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SC commission to probe Lal Masjid tragedy

December 04, 2012

ISLAMABAD, Dec 4: Not convinced by the police investigations into the 2007 bloody military operation in the Lal Masjid, the Supreme Court on Tuesday appointed a one-man commission to find out the truth.

“We understand that a number of people lost their lives in the unfortunate incident of Jamia Hafsa in which allegations and counter-allegations are being levelled,” Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry said, appointing Justice Shazada Sheikh of the Federal Shariat Court as the commission.

It was necessary to appoint the commission in the absence of concrete evidence, or findings, he added.

Jamia Hafsa was a seminary for girls attached to Lal Masjid and was demolished by the government after the operation. Heirs have petitioned the Supreme Court that 103 persons went “missing” in the operation.

In May this year, the court had ordered the Islamabad police to register their complaints by June 8 and keep it informed of the police investigations.

Justice Sheikh has been given 45 days to probe: — the causes that led to the clashes between security forces and the Lal Masjid people; — the number and gender of those killed; — whether the dead were identified and handed to legal heirs, after observing codal formalities; — whether any action was taken under the law against persons found responsible by the police; and — whether it is possible, on the face of the material so collected, to fix responsibility against a person behind the entire incident.

The court ordered its office to provide certified copies of the entire record of the Lal Masjid incident to the commission.

On Tuesday, Additional Inspector General Police Tahir Alam Khan told the court that the 103 persons reported “disappeared” were all killed in the unfortunate incident. Of them, 72 were militants, 11 belonged to law enforcing agencies, four were passersby hit by stray bullets and 16 remain unidentified, the officer reported.

AIG Alam denied that any female student was killed during the face off because opportunity was provided to the Jamia Hafsa to leave the conflict area.

All the dead were male, many of them young, he said. When the judges said the capital police failed to conduct a proper investigation, the officer submitted that the writ of the government was challenged and that there was no evidence about the innocence of the people who were killed during the operation. It was common knowledge that the Lal Masjid people had taken law in their hands and subjected the capital city to numerous incidents of terrorism.

“We need to confront to prevent such happenings in future,” remarked Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed.

“The State should always be true to its people.”

Otherwise, the chapter of Lal Masjid tragedy would never be closed and the wounds would never heal, he added, stressing that the solution to such crises will come only when truth prevails.

Chief Justice Chaudhry also emphasised the need of concrete evidence to fix the responsibility of the incident.

Petitions filed on the bloody incident early this year revolve around the whereabouts of seminary students who went missing during the week-long standoff. It included one from Maulana Abdul Aziz, the head cleric of the masjid at that time, who reported that his mother, Sahiba Khatoon, has been missing since July 10, 2007.

Press published unconfirmed reports last April that she had come out of the mosque but died within days and was buried in Rajanpur by the side of her younger son, Ghazi Abdul Rashid, who was killed in the military operation.

The Lal Masjid conflict started with the Jamia Hafsa girls occupying the adjacent Children’s Library on January 22, 2007 in retaliation to the razing of seven ‘unauthorised’ mosques by the city administration. The confrontation built up in the succeeding month to erupt into armed clashes when a Ranger was killed on July 3, 2007 by gunfire from the mosque. Army was called in the same night and special forces stormed the mosque after suspension of water and electricity supply to the mosque failed to subdue the alleged militants holed up inside.

The commission formed on Tuesday to probe the tragedy is the latest to be appointed by the Supreme Court in recent years.

Those constituted earlier dealt with issues such as petroleum pricing, enforced disappearance of people, breaching of embankments during 2010 floods, and the commission on a memorandum allegedly communicated by the government to the United States.