ISLAMABAD, March 13: An official of the judicial commission probing the bloody events of 2007 in Lal Masjid is leaving for London on Thursday to be present when the then prime minister Shaukat Aziz records his testimony there for the commission.
Though Mr Shaukat Aziz would record his statement via video link, law demands the presence of a judicial official on the occasion.
Additional sessions judge Kamran Basharat Mufti would watch the video conferencing event, set for March 18 and 19 at the Pakistan High Commission in London, and arranged by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and National Telecommunication Commission (NTC).
Lal Masjid Commission's chairman, Justice Shehzado Sheikh of the Federal Shariat Court, sitting in his office in Islamabad, would cross examine Mr Aziz, who would be testifying sitting in London.
Summons were sent to Mr Aziz and the former military president Gen Pervez Musharraf last month to respond in person to some witnesses’ deposition before the commission that they were responsible for the military operation in the Lal Masjid in July 2007 that ended in a bloodbath.
While Musharraf refused to testify, Mr Aziz agreed but refused to come to Pakistan for the purpose, citing security reasons.
It is for the second time in a year that the Pakistani High Commission in London will be the venue of legal proceedings via video link. Last year, American citizen of Pakistani origin Mansoor Ijaz had testified to a judicial commission about his allegations against the former Pakistani ambassador to US, Hussain Haqqani, dubbed as the memogate scandal.
“Since the portion of the High Commission where Mr Aziz would record his statement would be an extension of the commission, the presence of a judge there is mandatory to certify the statement made, and any exhibit or document placed, by the witness,” explained an official of the Lal Masjid Commission to Dawn.
District and sessions judge Raja Jawad Abbas Hassan was present in the High Commission when the Chief Justices of Islamabad, Sindh and Balochistan high courts recorded the statement of Mansoor Ijaz via video link, the official recalled.
However, senior lawyer Mohammad Akram Sheikh, who represented Mr Ijaz in the memogate commission, believes the case of Mr Shaukat Aziz is different from his famous client. “If a former prime minister is unwilling to come to Pakistan, the reasons for his refusal should properly be examined,” he said.
Though insisting that Mr Aziz faced “no obstacle” in coming to Pakistan, Sheikh would conceded the ex-premier video facility “in extreme circumstances”.
Meanwhile, witness Shah Abdul Aziz, a former MNA from Karak area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has alleged that the then ISI officer Maj Gen Nusrat Naeem thwarted his efforts at a peaceful resolution of the Lal Masjid crisis by threatening him with “consequences”.
In the statement he recorded with the Lal Masjid Commission on Wednesday he alleged that the general called him on phone and asked him to stay away from Maulana Abdul Aziz Khateeb Lal Masjid and his brother Ghazi Abdul Rasheed.
“Gen Naeem told me to join the embattled clerics and then face the music,” he said.
Shah Abdul Aziz called the bloody incident “a clash between two ideologies”, symbolised by “the secular Musharraf regime” and “the fundamentalist” clerics of Lal Masjid. The regime was not willing to spare the fundamentalist clerics of Lal Masjid, which subverted all the efforts at averting a military operation, he added.
Neither did the Islamabad administration want a peaceful solution, he claimed.
In the statement, the witness also criticised the Ulema and politicians he found bereft of sincerity. “In fact they had no courage to stand up to the dictator Gen Musharraf,” he said, alleging that some Ulema had assured the then interior secretary that they would not resist an operation against the Lal Masjid.
According to him Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, who was killed during the operation, “offered to surrender a number of times but the administration did not accept his offer”.
He said government had brought Imam-e-Kaaba Abdul Rahman Al Sudais to persuade the clerics, and the clerics told him they were ready to surrender if the Imam-e-Kaaba visit the mosque.
But instead of allowing him into the mosque, he claimed, the government warned the Imam that Al Qaeda operatives were inside the mosque and would take him hostage if he went there.
Subsequently, the Imam returned to Saudi Arabia without meeting the clerics.
Ijazul Haq, then a federal minister, similarly advised the Ulema to stay away from the mosque for those inside would take them hostage to use them as human shields.
Ex-MNA Abdul Aziz claimed that Col Haroonul Islam, the commanding officer of the Special Services Group (SSG), had assured the clerics there would be no unprovoked attack on the mosque. “God knows better who killed him as the incident of his killing highly aggravated the situation,” he added disarmingly.
After the operation, he said, the law enforcement agencies planted fake arms and ammunition in the mosque. The weapons they claimed were recovered from the Lal Masjid mysteriously vanished from police station Aabpara, he said, asking the commission to investigate the disappearance.
Later, talking to Dawn, Aziz alleged that a few months after the Lal Masjid operation, he was picked up and held illegally by ISI for about four months. The agency released him when the matter went to the courts.