The massive campaign in 2007-8 against former President Pervez Musharraf landed everyone else’s ‘evil’ doings at his door. The good that he did to the country was mutilated, forgotten, and set aside. The supporters of a Taliban mindset in media and politics spear headed the campaign and all those who could take advantage in power sharing jumped on to the band wagon against Musharraf.
This ‘campaign’ of misinformation did one of the greatest historic injustices. It was a classical repeat of Antony’s statement in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Quote “….the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones, so let it be with Caesar….” Then Antony goes on to expose the ‘honorable men’ namely Brutus, Cassius and others who conspired, and then reminds the Romans of the great contribution made by Julius Caesar to the Roman Empire. It is also important in this case that the historical facts are placed in the correct perspective and the name of a sincere and devoted leader is understood appropriately because this is in the interest of the nation.
In the case of Laal Masjid operation many people conveniently forget the circumstances and the ground realities in Islamabad leading to the necessity of action. Gross exaggerations about the numbers killed and of ‘brutality’ keep circulating. These are farthest from truth and are in fact intended to motivate the Taliban supporters to continue their terror activities as ‘revenge’.
It is said that 4000 men and women were killed, it is also said that the negotiations were sabotaged. An impression is given that all the inhabitants of the Lal Masjid were totally innocent and were killed in cold blood.
On the other hand it is stated that only 94 militants were killed and these were those who had decided to fight till the end with lethal weapons in their possession and refused to vacate ,and in fact drew the first blood by attacking army personnel. Every effort at a negotiated settlement was rebuffed by the occupants who held innocent students, women and children, as hostages, and as a ‘human shield’. The total number was estimated between 2000 to 2500.
To have a clear perception it is important that we look at the history of the Laal Masjid occupation and its links with the terrorist as well as the conditions preceding the operation and then also look at the operation, the damages and the aftermath.
The Laal Masjid was built in 1965. Maulana Muhammad Abdullah was appointed its first imam. Abdullah was critical of all governments except Zia’s with whom he was very close. During the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979–1989), the Red Mosque played a major role in recruiting and training mujahedeen to fight along with the Afghan mujahedeen. Throughout its existence, it had enjoyed patronage from influential members of the government, prime ministers, army chiefs, and presidents. Several thousand male and female students lived in adjacent seminaries.
After Abdullah was assassinated in 1998, his sons Abdul Aziz Ghazi and Abdul Rashid Ghazi took over the mosque, making it a centre for hard-line teaching and open opposition to the government. Abdul Aziz remained the official khatib of the masjid until he was removed in 2005 for issuing a controversial fatwa stating no Pakistani Army officer could be given an Islamic burial if died fighting the Taliban.
The plot on which Lal Masjid was built was allotted by CDA. With the passage of time, the mosque administration encroached upon the surrounding area and a big complex like a fort was constructed. CDA remained unable to get the encroached land vacated till end 2006. In early 2007, CDA strongly persuaded and issued a vacation notice. Aziz and Rasheed, initiated move by taking possession of the Children Library, located on the adjacent plot, by using the female student force. These students were motivated in the name of religion and thus the visible conflict started.
The students (both male and female) took to the streets to persuade video shops not to sell “vulgar” movies. Thus the students took matters into their own hands, much as the Taliban did as they emerged as a power in the 1990s in Afghanistan and in the Waziristan tribal areas. They also arrested a woman on the suspicion of running a brothel. The police tried to broker the release of the suspected brothel owner and, when they failed, they arrested two female teachers from the seminary. In a matter of minutes, students and followers of the Taliban blocked all important arteries in Aabpara, and also took two police officers with their official vehicle as hostage.
Obviously the Laal Masjid Taliban were challenging the government machinery and asserting their will. Abdul Rasheed and his brother Abdul Aziz commanded widespread support and were vocal in their backing of the Taliban.
Following the kidnapping of the alleged ‘brothel’ by the women students of Jamia Hafsa – who still held a children’s library hostage – the leaders declared the establishment of a ‘Shariat Court’ of their own and, according to Dawn, “vowed to enforce Islamic laws in the federal capital and threatened to unleash a wave of suicide bombers if the government took any action to counter it.” The report in Dawn goes on to say:
“Our youth will commit suicide attacks, if the government impedes the enforcement of the Sharia and attacks Lal Masjid and its sister seminaries,” Maulana Abdul Aziz, the head of the mosque said in his Friday sermon. The fresh suicide bombing threat intensified fear among Islamabad residents.
It was also said that the suicide bomber who had attacked Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel in January 2007, had been seen near the mosque the same day. Religious activists, some of whom were wearing masks, also staged a demonstration before the Friday prayers. Burqa-clad girl students of Madressah Hafsa kept a vigil atop the seminary’s roof. The activists were chanting “Al Jihad, Al Jihad”. Armed with sticks, a group of religious activists set on fire thousands of video and audio cassettes and computer compact discs. Women drivers on Margalla road were being told by the Taliban/students to stop driving or be prepared to suffer by a throw of acid on their face.
This is how the situation in Islamabad was developing. Many people now seem to have lapses of memory and have forgotten the reality. There was an atmosphere of fear. In fact it was a parallel of what was developing in Swat. Laal masjid inhabitants were in fact the first experiment of the terrorists in controlling by fear in the name of Shariat. It was the forerunner of the strategy to be later used in Swat and Waziristan.
It is very likely that the latest strategy of controlling by ‘War Within’ was being experimented in other areas as well but keenly watched by the terrorist planners for the outcome of Islamabad. If the Laal Masjid experiment in Islamabad would succeed then the terrorists would have controlled Swat, part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Waziristan. They would have brought under control a large area including Islamabad. Pakistan’s existence could have been fatally endangered.
The situation had indeed developed because of covert support of sections of beaurocracy, some elements in the agencies, and some politicians. It is well known that some supplies of rockets and weapons when caught were released due to the efforts of Zia ul Haq’s son Ijaz ul Haq, who offered a personal guarantee. There were indeed supporting funds of foreigners and those who take political advantage by the support of Taliban elements.
During this period Islamabad was being attacked by terrorists and elsewhere-foreign engineers and technicians helping Pakistan were abducted and killed. Pakistan’s tested friend China was being targeted to isolate Pakistan.
The situation was turning so serious that general public wondered why the government was not taking any decisive action. Then happened the Lal Masjid terrorist’s raid on a Chinese beauty parlor. The raiders man- handled the Chinese men and women and abducted them.
The situation had grown to international proportions. Civil society and Media were pressing for some action. The Chinese President directly approached the President of Pakistan, Gen Pervez Musharaf and requested for the safety of the Chinese people.
Now action had to be taken. The Laal Masjid occupants had taken an open war attitude.
It is important that all these factors are recalled and the backdrop of the Lal Masjid action is understood.
On this background, Government machinery moved with determination, however every effort was to be made to reach a peaceful settlement, and if army action was to be inevitable then minimum damage to life and property was to be ensured.
As the first step, the Laal Masjid was cordoned off and the movement of the occupants was restricted.
Appeals were made to the occupants to vacate the mosque. All possible steps were taken. Politicians including Chaudhry Shujaat, and Ejazul Haq tried. Imam e Kaba arrived to make the Masjid occupants to desist from militancy but was shunned. Eidhis came and made appeals to no effect. The Wafaqul Madaras tried their best, Council for Islamic Ideology tried to make them understand, but all failed. The Laal Masjid occupants and Mr. Abdul Rasheed stuck to their agenda.
Before army action an opportunity was provided to those who did not ascribe to militancy to leave the mosque. Many left.
On July 3, 2007, the stand-off between the students barricaded inside the mosque and the government resulted in bloody gun battle. The violent students attacked. In the encounter over twenty people, including students of the mosque, and paramilitary personnel were killed and over one hundred others were injured.
To avoid collateral loss, on July 4, 2007, the government offered amnesty to juvenile students if they surrendered and over 1000 of the students who supported the cleric accepted, and were allowed to leave. Abdul Aziz Ghazi tried to escape in a ‘burqa’ to avoid notice of his colleagues, and he was arrested after being detected by a senior army official.
Government and Security officials had repeatedly asked Maulana Abdul Rashid to surrender but he refused. He proposed that if government would give him and his militant students a safe passage without surrendering arms, and to allow him to live in his home village, he would hand over Lal Masjid , Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Faridia to Wafaqul Madaris (a federation of Madaris). This proposal was made to Ulmai Karam and Government of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Chaudhdry Shujaat.
This proposal was a trick and fraught with very dangerous consequences. A considerable number of trained militants would have gone scot free and brought havoc to the city of Islamabad. It was a trick to get out of the ‘hole’ and spread around for extreme terror. This proposal could not be acceptable for security considerations. The safe passage was intended to be ‘unchecked’. If accepted this would tantamount to allowing a large number of armed militants go free and carry out their activities and join other terrorists.
In retaliation the Laal Masjid terrorists attacked the Army personnel around the mosque. They went further to burn the building of the interior ministry adjacent to the Mosque. A senior army officer was killed and huge damage to property occurred.
Now a final army action had become unavoidable. Ch. Shujaat wanted to make one more effort before the army operation. He did make a final attempt but failed. The scheduled action at very early morning was delayed by an hour due to Ch. Shujaat’s presence, and some morning light revealed the commandos taking positions, they were fired at and killed, others successfully took positions. Col, Haroon Islam, made a bid to free those who were locked up in a room as hostages and wanted to get out. He risked his life and went to blow a hole in the wall of their cell. The wall breached and all hostages escaped but Col.Haroon Islam lost his life in cross fire.
By this time a total of 97 militants were left in the Mosque. They fought and 94 got killed, three escaped. There were 94 dead bodies including four killed by the militants and found locked in a basement. These have been buried in a graveyard in Islamabad. There were no women among the dead. Five or six male foreigners were there.These are all the verifiable facts.
The huge number of the killed are rumors and have no substance. If any more than 94 were dead then why didn’t any relative or friend register an FIR? Why hasn’t any one even supported the ‘dead’ by any kind of complaint? Why have the families of the hypothetic ‘dead’ not even taken out a protest march? Why hasn’t even a ‘ghaibana’ nimaz e janaza held. This is because the fact is that number of dead was only those whose graves exist.
The operation was conducted entirely by the Government headed by the Prime minister and the Army. The instructions of the President Musharraf specifically were to save as many lives as possible and reduce collateral damage. If his instruction were not carried out the loss of life and property would have been huge. It is absolutely wrong that any phosphorus bombs were used. These are not in the army arsenal. The smoke grenades used do not have any phosphorus. Army acted with utmost restraint, and saved Islamabad from becoming occupied like Swat. The ramifications of Islamabad, the nation’s capital being controlled by terrorists are beyond imagination.
Later on it became abundantly clear that the Laal Masjid was the advance camp of the terror net work supported by enemies of the state and would have been the shortest cut to lose the nation’s sovereignty if allowed to succeed. After being pushed away from the Capitol the terrorists from the mosque joined their companions in Swat and Waziristan and proceeded with the rest of the nefarious plan.
Any Pakistani who confuses the issue of the Laal Masjid and nurses sympathy with Laal Masjid terror group is doing so in naivety without comprehending the facts. It is hoped that this ‘fact sheet’ will help understand the real facts and the importance and inevitability of the action in the interest of the freedom of the nation. It may also be remembered that judicial enquiry has already been held.
(The author is a free lance writer).