ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan has detained a brigadier assigned to army headquarters over alleged links to a banned Islamist group, the army said on Tuesday, the highest-ranking serving officer arrested in a decade.
Spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said Brigadier Ali Khan, who had an administrative post and was not involved in operations, was detained last month over links to the banned Hizb-ul-Tahrir.
The detention follows growing pressure on Pakistan to root out any suspected Islamist militant sympathisers from its ranks after Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. forces in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad on May 2.
U.S. officials have said the al Qaeda leader may have been helped by some elements within the Pakistani security establishment.
Abbas said efforts were being made to trace other members of Hizb-ul-Tahrir - a radical but non-violent group which seeks the establishment of an Islamic caliphate - who had been in contact with the brigadier.
“We follow zero tolerance policy of such activities within the military. Therefore prompt action was taken on detection,” Abbas told Reuters. He declined to go into details.
A military official, who declined to be identified, ruled out the possibility of the brigadier’s involvement in any plot. “He just had contacts with the banned group. But he was not involved in any type of conspiracy,”
Khan, who lived in the garrison town of Rawalpindi where the army has its headquarters is from a family of soldiers - his father was a junior officer while he has two sons and one son-in law in the army.
His wife Anjum rejected the allegations against him as “rubbish”.
“Every general knows Brigadier Ali Khan. Even (army chief) General (Ashfaq) Kayani knows him,” she told Reuters. “We can never think of betraying the army or our country.
“He was an intellectual, an honest, patriotic and ideological person. It’s a fashion here that whosoever offers prayers and practises religion is dubbed as Taliban and militant.”
Hizb-ul-Tahrir, which is active in many Muslim countries and also in Britain, was banned in Pakistan in 2003.
The group says it does not advocate violence, but many critics say it has ties to militant organisations.
It tends to attract supporters among the young and the educated elite, making it a possible lure for army officers drawn to political Islam.
Some fear it may have been making inroads into the army.
“What we see is that it is trying to infiltrate the military and wanting to bring some sort of a change through the military and that could be dangerous,” retired general and defence analyst Talat Masood said.
The allegations against the brigadier could show gaps as far as discipline was concerned, he said, but added that it was a positive sign that the army had found out and taken action.
“I think the army is trying do a clean-up,” he said. “They have realised that otherwise the institution will be undermined.”
Additional reporting Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Myra MacDonald