Islamabad, Jun 22 : Brigadier Ali Khan, serving as director for rules and regulations at the Pak Army GHQ in Rawalpindi has been arrested for his links with an extremist group called Hizbut Tehrir, but the Dawn today revealed that another Lt Col serving under him has also been detained.
Brig Ali Khan was held by the military's Special Investigation Branch on May 6, four days after Osama bin Laden was bumped off in a covert US raid in Abbottabad.
Hizbut Tehrir (HT) is a group that has been calling for a rebellion against ‘pro-America' leaders.
Brig Ali Khan is the senior-most military officer yet to be arrested for extremist links. Before his GHQ posting, Brig Khan served as a commander in Pak Occupied Kashmir.
The officer, who had received training in the US and was set to retire soon, was earlier denied promotion because of his extremist leanings.
A defence source claimed that a lieutenant-colonel who worked under Brig Khan had also been detained. But another official said the colonel's arrest was not directly linked to Brig Khan's case.
The confirmation of the brigadier's detention has come at a time when, in the aftermath of the Osama episode, some elements in the army are being accused of being in collusion with extremists and militants.
For now, the Army is ruling out his involvement with Taliban or Al Qaeda, Dawn reported
ISPR Director General Maj-Gen Athar Abbas played down links of Brig Khan with extremists as “an exception”.
Speaking to Dawn, he said that although there was zero tolerance in the garrisons for religious and sectarian organisations, the
ranks could not remain unaffected by what's happening in the society — a reference to rising extremism in the country.
Before his arrest, Brig Khan was under surveillance because of his contacts with extremists, but was held for interrogation once those interactions became too frequent, the sources said.
The detention of the brigadier was approved by army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani who, a source said, was very disturbed to know about the infiltration of Hizbut Tehrir at such a senior level.
Brig Khan, son of a retired junior commissioned officer, has a strong military background.
His brother is serving in an intelligence agency and his son and son-in-law are army officers.
The Hizbut Tahrir which started operating in Pakistan in the late 1990s had been constantly striving to infiltrate military ranks.
It first enlisted some army officers while they were under training at Sandhurst in the United Kingdom, but its links were first exposed in 2003 when some officers were arrested, prompting Gen Pervez Musharraf to proscribe the organisation. The ban was overturned by a court in 2005.
The US government is reported to have alerted the army in 2009 about the penetration of Hizbut Tahrir into its ranks and presence of the group's cells.
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 army headquarters is based, 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 practices 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.