Commission and Lal Masjid operation
On December 4, 2012, the Supreme Court constituted a one-man judicial commission to probe into the Lal Masjid operation launched in July 2007 by former dictator Pervez Musharraf against the mosque’s administration for challenging the writ of the state. A three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, heard a suo motu case of Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa along with a contempt petition filed by Maulana Abdul Aziz.
The commission was assigned the task to ascertain as to whether the state had paid compensation to the heirs of those killed during the operation; whether the bodies were identified and handed over to their heirs; and whether the action has been taken against the people who are responsible for the tragedy. It is possible that the court may review its earlier decision to pay compensation to the heirs of victims when the matter is fully probed and the question would be raised as to how a large cache of weapons reached the mosque?
Reportedly, at least three months prior to the operation, the mosque’s administration was involved in activities that amounted to challenging the state’s writ. Initially, the police and rangers were deployed outside its premises to check the students, who were destroying videos shops, interfering in citizens’ privacy and, last but not least, abducted Chinese women alleged as prostitutes. But the mere presence of the law enforcement agencies was considered enough provocation by the mosque’s clerics.
Apart from opening fire on the rangers and police personnel, their followers torched the Environment Ministry building as well. The whole nation was a witness to their intransigence, and efforts by some ulema and PML-Q Chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain proved infructuous.
The security forces had arrested the chief cleric and mastermind of the Lal Masjid standoff, Maulana Abdul Aziz, while attempting to escape; and later his brother Maulana Abdur Rashid Ghazi had expressed his willingness to surrender only before the Ulema Committee instead of the troops. Nevertheless, the government refused and insisted that he should surrender unconditionally. However, offering amnesty to those who would surrender produced positive results as more than 1,200 students vacated the premises. With a view to avoid a huge loss of lives, the government had been extending the deadline that was criticised by many people, including the media and members of the civil society. However, the strategy worked and it averted a major disaster.
Anyway, while ordering the formation of a judicial commission, Chief Justice Chaudhry regretted that the relevant authorities were reluctant to pay compensation to the victims’ heirs. “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 court had, in fact, directed the Islamabad Police in May 2012 to register the complaints of the heirs by June 8 and keep it informed about the investigations. According to the police findings, 103 persons who “disappeared” during the operation were all killed. Of them, 72 were militants, 11 belonged to the law enforcement agencies, four were passersby hit by stray bullets and 16 remain unidentified. In June 2012, the court had directed the authorities to pay equal compensation to the heirs of all 103 people killed in the Lal Masjid operation.
During the hearing, Justice Khwaja said that those killed in the operation were innocent, as the police could not produce any criminal record against them. The then government, however, had taken the position that the decision for operation was taken in supreme national interest against a coterie of fanatic jihadis, who were not only calling for the government’s removal, but were also involved in several terrorist activities, including attacking security forces, destroying public property and kidnapping of civilians.
The Lal Masjid conflict had 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. Keeping this in view, today some analysts have raised questions about the infecundity of holding an inquiry after five years. Others opine that the entire exercise is being done to hold “one person” responsible for the Lal Masjid episode.