerance for any breach of discipline or indulgence in any illegal activity,” Gen. Abbas told the Associated Press.
Brig. Khan’s wife denied the allegations against her husband, saying he was “totally innocent.”
“These allegations are totally rubbish,” she told AP. She declined to give her first name because of cultural traditions among her Pashtun clan.
She said her husband went missing May 5, and she has been searching for information about his whereabouts since then. Authorities had assured her that he would soon return, she said.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir is an international Islamist group dedicated to the notion of reviving the Islamic caliphate and unifying Muslim countries under the laws of the religion.
Although it’s banned in some countries, including Pakistan and parts of Central Asia, the group is active in Western countries such as the United States, where it finds protection under free speech and association laws.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
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