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December 6, 2012

Was the Lal Masjid operation conducted after consensus?

December 6, 2012


ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court’s decision to appoint a judicial commission “to find out the truth” about the July 2007 military operation in the Lal Masjid is being seen differently by different sections of the society.
The ‘Operation Silence’ was ordered by the then Army chief General Pervez Musharraf, it was carried out jointly by the Special Services Group and 111 Brigade of the Pakistan Army and it was supervised by the then corps commander of Rawalpindi, Lt Gen Tariq Majeed.
Well-placed sources in the country’s security establishment believe that taking skeletons out of the Lal Masjid closet would escalate the judiciary-military fissure because the decision to launch the Operation Silence against the fanatic clerics of Lal Masjid was taken after consensus by the then military top brass, including the army chief General Musharraf, chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Ehsanul Haq, corps commander Rawalpindi Lt Gen Tariq Majeed, director general Military Intelligence (MI) Major General Nadeem Ijaz and last but not the least the then Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who is the incumbent army chief.
The sources were of the view that it would be hard for the one-man commission to proceed against the top military leadership of 2007 which had approved the Operation Silence in the supreme national interest against a coterie of fanatic Jihadis led by Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi who was not only calling for the overthrow of the Pakistan government but was also involved in numerous terrorist activities, including attacks on security forces, destruction of property, kidnapping and arson.
However, some retired military officials who were involved in the planning of the Lal Masjid operation refute the impression that the Operation Silence was launched after a consensus was reached by the top military leadership.
A retired general while requesting anonymity said that the decision to launch

the operation was taken by Musharraf alone despite resistance from within and it was carried out by the commander of the 10 Corps, Lt Gen Tariq Majeed, with the help of the 111 Brigade and Zarrar Company of the SSG. Tariq Majeed was elevated as the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee in October 2007, hardly a couple of months after the Lal Masjid episode. The retired general claimed that even the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army and Directorate of Military Operations were not consulted before the bloody operation was launched which might have been stage-managed to boost Musharraf’s sagging global image as the most trusted ally of the US.
A journalist said the decision of the Supreme Court on the Lal Masjid episode is a good omen as the judiciary is also taking incidents that happened during Gen Musharraf’s period.
Hundreds of highly trained commandos of the Special Services Group had carried out the Operation Silence to eliminate what had come to be known as the Lal Masjid Brigade, led by Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, the fire-brand pro-Taliban cleric of the Red Mosque. The Lal Masjid conflict started with the Jamia Hafsa girls occupying the adjacent Children’s Library in January 2007 in retaliation to the razing of seven illegally-built mosques by the Islamabad administration. Things came to a head in June 2007 when the Lal Masjid students abducted some Chinese nationals from an Islamabad acupuncture clinic cum massage parlour. The ensuing stern message from Beijing to take strict action against the kidnappers pushed Musharraf and his commanders to lay a siege to the complex. However, what was expected to be a smart and quick commando action to subdue the Islamic radicals holed up in the huge complex of the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa, turned into a marathon battle, with the elite military forces sweeping through underground bunkers in over 30 hours of intense combat.
The operation ended up in the death of hundred-plus people, including the commandos, terrorists, students as well as civilians. Sounds from the gory ending continue to reverberate across Pakistan more than five years later with the Supreme Court constituting a one-man commission, led by Justice Shazada Sheikh of the Federal Shariat Court, to “find out the truth”. The formation of the commission was ordered by a three-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, while hearing a suo moto case of Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa along with a contempt of court petition filed by Maulana Abdul Aziz, the former prayer leader of the Red Mosque. Maulana Aziz had sought implementation of the October 2007 orders of the Supreme Court to the federal government to pay compensation to the legal heirs of “all those innocently killed in the Lal Masjid operation in the form of Diyat (blood money)”.
While ordering the formation of a judicial commission, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry regretted that the relevant authorities are reluctant to pay compensation to the heirs of the victims. “Neither anybody is willing to investigate the case nor they are registering the cases against those responsible for the death of innocent people,” the Chief Justice observed. The apex court had in fact directed the Islamabad Police in May 2012 to register complaints of the heirs of victims by June 8 and keep it informed of the investigations. As per the subsequent police findings, 103 persons who “disappeared” during the Operation Silence were all killed. Of them, 72 were militants, 11 belonged to law enforcing agencies, four were passersby hit by stray bullets and 16 remain unidentified. The police findings refuted that any female was killed in the operation because the Jamia Hafsa students were given a chance to leave the conflict area before the launching of the operation. All the dead were male, many of them young, the police findings added.
On the other hand, Maulana Abdul Aziz claims that his mother, Sahiba Khatoon, was missing since the Operation Silence. However, sources in the security establishment insist that she had come out of the Red Mosque before the operation was launched. They add that Sahiba Khatoon had died a natural death sometime later and was buried in the Rajanpur district by the side of her younger son, Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who was killed in the military operation.
Quite intriguingly, however, the Crisis Management Cell in the Interior Ministry had stated after the 2007 episode that Maulana Abdul Aziz’s mother was among those 100 people who were killed in the operation. Therefore, expressing dissatisfaction over the Islamabad Police findings, the Chief Justice asked Justice Shazada Sheikh to hold a judicial inquiry and ascertain within 45 days the causes that led to the clashes between security forces and the Lal Masjid people as well as the number and gender of those killed during the operation.
But the most significant part of the court order is assigning the judicial commission “to fix responsibility against a person behind the entire incident”, which is expected to heighten the judiciary-military tensions.