PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A Pakistani court Monday granted bail to an anti-US cleric — the father-in-law of one of Pakistan’s most wanted militants — days after Washington suspended aid over Islamabad’s failure to crack down on extremism.
Sufi Mohammad, whose son-in-law is Maulana Fazlullah, the fugitive chief of the Pakistani Taliban, was himself charged with murder, treason, terrorism and rebellion.
The elderly pro-Taliban cleric and the chief of banned group Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM) was the architect of a violent movement for the enforcement of Islamic sharia law in the country’s northwestern Malakand Division.
He was arrested in October 2001, as he crossed the border into Pakistan with a group of armed men, accused of sending hundreds to fight against the US-led international forces seeking to topple the fundamentalist Taliban regime.
— Urdu News (@urdunewspk_) January 8, 2018
But he was released in 2008 under a peace agreement with local tribal elders which settled those charges.
Believed to be in his 90s, he was arrested again in Peshawar in 2009 over an inflammatory speech, and has been held in a maximum security prison.
His trial is ongoing. But on Monday, his defense lawyer, Fida Gul, told AFP that a high court in Peshawar had ordered Mohammad’s release.
“He was too old to move and was suffering from kidney problems and weakness, and was taken to hospital many times,” Gul said.
The decision came less than a week after the US announced a freeze on aid to Pakistan that could be worth almost $2 billion.
The move is designed to force Pakistan’s military and intelligence apparatus to cut support for the Taliban and other Islamist groups, especially those fighting US forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has fought fierce campaigns against homegrown Islamist groups, losing thousands of lives in its long war on extremism.
That includes the Pakistani Taliban, headed by Mohammad’s son-in-law Fazlullah, who became infamous when he held the Swat Valley from 2007-2009, imposing a harsh brand of sharia law and carrying out public floggings and hangings.
US officials, however, accuse Pakistan of ignoring or even collaborating with groups that attack Afghanistan from safe havens along the border between the two countries.