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Lal Masjid operation was not my sole decision, says ex-PM

March 19, 2013

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Former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. - File Photo.

ISLAMABAD: Former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Monday said the Lal Masjid operation in July 2007 was not his sole decision.

He stated this while recording his statement with the Lal Masjid commission of Justice Shahzado Sheikh of the Federal Shariat Court from Pakistan’s High Commission in London through a video link.

During his over two-hour-long testimony, Mr Aziz did not take responsibility for ordering the operation. He said it was the interior ministry and the politicians who had been negotiating with the clerics of the mosque.

Mr Aziz said Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was leading the government delegation for the peaceful settlement of the dispute.

Contrary to the statements of some ministers of his cabinet who had earlier informed the commission that the cabinet was kept in the dark over the operation, Mr Aziz claimed that it was the ministry of interior which had approved the operation and later brought the matter to the cabinet.

The cabinet approved the action against the militants with the condition that the law enforcement agencies would rescue the inmates of the mosque without any loss of life, he added.

“It was our achievement that a large number of women and children came out from the mosque before the operation. Those who preferred to live in the mosque and fight the law enforcement agencies were dealt with accordingly,” he added.

When the commission pointed out that at the time of the operation, the then minister interior Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao and the secretary interior Syed Kamal Shah were out of the country, Mr Aziz said: “They were accessible on phone or other form of communication and would not shift their responsibility to others by saying they were out of the country.”

He added: “I regret the loss of lives of the inmates of Lal Masjid and the security personnel during the operation but the government was left with no option,” he added.

In reply to a question from the commission, Mr Aziz said he never heard of any demand of the Lal Masjid clerics.

When asked whether he ever tried to explore that the weapons recovered from the mosque were fake or genuine, the former prime minister replied that since he was not a weapon expert.

“It is better that the military authorities be asked about this because the weapons were recovered by the military men,” he added.

Mr Aziz skipped a number of other questions on account of his weak memory and lack of expertise in security-related issues.

The commission after recording the statement of Mr Aziz sent it to Pakistan’s High Commission in London through an email and directed additional district and sessions judge Kamran Basharat Mufti to get the signatures of Mr Aziz on the statement and sent it back to the commission after verifying it from the officials of the High Commission.