PUC divides as battle for chairmanship continues between Ashrafi, Qasmi

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Obaid Abbasi

A battle between country’s two religious clerics continued over the chairmanship of Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) as the council has divided into two groups, it emerged on Saturday.

Last week, Markazi Majlis-i-Shoora of the PUC dismissed Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi from the office of the council’s chairman and cancelled his membership from its sub-organisations and elected Sahibzada Zahid Mahmood Qasmi as the new chairman of the council.

PUC is a platform created by the leaders of Deobandi, Barelvi, Shia and Ahle Hadith schools of thought back in 1988 to promote sectarian harmony amid growing sectarian strife in the country. Later on, PUC was also registered as a party with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Hafiz Ashrafi was accused of taking foreign funds from American and German governments, along with spying on the students of seminaries in Pakistan. However, he denied the allegations and claimed to be a chairman of the council after central executive body and provincial as well as district representatives reposed confidence in his leadership.

Ashrafi was of the view that majority of the council’s members have been supporting him. According to him, “People who removed me from the chairmanship have no mandate as ‘certain elements’ are campaigning against me since long,” he told Pakistan Today, adding that PUC had already registered through his name with ECP.

He also told that legal notice has already been served to Zahid Qasmi for defaming him of what he called to capture the party “illegally”.

On the other hand, Sahibzada Zahid Mahmood Qasmi—who belongs to the Deoband school of thought—claimed that all the evidence against Ashrafi has been collected which will be submitted to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) next week.

While talking to Pakistan Today, Qasmi claimed that his legal team has prepared a case against Ashrafi and it will be submitted next week in FIA’s Lahore Zone. He alleged that Ashrafi received foreign funding ‘secretly’ and his basic purpose was to spy on country’s seminaries—which is against both Islam and the constitution.

“Such clerics defame both the religion and Pakistan, which is not acceptable at any cost,” he remarked. The cleric also claimed that he will approach the ECP as well to get PUC registered through his name as Ashrafi is longer a chairman of PUC.