Lal Masjid: What really happened?

The so-called Lal Masjid operation is officially over but it leaves the military regime and Pakistan in a major security, political, moral and religious crisis. Based on the available information, we can clearly see as to what really happened. Following are the bare minimum facts that can be accommodated in a short article. It is, however, not difficult to dig the associated facts and prepare a legal case against the culprits of this bloody adventure.

The pro-regime analysts claim that all the damning information that exposes the regime is fantastic and damning allegations, facts mixed with fantasy to create dramatic PR affects. They want to make the public believe that the following are mere perceptions and have nothing to do with the reality:

  • That there are over 1000 casualties of students, mostly women and children and the government have removed the bodies for secret burials.
  • There were no weapons in the complex and the governments have planted them after the operation.
  • There were no terrorists or foreign fighters inside the complex and the government is only using this excuse to build its cases.
  • The operation has been carried out on the orders of US by General Musharraf to please West to seek a re-election for next five years.

As far the number of casualties are concerned, it is not just the clerics who are kicking dust that 1000 casualties have taken place within students of the seminary, there are “editorials” and “analysis” by credible and neutral journalists who have come to the conclusion after putting all available statistics side by side that “at least 902 and at the most 1956 people have been killed.”

Among the victims were “orphans”, people from as far as “Azad Kashmir” and other remote areas. These include families with little of no resources to afford to come to Islamabad, get together in one place and campaign for their dead ones in these circumstances.

Relative of the victims, who “are already in Islamabad” are running from pillar to post to no avail. Camps have already been established for the victims from Kashmir to assess the actual number of missing people. Amid the reports of mass burial people have already lost hope to find their loved ones.

Not allowing the media at the time of operation makes some sense. However, not allowing them to enter the mosque immediately after the operation and a “ban on media personnel to visit hospital” and cold storage for dead bodies simply shows that there was too much for the regime to hide and plant.

It would be ridiculous on the part of relatives of the victims to insist looking in the mass graves for their loved ones, which the regime should have handed over to the relative in the first place.

An announcement to come and recognize your loved ones in the dead bodies at cold storage would have brought many to the front to show the estimate of missing people. May be that’s why the government was in a hurry and started digging and burying during the night. The laborers working on the graves have told BBC of finding “two and more bodies in one coffin.” And logically, more than 100 mass graves for 102 victims (as per the military regimes claim) just do not make any sense.

Dawn editorial on July 11, 2007 states:

“Eighty per cent of the operation,” to quote an army spokesman, had been completed to expel the terrorists from the Lal Masjid when these lines were written, and Abdul Rashid Ghazi had been killed, though resistance from hard-core militants was still going on, with the death toll in the vicinity of 150."

Note the figures of 150 dead by the time when 80 % operation was completed. And come back to the government’s figure of just 50 after 100% operation that was regurgitated by all the national and international media for a long time after completion of the bloody drama.

For the sake of discussion, even if we take the official figures of casualty as true, aren’t more than 100, including women and children, a significant number?

Couldn’t these lives be saved?

Of course, they “could have been saved” provided General Musharraf the had not “ordered operation before the end of negotiations” as we can see from “numerous reports” and personal testimony of those who were involved in the negotiations.

Mufti Usmani who was part of the delegation affirms that the two sides had reached an agreement. They wrote it down. In fact, the government Minister of Information inked it and took it share with General Musharraf, who rejected it and when Chaudhry Shujaat returned “things were back to the square one.” Moreover, at the same time, the military personnel on the ground “started harassing them to leave” as it was already too late for them to begin the operation.

This has been proved conclusively that the bloodbath at the mosque could have been avoided but Musharraf had other nefarious designs and malicious objectives to achieve. The “daily Ummat, July 11 report ” and interview with the two individuals, who were part of the final delegation, is part of the evidence against General Musharraf. Ghazi’s “last communication to the media” is far more credible than all the government reports.

The deceased Ghazi could be evil, so to say, but at the very least he would not lie to three TV channels “just moments before his death.” He said it repeatedly that he wanted the government to allow media to come in to see for itself if what the regime was claiming had any connection with the reality.

If the government were true in its claims to foreign fighters and a cache of weapons in the mosque, it should have let the media in. What was it afraid of? It is not a blunder on the part of government. It was part of the strategic planning. With media’s access, the regime’s case would have fallen apart and it’s lies about foreign fighters and weapons would have been exposed leaving it with no justification to launch the bloody assault and score points with its foreign masters. The negotiating ulema have also refuted the regimes claim that Ghazi has asked for safe passage for foreigners.

According to a Pak-Tribune story:

"They further said that Maulana Muhammad Saleem Ullah Khan including his colleagues Maulana Muhammad Rafi Usmani, Maulana Abdul Razzaq Skinder, Maulana Qari Muhammad Hanif Jalandhari, Maulana Zahid-ur-Rashadi and others arrived in Islamabad on 9th July to settle this issue and called on Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, PML-Q chief Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain and other ministers and formulated the unanimously joint strategy on which Maulana Abdur Rashid Ghazi showed his consent.

They said that at final stage, Ch. Shujaat Hussain insisted to send the agreement to Awan-e-Saddar for final approval, and when this agreement returned, it was altered. When informed about this new formula, “Maulana Ghazi refused to accept it.”

It proves that Musharraf simply didn’t want “a peaceful resolution.” The week long stand off was only part of the drama to show that his junta is showing restrain and negotiating. That was absolutely not the case despite the “public statement of the Ghazi Aziz” with the expression of hope on July 5 after the “deceptive arrest of Maolana Aziz” and Ghazi’s discussions with Chaudhry Shujaat that the crisis will be resolved in a few hours time.

It also proves that all the people involved in this agreement were not fool, or blind, or terrorist and extremists, or RAW agents. However, Mush tried to show that he was above their collective wisdom and what he thought was right and above their agreement.

By amending the joint agreement, Mush simply told all concerned that the final word belongs to him, else all are dead. That is what he did. This is what all tyrant dictators do.

The pro-regime media has a different story to tell. Dawn July 11 editorial says, “Abdul Rashid Ghazi refused to show any flexibility. Even Maulana Fazlur Rahman accused Ghazi of intransigence. Those who went to negotiate with him included Maulana Abdul Sattar and Bilqees Edhi and some of the country’s respected ulema, but Ghazi remained obdurate. He and his militants fired on parents who had gone to the mosque to meet their children.”

Who the editors of Dawn are trying to fool? Did we not personally hear Ghazi on Geo 24 hours before the operation, when he was so confident after talking to Chudhry Shujaat that he predicted everything to be settled within a couple of hours. He said it repeatedly that he had agreed to all the conditions.

Did we not read “the reports” about Ghazi’s offer to surrender? And what about Asia Times July 10, 2007 report mentioning these facts:

"’Yes, the talks were successful. The draft was written. Abdul Rasheed Ghazi was to be allowed a safe passage, but then the draft was sent to the president and he amended it. Things were back to Square 1 and the talks failed,’ a dejected Grand Mufti Usmani told Asia Times Online by telephone. He rarely leaves his seminary in Karachi, but was specially invited to Islamabad by the government for the talks.

"Asia Times Online contacts claim that the situation was complicated by the sudden appearance of a delegation of members of Parliament belonging to the government’s coalition partners, the Muttahida Quami Movement. They are believed to have met with a US official at his official residence, after which the situation changed within an hour.

There is no reason for us to believe the one-sided, pro-government, biased reports, which is no less than an attempt to fool the nation and the world."

According to “Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri”, news editor at Geo TV, the Lal Masjid standoff was a "masterpiece of intelligence agencies" and an "eyewash" to deflect attention from issues of national importance, especially the Supreme Court hearing of the petition of Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, whom Musharraf summarily suspended as chief justice.

Mekhri’s views were endorsed by Hamid Mir, senior political analyst at the same TV channel. "Musharraf wanted to diffuse the multi-parties conference in London [a meeting of dozens of Pakistani politicians]. Before that he was using Lal Mosque to distract [from] the judicial crisis."

According to Mir, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, who was sent to negotiate with the mosque administration, and who was about to resolve the issue in April, was "asked by someone very important to delay it".

There is so much behind the façade of fighting extremism. To save the nation, to save the armed forces and Pakistan, we need to be persistent and press for answers to all the questions which are still left unanswered. At the same time, based on the available, undeniable facts and witnesses, we need to make the regime accountable and make the culprits pay the price because not only the blood of innocent civilians lie on their hands but it has give a perfect justification to the Islamophobes to prepare a case for an all out war on Pakistan.