Editorial

The Operation Silence launched three years ago against the Lal Masjid ended up in a strong backlash. The country saw its bloodiest suicide attacks initially directed against the security forces that later spread to hotels and bazaars. The capital itself was attacked many times over. The threats were made from the pulpit after the mosque was issued warnings as it engaged in moral policing and declared to impose Sharia around the capital. The physical encroachments the mosque and its adjoining seminaries were famous for had given way to ideological encroachments and the state, or the government of the day shall we say, finally woke up to the crude reality.

situation
Lal Masjid: 3 years on
Maulana Abdul Aziz announces the coming of "a bloody revolution"
By Waqar Gillani
In the heart of the federal capital, the barren land of the long-bulldozed Jamia Hafsa and the remains of the destroyed Jamia Fareedia are a grim reminder of the bloody week -- July 3-10, 2007 -- in the history of Islamabad that saw the killing of scores of people from Lal Masjid as well as the Pakistani security forces.

Political fallout
The Lal Masjid operation put a virtual end to the political career of Musharraf and, to some extent, the PML-Q, besides causing considerable loss to the two main politico-religious parties, Jamiat-Ulema Islam and Jamaat-i-Islami
By Shaiq Hussain
Those ruling the country at the time of the Lal Masjid operation, including General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, former prime minister Shaukat Aziz, PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, and the entire military leadership, took no time to realise that the killing of armed militants (male and female students) holed up inside the mosque together with the destruction of Jamia Hafsa had sent a strong wave of anger amongst the 'Jihadi' groups across the country that were already against Musharraf for his pro-American policies.

perspective
The aftershocks
Three years since the ignominious Operation Silence, the country is haunted by some very serious and pertinent questions not yet answered
By Mazhar Khan Jadoon
It all began in the first week of July 2007. The stage was set for a bloody drama that heralded days of bloodletting for a nation already suffering at the hands of the extremists, thanks to the 'war on terror'. July 3 saw students of Lal Masjid battling it out with the security forces in Islamabad after Jamia Hafsa students had stolen radio sets and weapons from the Pakistan Rangers at a nearby post. The clashes left nine people dead and approximately 150 injured.

A Force without a face
32 suicide attacks in three years, on security outfits in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Security officials see a link to the Ghazi Force
By Muhammad Amir Rana
The twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi have seen at least 32 suicide attacks since the Lal Masjid debacle in July 2007, most of the targets being military or security agencies. Initially, the law enforcement agencies traced the footprints of militant groups behind these terrorist attacks. (Many violent militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Jamaat ul Furqan have a strong network base in Rawalpindi and neighbouring areas; Khuddam ul-Furqan, a breakaway faction of Jaish, having been involved in attacks on churches in Islamabad, Murree and Taxla in 2002-3.) These groups are said to have sympathies with Lal Masjid and a friendly relationship with its administration. Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khaleel, head of the banned militant outfit, Harkatul Mujahiddin, was even found negotiating with the government on behalf of the mosque administration during the siege. An active member of the banned Jaish-e-Muhammad, Maqsood Ahmad was killed during the operation. It was only later that a new group called 'Ghazi Force' was found to be guilty.

"Pakistani society split after the Operation"
-- Hameed Gul, former army general and chief of ISI
The News on Sunday: How do you view the Lal Masjid tragedy, three years on?
Hameed Gul: The demand of the Lal Masjid people was quite innocent. To call for an Islamic system and the enforcement of Sharia in the country made in the name of Islam can't be bad. People have somehow always had a wrong perception of such a demand which, actually, is in accordance with the golden principles of the founder of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as well as the Objectives Resolution.

"It was wrong, cruel and nonsensical"
-- Rasul Baksh Rais, political analyst and professor at LUMS
By Minahil Zafar
The News on Sunday: What view does the society of Pakistan hold about the Lal Masjid Operation?
Rasul Baksh Rais: The society at large believes that the government was wrong in launching the operation on Lal Masjid. The act was cruel, uncalled for and not the only option the government could exercise. If, according to the government, there were die-hard terrorists inside, they could be besieged and forced to come out. The general opinion is that the action was violent and certainly unnecessary.

 

 

 

 

Editorial

The Operation Silence launched three years ago against the Lal Masjid ended up in a strong backlash. The country saw its bloodiest suicide attacks initially directed against the security forces that later spread to hotels and bazaars. The capital itself was attacked many times over. The threats were made from the pulpit after the mosque was issued warnings as it engaged in moral policing and declared to impose Sharia around the capital. The physical encroachments the mosque and its adjoining seminaries were famous for had given way to ideological encroachments and the state, or the government of the day shall we say, finally woke up to the crude reality.

Media frenzy led to negotiations that led to more media frenzy culminating in what ironically came to be known as Operation Silence. Varied claims were made about the death toll and that there is no definitive figure yet available only made matters worse. Beyond a limited section of society that condoned the operation, majority of people would have preferred a more thoughtful, rational and perhaps humane solution of the problem. That it was the best course, not many people were convinced.

The connection between the calls for revenge and the wave of terrorist attacks in the country was certainly coincidental and palpable. Even though the security situation Pakistan finds itself in had a deeper and wider context. And Lal Masjid, sitting in the heart of the capital, was very much a part of that larger context. Thus it was only natural that when the time came for that complicated baggage of history Afghan Jihad and our mujahids to be exposed, Lal Masjid was perhaps the first one to be dealt with.

Three years on, the surviving brother of Ghazi Abdul Rashid, Maulana Abdul Aziz is back to the mosque, running it again as if nothing ever happened. From a functioning mosque, Aziz announces (or is it warns) the coming of a "bloody revolution". He claims that Operation Silence has pushed him and his companions 100 years ahead. Pakistan's salvation lies in adoption of an Islamic system or Sharia, he declares again.

With a Ghazi force operating allegedly from the tribal belt, the country not yet safe from terrorism and the Lal Masjid operating as before, are we not back to square one?

 

 

situation

Lal Masjid: 3 years on

Maulana Abdul Aziz announces the coming of "a bloody revolution"

By Waqar Gillani

In the heart of the federal capital, the barren land of the long-bulldozed Jamia Hafsa and the remains of the destroyed Jamia Fareedia are a grim reminder of the bloody week -- July 3-10, 2007 -- in the history of Islamabad that saw the killing of scores of people from Lal Masjid as well as the Pakistani security forces.

The outer side of the mosque's walls reads some very interesting graffiti, such as, "We greet the turning of the victims' blood into a revolution!" Interestingly, the bloodstains on the floor of the mosque and the marks of bullets and mortar shells have not been removed from the site.

The mosque was recently renovated by one of the country's top constructor Malik Riaz, in about Rs 15 million. But, the strongly-worded will of Maulana Abdur Rasheed Ghazi, displayed on the rear entrance door of the mosque, has not been tampered with.

The operation at Lal Masjid -- established in the Capital circa 1966 -- was preceded by a three-month long occupation of Children's Library (near the mosque) by the mosque administration. It took the shape of a movement when Capital Development Authority (CDA) razed Ameer Hamza Mosque on January 24, 2007. As a response, the chief cleric of Lal Majid, Maulana Abdul Aziz, together with his brother Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi and around 10,000 pupils, set out to protest. They formed a 'baton force' which was meant to counter the use of force by the government that had been demolishing illegally set up mosques in the Capital. Veiled female students took positions while many others from different parts of the country came down to Islamabad to show their support to the madrassa in case the conflict snowballed into a full-scale battle with the government forces.

On its part, the government tried to resolve the issue through talks and even engaged religious scholars for mediation. The government even accepted their demand to rebuild the destroyed Ameer Hamza Mosque which the Lal Mosque administration also agreed to, but Maulana Abdul Aziz changed his stance suddenly and refused to vacate Children's Library. He also announced launching the Sharia enforcement movement and setting up of Sharia courts (on April 6). He even threatened to use force if a crackdown was launched against the seminary.

Things went from bad to worse in July when the 'baton force' of Lal Masjid took to moral policing and attacked various private places in the city. The situation led to a grand army operation called "Operation Silence" that killed scores of students including the chief patron of the force, Maulana Abdur Rasheed Ghazi.

"We have left the matter to Allah," says an obviously calm looking Maulana Abdul Aziz, in an exclusive meeting with TNS.

Sporting a blue-coloured shalwar kameez and a turban on his head, Maulana is seated, cross-legged, on a rug in a small room of his house located close to the ill-fated mosque. He says that the use of force by the mosque administration was a reaction to what the government did to them by demolishing the mosques and occupying the Children's Library land. "I have been acquitted in one case [that of the library], but there are other cases lying pending against me, my wife and other family members."

When asked to recount what had happened in the three years since the tragedy, Maulana only says that the funding was reduced considerably. "Most clerics tell me that we have been pushed 100 years behind by the tragedy, but I refuse to accept that. I'd like to believe that we have marched 100 years ahead in time." He also terms the tragedy as "equal to Karbala".

The Maulana says that Lal Masjid would not have succeeded in its mission in a 1,000 years' time but the tragedy put them on the map around the globe. "Today, every Muslim of the world is aware of our mission. We may be quiet but our mission has not stopped," he declares.

"This country is in chaos. It is without a rule of law, a system of governance. We strongly believe that if Pakistan does not adopt the Islamic system or enforce Sharia, things will only deteriorate further."

The Maulana also announces the coming of "a bloody revolution": "My father died in the way of our mission. Besides, we lost more than 150 noted clerics. Their sacrifices are not going to be wasted!"

There is a book store inside the mosque that has as many as 113 books and booklets written on the Lal Masjid tragedy by different clerics. A store keeper tells this scribe to "have a look at this latest book [available in the store] which documents the activities of Blackwater in the Muslim countries and urges the Muslim Ummah to counter it."

The Lal Masjid and its related seminaries -- Jamia Fareedia and Jamia Hafsa -- have 35 different branches in different areas of the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, catering to more than 5,000 students at the moment, says the chief cleric. The majority of these students are women.

To a query regarding the current wave of terrorism and suicidal attacks, especially in the wake of the mosque tragedy, Maulana Aziz says, "What can we do? It's not in our hands. Abdur Rasheed Ghazi always said that if he was killed or Lal Masjid was stormed by security forces we will not be responsible for the outcome.

"We know that many groups are involved in these activities. We also hear about Ghazi Force and other groups, but we cannot control them," he adds. "In fact, we disown them."

The Maulana complains that the government recently disconnected power supply to Lal Masjid and 39 other mosques in the city because of the alleged nonpayment of utility bills. "The mosque administration has put up fresh banners that urge the government to fear no one but Allah and be merciful on the people offering prayers in the mosque in the scorching summer heat [without electricity]."

vaqargillani@gmail.com

 

Political fallout

The Lal Masjid operation put a virtual end to the political career of Musharraf and, to some extent, the PML-Q, besides causing considerable loss to the two main politico-religious parties, Jamiat-Ulema Islam and Jamaat-i-Islami

By Shaiq Hussain

Those ruling the country at the time of the Lal Masjid operation, including General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, former prime minister Shaukat Aziz, PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, and the entire military leadership, took no time to realise that the killing of armed militants (male and female students) holed up inside the mosque together with the destruction of Jamia Hafsa had sent a strong wave of anger amongst the 'Jihadi' groups across the country that were already against Musharraf for his pro-American policies.

In terms of Pakistan's stability and security, the aftershocks were so severe that the country's security forces are still trying to recover, three years on. The suicide bombings, in the wake of the operation, wreaked havoc in different parts of the country, with militants now targeting metropolitan cities of Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar.

Politically speaking, the Lal Masjid assault named 'Operation Silence' proved deadly for the rule of the then president Musharraf who was already struggling to maintain his grip on power in the face of a grave judicial crisis he had got himself into, the same year (2007).

Musharraf did claim credit for the operation, though, from the US authorities, western ruling elites and Karzai administration in Kabul. But, back home, a vast majority of people blamed him for killing thousands of innocent women and children inside the mosque and the madrassa.

It wasn't just Musharraf whose popularity graph came crushing down, immediately after the Lal Masjid operation, but the ruling party of PML-Q also had to suffer immensely. While the retired general was forced to step down and leave the country -- his safe exit ensured by Washington, London and a host of allies in the Middle East -- the then prime minister Shaukat Aziz also slipped out, following his ouster from the corridors of power.

The PML-Q leadership, which is still based in the country, believes that even in the face of a serious judicial crisis they could have survived politically as the wrath of the people was basically aimed towards one person, Pervez Musharraf, at that time. The Lal Masjid operation upset their applecart, even though the party president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was said to have made efforts to resolve the issue peacefully in June 2007.

Ejazul Haq, the then minister for Religious Affairs, also tried to arrive at a negotiated settlement of the thorny issue but, in his own words, he "had to dissociate himself from the matter once I realised that certain 'elements' were trying to stop the militants holed up inside the mosque along with 'Ghazi brothers' from a peaceful solution."

Another reason why Ejaz pulled out of the process of dialogue was the mishandling of the matter by the Interior ministry. "We were told that [the late] Khalid Khwaja, former ISI official, was trying to stop the Ghazi brothers from forging a settlement and there was also word about some elements from the agencies doing that. I don't know exactly what it was but some forces were putting obstacles in our way, so I decided to pull out," Ejaz tells TNS.

"Even Imam-e-Kaaba was invited to Pakistan for the resolution of the contentious issue. [Pakistani] Ulema, in large numbers, from Deoband also got together to talk to the Lal Masjid people. Even these clerics, despite being from the same school of thought, could do little."

According to Ejaz, the operation gave a decisive blow to the ruling party and Musharraf besides impacting the minds of a majority of people from the right-wing circles, traditionally considered to be the Muslim League votebank. "I believe if the situation at the mosque had been handled politically it would be a different scenario altogether. Musharraf, at that time, was not doing bad for himself but after the operation it was all over for us."

Prior to the operation, many people in Pakistan raised questions about Musharraf's secular posture but the Lal Masjid operation proved to be the last nail in the coffin for him with religious circles convinced that the General was all out for secularisation of the country.

Another clear illustration of the Lal Masjid political fallout for PML-Q was the defeat of its once popular leader, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, not only in general elections held on February 18, 2008 but also in the by-polls in 2010, when he contested from the platform of his newly formed party, Awami Muslim League.

The electoral loss notwithstanding, Rashid nearly lost his life when he was assaulted by an unknown group of armed people during the election campaign.

After the incident, Rana Sanaullah, Punjab Law Minister, was quoted as saying that the security agencies had found a lead that could establish links between the attack on Sheikh Rashid and that on Lal Masjid.

In a telephonic conversation with TNS, Rashid says the Lal Masjid operation played a major role in his defeat. "There was a sort of a defamatory campaign even before the polls that 'it's a contest between Lal Masjid and Sheikh's Lal Haveli'."

He also says the winner by all means was PML-N of Mian Nawaz Sharif which fully exploited the situation and won the majority of votes of the religious minded (the right-wing) by exaggerating the number of casualties in Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa.

However, Sharif too said that the bloodshed could have been avoided had the crisis been tackled aptly and negotiations process allowed to proceed.

Senator Tariq Azeem of PML-Q also stated that the judicial crisis was the major factor of the political demise of Musharraf and the then ruling party but the Lal Masjid operation proved to be decisive because it happened soon afterwards. However, he belied the impression that PML-N took great advantage of the Lal Masjid operation, saying that it was more about an anti-Musharraf vote in the polls that went to PML-N as well as other parties.

The Lal Masjid operation also brought a considerable loss to the two main politico-religious parties, Jamiat-Ulema Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Jamaat-i-Islami led at that time by Qazi Hussain Ahmed. Their followers believed that these parties had failed to respond effectively as per their aspirations on the Lal Masjid operation.

"Coinciding with the Lal Majid operation, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Qazi Hussain Ahmed were on a visit to London to attend the All Parties Conference (APC) and the religious circles strongly felt their absence," contends Ejazul Haq.

Raja Zafar-ul-Haq, Chairman PML-N, tells TNS that it is wrong to assume that his party exploited the Lal Masjid issue to gain a political advantage and that the incident had nothing to do with the result in the 2008 polls. "PML-N is a popular political force in Pakistan because it has always worked for the development of the country and its people," he says, adding that the popular perception was that the Musharraf regime allowed things to get out of control regarding the Lal Masjid operation "so as to show the world that even Islamabad was not safe from the Taliban. Later, the military operation was carried out to win the applause of world leaders and also to demonstrate how serious we were about the so-called war on terror.

"The General won laurels and kudos from his western backers but hate and anger from the people of his own country," he concludes.

 

perspective

The aftershocks

Three years since the ignominious Operation Silence, the country is haunted by some very serious and pertinent questions not yet answered

By Mazhar Khan Jadoon

It all began in the first week of July 2007. The stage was set for a bloody drama that heralded days of bloodletting for a nation already suffering at the hands of the extremists, thanks to the 'war on terror'. July 3 saw students of Lal Masjid battling it out with the security forces in Islamabad after Jamia Hafsa students had stolen radio sets and weapons from the Pakistan Rangers at a nearby post. The clashes left nine people dead and approximately 150 injured.

The then Musharraf government had been under immense pressure from China, US and some quarters within the country to go after the militants and 'terrorists' hiding inside the said mosque. Eventually, on July 4, the mosque was laid siege to. Negotiations also continued between the (besieged) Lal Masjid administration and the government authorities, without a resolution.

On July 10, special service group commandoes were issued orders to storm the mosque. A series of blasts and shootings left 250 people dead and hundreds injured. The "Operation Silence", as it was named, came to an end, without silencing the uproar that followed.

Ghazi brothers, the mosque administrators, tried to unleash a short-lived Islamic revolution, but without prudence as no popular party or figure supported them. Earlier, during the entire 2006 and the first half of 2007, the students of Lal Masjid, led by Maulana Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi, had challenged Islamabad by calling for the rule of Islamic law and an end to cooperation with the United States. They launched an anti-vice campaign, kidnapping alleged prostitutes and burning CDs of films. The students (both male and female) took to the Capital streets to persuade video shops not to sell 'obscene' movies. On March 27, 2007, female students from Jamia Hafsa kidnapped three women they accused of running a brothel in the Aabpara area and seized two policemen. According to them, despite several complaints, the government had been unable to do anything about the brothels because of the latter's connections with the high-ups. Thus, the students took matters in their own hands, much as the Taliban did when they emerged as a power in the 1990s in Afghanistan and in the Waziristan tribal areas. Their activities rang alarm bells when they abducted seven Chinese nationals working in a local massage parlour. It deeply embarrassed Pervez Musharraf who was leading the war against extremists in the region, and forced him into action that left a trail of uneasy questions unanswered.

The crisis raised a deep international concern that also left Musharraf with little option - with the US, the EU and China urging action. The government was already in for criticism because it had waited too long to finally act to flush out the militants. It feared that rash action could result in heavy casualties and prove counterproductive. The likes of the two Lal Masjid brothers were to be found all over the country. They had followers with money and arms and brainwashed foot-soldiers willing to do their bidding.

The operation ratcheted up religious sentiments and led to increased polarisation between the moderates and the extremists in the country, the former including Musharraf under the banner of 'enlightened moderation' and the latter demanding enforcement of Sharia, hoping it might take them out of the rotten-to-the core system. It gave faces to three voices and three sets of people in a society wrecked by violence and terrorism. One: the people who had opposed the operation tooth and nail and were supportive of the Ghazi brothers. Two: the people who were bent upon blasting the foundation of a place that housed extremists and nipping their ideology in the bud. Three: saner elements voicing caution while dealing with madrassa students. They wanted the government to head off the crisis without spilling any blood.

Newspapers wrote editorials and columns depicting the shock and grief and mourned the brute use of force. Everyone, except Musharraf and his close advisors, demanded a comprehensive inquiry that could be made public so that the people would know the actual facts. Though government officials claimed that a number of foreigners including Uzbeks, Chechens, Tajiks and Afghans had been arrested and were undergoing interrogation, nothing surfaced in the following days to justify the claim.

As feared, the country witnessed a surge in suicide attacks mostly targeting security forces. Thousands of security personnel and civilians were killed in dozens of suicide attacks by pro-Taliban militants after the operation. Senior security officials acknowledged the number of incidents of extremism and terrorism had risen after the Lal Masjid operation. The extremists in North Waziristan also put an end to the peace agreement after the army raided the Lal Masjid complex. It is believed that the situation in Malakand got out of control after Operation Silence because most of the students killed hailed from Swat, Buner and Bajaur. The militants in Swat took up arms to avenge the killing of the Lal Masjid students.

The Lal Masjid operation provided extremists in Pakistan a rallying point, generated new martyrs and prompted al-Qaeda and Taliban to retaliate against the security forces. The first attack after the operation against the mosque was on July 12, 2007 when two suicide bombers killed six people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Another 28 soldiers were killed when a suicide attacker struck a military convoy near the Afghan border on July 14.

The political cost of the operation turned out to be very heavy for Musharraf who is finding it hard to come back to the country he ruled for over eight years. His allies and supporters, including PML-Q, were rejected by people in the general elections just because they were part of the government that killed hundreds of innocent students.

Many supported the government's actions against Lal Masjid, but questioned the intelligence agencies that failed to get wind of the goings-on in the Lal Masjid. Once Operation Silence was over, the dust settled down and the bodies counted, many questions propped up. Why didn't the government take action against the clerics earlier? Why were the Lal Masjid elements allowed so much leeway that the complex became almost like a state within a state, complete with a moral policing force which acted with impunity enforcing a rigid interpretation of Islam on the city's residents? How did so many hardened militants, reportedly including some foreigners, make their way inside the compound situated in the heart of Islamabad? Are the government and intelligence agencies alert now to avoid a repeat? Let's hope they are.

 

 

 

A Force without a face

32 suicide attacks in three years, on security outfits in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Security officials see a link to the Ghazi Force

By Muhammad Amir Rana

The twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi have seen at least 32 suicide attacks since the Lal Masjid debacle in July 2007, most of the targets being military or security agencies. Initially, the law enforcement agencies traced the footprints of militant groups behind these terrorist attacks. (Many violent militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Jamaat ul Furqan have a strong network base in Rawalpindi and neighbouring areas; Khuddam ul-Furqan, a breakaway faction of Jaish, having been involved in attacks on churches in Islamabad, Murree and Taxla in 2002-3.) These groups are said to have sympathies with Lal Masjid and a friendly relationship with its administration. Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khaleel, head of the banned militant outfit, Harkatul Mujahiddin, was even found negotiating with the government on behalf of the mosque administration during the siege. An active member of the banned Jaish-e-Muhammad, Maqsood Ahmad was killed during the operation. It was only later that a new group called 'Ghazi Force' was found to be guilty.

Named after Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, the brother of former Lal Masjid leader Maulana Abdullah Aziz, the group was formed to take revenge of the killings perpetrated by Operation Silence.

Incidentally, Ghazi Force is not the only group that took upon itself the task (of revenge). Lal Masjid students had scattered after the operation and many of them joined the Taliban or formed their own groups. Lashkar-e-Ismail, another prominent group formed by Maulvi Ismail and Mufti Usman, a cousin of Maulana Aziz, was active in South Punjab, but Ghazi Force mainly focused on the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

Interestingly, Ghazi Force comprised the students of Lal Masjid who wouldn't depend on like-minded militant groups and kept them at bay, developing direct links with the Taliban. Security analysts believe this could be because of two main reasons: a)the militant groups' past relations with the security apparatus in Pakistan; b)they did not want to share the ownership of the issue.

These students had no relations with the militant organisations or the Taliban. Qari Niaz Raheem, the founder of the group, was a student at Jamia Fareedia. Fidaullah and Jamshed, who were arrested in connection with the suicide attacks in Islamabad, and close aides of Niaz, did not have a militant background. Security analysts think this was the reason their group went unscathed for a long time.

Ghazi Force has betrayed close links with Hakimullah Mehsud, head of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan who, after the Lal Masjid operation, had announced 'revenge'. The Force mainly depends on his group for training and logistic support. Hakimullah facilitated the group to set up its training camp in Guljo in the district of Hangu and a base in the tribal agency of Orakzai. According to sources, the group has now developed capabilities in making explosives, ambushing military units and usage of light and heavy weapons. The group also has a nexus with Fazlullah of Swat. Its members fought against the Pakistan military in the 2008 operation.

Lal Masjid claims to have 18 seminaries in the federal capital. Security sources estimate the present strength of the group to be around 50. Until now its 14 members have been arrested, including Fiadullah, Jamshed, Muhammad Hanif, Muhammad Kamran, Bashir Ahmed, Irslan Irshad and Farhan Abbasi. They were involved in 16 terrorist attacks including those on the Frontier Constabulary and Special Branch.

Law enforcement agencies are also looking into the Force's involvement in the killing of the two brigadiers in Islamabad in 2009 and an attack on Sheikh Rasheed, head of Awami Muslim League.

According to sources, 43 terrorists of the Force are still at large, which is a looming threat on the twin cities.

 

"Pakistani society split after the Operation"

-- Hameed Gul, former army general and chief of ISI

The News on Sunday: How do you view the Lal Masjid tragedy, three years on?

Hameed Gul: The demand of the Lal Masjid people was quite innocent. To call for an Islamic system and the enforcement of Sharia in the country made in the name of Islam can't be bad. People have somehow always had a wrong perception of such a demand which, actually, is in accordance with the golden principles of the founder of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as well as the Objectives Resolution.

So, it was a constitutional demand. However, I believe the method adopted by the Lal Masjid people to get approval of the state for their demand was faulty. They had no right to impose their views by force and become 'social reformers', so to speak. The law enforcement agencies also played a bad part by not stopping them in the very beginning. A local police station could have stopped them easily. But it seems the government wanted to trap them.

There is no doubt as to the fact that the West views the Islamic Sharia as a challenge to capitalism, which is why these forces have always turned up against the system. The issue which began with the demolition of the mosques was about to be resolved when the then prime minister declared that he had no time. Political bigwigs had entered the negotiation arena but suddenly the government launched the infamous operation.

See, such agreements [in Pakistan] have purposefully been sabotaged because America does not want this type of reconciliation in its war on terror. We have the example of the killing of Nek Muhammad before us. Pathans never desist from taking revenge; it's a part of their traditions, especially when it involves their wives, sisters and daughters. At Lal Masjid, there were a lot of female students from tribal areas who got killed. Later, we saw how Pakistani security forces were attacked in Mardan and Attock and, later, on ISI and naval bases. And, it has gone on and on.

TNS: What is the impact of this tragedy on the country's society and security?

HG: Pakistani society actually split after the operation. On the one hand, there were the moderately enlightened and on the other there were the avenging angels. Earlier, no one had dared to point a finger at the Pakistan army. The natural combination of tribal people and army was broken. External forces such as RAW became active because this was the first time in the history when more than 147,000 army men had been deployed on the western border. Never before had Pakistan needed to deploy a single solider on its western front.

Pakistan suffered huge losses of human and financial resource. The tragedy left a deep psychological impact on the Pakistani society in addition to a tremendous security loss on both external and internal levels.

TNS: What percentage of the backlash and terror attacks in Pakistan would you term as a reaction to the Lal Masjid tragedy?

HG: Though I have not thought about it, I believe the attacks are 50 percent a reaction to what happened in Lal Masjid, whereas 25 percent of these [terror] attacks are a reaction to the drone strikes in the tribal areas. The remaining percentage is that of a reaction to American intervention and interference in Pakistan and Afghanistan and its imposing policies on Pakistani nation.

Drone attacks are a clear violation of the Pakistani constitution and a breach of sovereignty and airspace of Pakistan, but the government seems to have resigned itself to it.

TNS: Do you think this will stop here?

HG: The situation is not going to ease out until the withdrawal of America from the region. We need a serious policy shift to put a stop to American intervention. Pakistan has been breaching diplomatic norms during the Musharraf regime to hand over the people wanted by America. The handing over of Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, an Afghan diplomat, is a case in point.

TNS: What could be the way forward?

HG: We need three things as fast as possible to control the situation. First, the trial of Musharraf for Akbar Bugti's killing; this will ease out the friction with Balochistan. Secondly, Musharraf should be tried in the Lal Masjid case; this will pacify the related people as well as extremists crying revenge. And, lastly, we should move towards constitutionalism. We need a system, otherwise peace will be far away.

-- Waqar Gillani

 

"It was wrong, cruel and nonsensical"

-- Rasul Baksh Rais, political analyst and professor at LUMS

By Minahil Zafar

The News on Sunday: What view does the society of Pakistan hold about the Lal Masjid Operation?

Rasul Baksh Rais: The society at large believes that the government was wrong in launching the operation on Lal Masjid. The act was cruel, uncalled for and not the only option the government could exercise. If, according to the government, there were die-hard terrorists inside, they could be besieged and forced to come out. The general opinion is that the action was violent and certainly unnecessary.

TNS: What is your take on the entire operation?

RBR: It was a typical Pervez Musharraf operation. He went ahead with it without thinking what could be the social and security consequences of such a nonsensical act. The examples of Kargil and, later, Lal Masjid affirm that Musharraf was not a thinking man. He was never a cool and calculated decision maker, rather a person who would be compulsive and trigger-happy. The consequences are in front of us; a wave of suicide terror attacks which were not experienced before the Lal Masjid Operation.

TNS: Why is there such a bloody and brutal reaction to it?

RBR: It is a violent reaction to an equally violent repressive method used by Pervez Musharraf. There are three reasons for this. Historically, the Wahabi movement of the 19th century explains much of the extremism in Pakistan today, but most people are unaware about this history. In the 1820s, the Wahabis launched a Mujahideen war against the Sikhs and the English. They were based in the Frontier and money was generated for the recruits from North Western India, particularly UP and Punjab. This war is explained by the historic tradition of solidarity based on Faith among this sect. The hostile and aggressive reaction we witness today becomes clear if we understand this mythology of resistance and sacrifice among this sect which can be traced back to the founding of it. It started against the Sikhs in the 1820s and continues today.

Hundreds of orphan children who were students of the Madrassa and came from Northern Areas, Gilgit, Baltistan, etc, were killed during Operation Silence. There is much more animosity and resentment among these people as a result. Had these children been from affluent classes, the government could not have touched them even. Consequently, there is much more anger among these people.

Government in its campaign against the Wahabis crossed the red line with the Red Mosque incident. They have targeted organizations such as Lashkar-e-jhangvi much more heavily than the others. The radicalists think that the government policy in sectarian conflict has not been even handed and are not willing to take that any more. What we see is an armed militant resistance as well as Talibanization as a result. This has caused hundreds of billions of rupees lost in the war, and countless lives been taken.

TNS: Are people today torn in the crossfire between modernisation that Musharraf wanted to bring to Pakistan and radicalisation that followed the Operation?

RBR: A person who has no respect for the constitution and judiciary cannot be modern or enlightened. People who do not understand modernism think being socially liberal is being modern. Modernity is about having respect for human lives, the choices they make and their rationality. If you subvert modernity, you promote radical alternatives and extremism. What we see today is the subversion of the rationality which people like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Muhammad Ali Jinnah had envisioned for the people of Pakistan. There is a surging fanaticism as a consequence.

TNS: Why do people succumb to such radical dogmas, as is happening in Pakistan? The creation of militant groups, for instance?

RBR: When you destroy a regime or a rule of law, or do not let it grow, you create a sense of injustice among people. And that results in de-legitimacy for the state and political authority and people look down upon it. Allegiance to the State changes to allegiance to extremist groups. People think these groups might deliver good governance, security, peace and justice, which are the basic responsibilities of the state.

TNS: If Operation Silence had not happened and the State had given in to the demands of the people challenging its writ, would things be different or worse, perhaps?

RBR: It could not have been worse. Maulana Abdul Ghazi just wanted a safe passage and Musharraf should have accepted humiliation and done rational calculation by granting him that. Indeed, there was pressure from the media on the government, but is that a suggestion for military action? Government has to do its own thinking. It has to think of society as a whole. Many countries around the world have taken risks to save lives. In my own opinion it was wrong, cruel and nonsensical. Nothing is worse than innocent lives lost then, and being lost now as a result.

 

 

 

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