Authorities in Pakistan say a terror suspect is in custody on charges of distributing pamphlets on behalf of banned Islamic extremist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, or HuT, and that a case has been opened against him under anti-terrorism laws. VOA could not independently verify the authenticity of the pamphlets.
According to officials, the man was one of five people seen circulating the pamphlets outside a busy mosque in Islamabad after Friday prayers last week. The leaflets read, "Get rid of this weak leadership which seeks honor in subservience to and alliance with America." The other four men fled when security personnel arrived, authorities said.
"The government is vigilant and there have been instances in the past where HuT's members were taken into custody by the security authorities," Rasul Baksh Rais, a political analyst from Pakistan, told VOA.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which translates to the "party of liberation," is an international political organization created six decades ago with a charter to re-establish a caliphate across the Islamic world through a bloodless revolution.
The organization has a global and prominent existence in the European, Middle Eastern and Central Asia region. The group operates freely in many Western countries where free speech laws provide them protection.
In Pakistan, the group has been active since the '90s, and tried to propagate its message of bringing an Islamic revolution through Sharia, or Islamic law.
The government placed a ban on Hizb-ut-Tahrir in 2004, but it has been operating as an underground movement since then. Pakistan considers members of the proscribed outfit as terrorists, although their non-violent ideology makes them unique from other militant groups active in the country.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir works in complete secrecy and it is hard to assume or estimate the number of members linked to the terror group, but analysts say they have a clear policy of targeting the highly skilled and qualified youth belonging to well-to-do families to form a caliphate in the country.
"I believe HuT has a relatively small presence in Pakistan, but they are certainly targeting the educated youth," Rais said. "Hizb-ut-Tahrir doesn't believe in any constitution or government other than the caliphate. In a way, HuT's ideology is not different than the Islamic State's ideology and their pattern of targeting youth is similar to the IS as well."
In 2016, Islamabad police arrested a software engineer as he was distributing HuT's pamphlets in one of the busiest markets after Friday prayers.
In 2011, a military court convicted five high-ranking officers, including four majors and a brigadier, after establishing their sympathies and allegiance to HuT.
Pressure on Pakistan
In the past few years, Pakistan has faced mounting pressure from the international community for not being able to crush the militant groups active in the country.
Last month, the economic bloc known as BRICS, which comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, expressed concern over Pakistan-based militant groups, including Hizb-ut-Tahrir, citing them as a threat to the region.
"We, in this regard, express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al-Qaida and its affiliates, including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP and Hizb-ut-Tahrir," said a joint statement released after the BRICS annual summit, which was held in China.
Back in August, while outlining his South Asia policy, U.S. President Donald Trump criticized Pakistan for allegedly harboring terrorists and said Pakistan has havens for militant groups which plan attacks on Afghan and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan denies the allegations and says it has a zero-tolerance policy toward extremist and militant groups. Pakistan maintains it has cracked down on all the terrorist groups, regardless of their ideologies, affiliations and allegiances.