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Need for broader Lal Masjid probe

Published Dec 05, 2012 11:02pm


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In this photograph taken on July 8, 2009, people drink water outside the Red Mosque in Islamabad. — Photo by AFP/File

The Supreme Court has appointed a one-man commission to probe the 2007 Lal Masjid military operation, which continues to haunt the country in many ways. The nation should know the entire truth about the bloody incident to end the controversy surrounding the tragedy.

Therefore the investigation should not be restricted to finding out how many people were killed in the operation and whether the families of the victims were paid compensation. It is more important for the commission to ascertain the circumstances that led to the military action.

Was the raid on the mosque completely unprovoked? Who were the gunmen entrenched inside the mosque who engaged the elite special forces for over one week, killing at least 15 soldiers, including an officer? Why sophisticated weapons were stored in a place of worship? The commission needs to investigate these questions and establish the facts about the deadly battle in July 2007 that has left in its wake a violent legacy of suicide bombings, killing thousands of citizens.

The gruesome end of the Lal Masjid siege marked a watershed in Pakistan’s struggle with violent extremism. It led to a declaration of war against the military by the militants. It also had other grievous repercussions which still cast their shadows over the country’s politics.

It may be argued that such massive use of force was avoidable, but the action cannot be described as unprovoked. Tension had been building up for the past many years as the capital’s central mosque sitting a stone’s throw from the ISI’s headquarters became the centre of radical Islamism and anti-government protests.

In 2004 the clerics of the mosque issued a fatwa calling the people to join the militant resistance against the army in Waziristan.

They declared that those fighting the Pakistani forces were martyrs and urged the people not to give Islamic burial to the soldiers killed in the fighting.

The mosque had also become a base for Taliban-style vigilante squads. Tension escalated after female students of the Jamia Hafsa, who were linked with Lal Masjid, occupied an adjoining children’s library.

Led by fearsome, stick-wielding, burqa-clad young women radicals would pour out of the mosque and the two madressahs affiliated to it, raiding houses allegedly used as brothels, kidnapping suspected prostitutes, and making bonfires of videocassettes and DVDs that they regarded as un-Islamic.

These activities caused panic among citizens and compelled them to call upon the government to stop vigilante squad.

Meanwhile, the Lal Masjid clerics set up courts to dispense their version of Islamic justice, and people began coming to them to resolve all sorts of grievances, from business matters to personal disputes. They also presented a charter for a Taliban-style Islamic rule in the country and called for setting up revolutionary committees. These unlawful actions certainly presented a serious challenge to the administration.

But for months the administration had tolerated activities of the self-styled anti-vice squads even after they kidnapped a number of policemen and ransacked government buildings.

The Musharraf government finally decided to act as the situation escalated to a point that some feared the militants might take over the capital itself. But the final onslaught was held off in order to allow time for the students to surrender. Announcements on loudspeakers warned the girls over and over again to leave the premises.

Over the next few days the army set several deadlines for surrender. Except for an unspecified number of hardcore militants, almost all the female and male madressah students were believed to have left the Lal Masjid before the final operation was carried out. For seven consecutive days the militants responded to the military’s siege with automatic fire, showing little sign of fatigue or shortage of ammunition.

On a visit a day after the operation I found every part of the sprawling complex scarred by the battle. In the blackened basement where Abdul Rashid Ghazi and half a dozen followers made a last stand, the wall had been shattered by explosives.

The acrid stench of battle hung in the air. Metal furniture lay piled in a corner. The windowless room inside the Jamia Hafsa was charred; a suicide bomber had detonated his charge as the commandos stormed the building.

In the next room swarms of flies buzzed over the blood-stained floor and rubble was scattered where the militants had built a bunker. Walls that had been painted with Islamic verses were riddled with bullet holes, evidence of a vicious 35-hour assault in which the commandos fought from room to room against heavily armed militants. The resistance was indeed beyond the expectations of the armed forces.

Let’s hope the commission would also be able to ascertain the identity of those fighters and why were those armed men present inside the mosque.


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Comments (14) Closed

yahah Dec 11, 2012 03:55am
irfan Dec 06, 2012 09:02am
Excellent insight and recollection of evens that led to the operation.
Ahmed Saeed Dec 06, 2012 01:02pm
Had the siege been extended, things would have been different. Totally agreed.
Ahmed Saeed Dec 06, 2012 01:00pm
Lal Masjid has indeed been Musharraf's "Waterloo". But it has also changed the profile of Pakistan. So many precious lives lost. It would be more than welcome to investigate the facts and then make the same public.
Abdul Waheed Dec 06, 2012 07:22am
There was no other option but to control the illegal activities / state within a state / their so called owned judicial system. However, instead of using brutal force, the task might have been achieved by extending the seize for some more days.
Salim Shaikh Dec 06, 2012 07:34am
After such a delay to know the truth, many vital evidence have already been perished. There should be a person of a class who could go into its depth to address this tragedy.
Capt C M Khan Dec 06, 2012 08:04am
Excllent article. We deserve to see both sides of the picture and not only one.
Ikram Khan Dec 07, 2012 06:55pm
A very brave effort to let the truth come out. A force is only met by force. If you live by the gun, then you must be ready to die by the gun. As simple as that.
MeesaqZaidi Dec 06, 2012 11:03am
The report says everything. It was a collective decision of rulers in Pervez Musharraf / Shaukat Aziz govt. It is hoped that commission will ask the then Prime Minister to record his observations. Security forces did a wonderful job, as usual. It was a huge conspiracy. No doubt about it.
Naseer Dec 06, 2012 02:54pm
Do we need a parallel government like the one in Red Mosque? Should we allow people spreading their own brand of Islam and imposing it on everyone by force? Government gave a lot of time and leeway to these people. Now some part of media is creating a sympathy for them. Do they have any sympathy for others? It is sad to see the families of terrorists getting compensation, but the families of people getting killed in suicide bombing and target killing are completely neglected.
Dr. Yahya Khan Dec 06, 2012 04:26pm
Musharraf in his arrogance involved Army everywhere. Let suppose that there were mighty militants inside the complex, a better option would be to stop the water and electricity supply for few days. How much could those people inside the complex resist in the hot summer in the absence of water and electricity.
Assad Dec 06, 2012 05:23pm
If the Supreme Court for once stops the grandstanding, it would realize that no government can allow a parallel government with stick wielding youth meting out punishments. The government of the day gave the Ghazi brothers and their cohorts plenty of chances to surrender and move on peacefully but they wanted to make a statement by getting into an violent altercation with the government. We should praise the work of the LEAs including the Police, Pakistan Rangers, Army and specifically the men and the officers of the SSG who were thrust into this situation due to the anti-state and government actions of a minority. The very same minority that could have registered its disagreement with what it saw by picketing the places of ill-repute/civil disobedience, yet these people decided to challenge the writ of the government and disturbed the peace of the local residents. Their callous and selfish actions weakened Pakistan from within and resulted in the deaths of countless law enforcers. The Army went out of its way to save the women and children at the school and in the process lost very many brave men. Had this problem risen in Saudi Arabia, they would have razed the mosque and the school to the ground by driving tanks on top of these chaps. This is because the Saudis, unlike us, do not allow religious blackmail when it comes to safeguarding their state. Perhaps its time that we, in Pakistan, take a few lessons from the guardians of the Haram shareef on how to handle the fitna mongers and takfiris.
Cyrus Howell Dec 07, 2012 10:01am
Pakistan has a very long wish list.
Cyrus Howell Dec 07, 2012 10:06am
Very Clear.