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Lal Masjid cleric’s interview in burqa still a mystery

February 08, 2013

Maulana-Abdul-Aziz
Maulana Abdul Aziz. — File photo/AP

ISLAMABAD, Feb 8: Maulana Abdul Aziz removing his veil of his burqa on the state run PTV remains the defining image of the Lal Masjid crisis of 2007.

But nearly six years later, it is still not clear whose brainwave led to this spectacle. Both the federal secretary of information and the man managing PTV have little idea whose idea this was.

The Lal Masjid Commission grappled with the mystery on Friday in Islamabad.

A conflict between the Musharraf regime and the Lal Masjid administration provided a basis for the operation which started on July 3 and lasted till July 11, 2007.

The clampdown claimed lives of 103 persons, including 10 army personnel  and one Ranger.

Maulana Aziz, the Khateeb of Lal Masjid, who was also the principal of Jamia Faridia was arrested by the law enforcement agencies on July 4, 2007 a day after the forces launched the operation.

Aziz who was ‘caught’ slipping out of the mosque in a burqa was presented on PTV on July 4, 2007.

The one man commission of Justice Shehzado Sheikh of Federal Shariat Court (FSC), however, remained firm that the issue was an important one as he felt that the orchestrated manoeuvre worsened an already tense situation.

The judge pointed out that the government had announced a general pardon and Rs5,000 cash reward for the embattled students of Lal Masjid who were willing to come out and surrender.

But once Aziz was ‘humiliated’ thus in the ‘drama on television, his infuriated followers stayed put and died in the subsequent operation.

Initially he was shown wearing burqa, the veil of which he then threw back from his face and the interview began.

Justice Sheikh began by asking MD PTV Mirza Yousaf Baig why he allowed the interview at that critical time.

Mr Baig surprised the judge as well as others when he said, “I never ordered the airing of the interview,” adding that “I had expressed my reservations to then secretary information and told him that the interview would have serious implications.”

However, Baig added that “the secretary information asked me to air the interview and I passed on the instructions to the chief coordinator of the television.”

He further revealed that he had no idea that Aziz would be interviewed while wearing the ‘burqa’, claiming that he found out about the ‘disguise’ once the interview had been recorded.

Mr Baig informed the court that the decision had been taken “elsewhere”.

However, when the commission turned to then secretary information Anwar Mehmood, his answers were not any more enlightening. He said, “I was asked to telecast the interview”.

Later when asked to explain what he meant, Mr Mehmood told Dawn, “After the arrest of Maulana Aziz, I received a call from an unknown number and the caller asked me to record and air the interview of the cleric.”

When asked whether he tried to verify the identity of ‘unknown caller’, he replied “no because I was not in a position to trace the caller.”

Recording his testimony before the commission, then federal minister for interior Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao also said that timing of the interview was terrible.

He, however, added that when the military started the operation, he was not in Pakistan, adding that the interior ministry had nothing to do with the operation though it tried to settle the issue peacefully.

He said that after the operation Maulana Aziz was not sent to Adiala Jail but was kept in house arrest along with his family members in a rest house near Simly Dam.

President Gen (retired) Pervez Musharraf and then prime minister Shaukat Aziz had been summoned to appear before the commission on Friday, but both of them remained absent.