The one-man Lal Masjid Commission probing the bloody 2007 incident has avoided fixing responsibility for the military offensive launched against the Red Mosque. The assault had left more than a hundred people dead.
However, the commission report categorically states that no evidence suggests that military assistance was not required to thwart the adverse law and order situation created by “miscreants” – and that such an intervention was a legitimate one in light of Article 245 of the Constitution.
But key questions remain unanswered: is there any evidence that peaceful negotiations were not a possibility? Also, who authorised the offensive?
As the commission, led by Justice Shehzada Sheikh of the Federal Shariat Court, documented all recorded statements by witnesses, the available evidence indicated that former president Pervez Musharraf and former prime minister Shaukat Aziz took the “final decision.” But the commission stops short of treating the former leaders as responsible, and merely says that statements by “volunteer witnesses and court witnesses” suggested so.
“From the statements, it is clear that volunteer witnesses and court witnesses described the deaths as avoidable….They held Pervez Musharraf, then occupying the public position of president, as the person responsible for the incident,” the commission wrote.
Advocate Tariq Asad, counsel for Lal Masjid in the Supreme Court case, also noted that the commission did not fix any clear responsibly for the offensive which killed 103 people, thereby steering clear of its mandate. Asad also said that in its reports the commission had not ascertained the correct number of fatalities in the Lal Masjid operation.
‘I am not aware’
But despite ambiguity, the commission was clear in asserting that lawmakers of the time were responsible for supporting whoever made the decision. “Even if there was the allegedly hidden agenda of anyone, or there was a motive, subtle ‘moves’ or machinations for the terminal punch, all the partners in power, more than willingly…defended all his dictates,” said the commission.
Some ex-lawmakers, who were on the forefront of negotiations with the Lal Masjid administration in 2007, say that had they been given enough time to negotiate, a peaceful resolution to the law and order challenge would have been possible.
In his statements before the commission, the then interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said “I am not aware” in reply to seven questions asked about the offensive. Like Sherpao, the then minister for information and broadcasting Muhammad Ali Durrani came up with the same reply.
However, the head of the team which was mandated to negotiate with the Lal Masjid administration, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and the former minister for religious affairs Ijazul Haq squarely put the blame on the then president Musharraf “for first prolonging the military operation and then going ahead with the offensive despite chances of success of negotiations.”
However, the commission quoted from President Musharraf’s 2007 address: “This process (negotiations) failed because the first demand of Rasheed Ghazi was to provide him a safe passage, which meant that there should be no trial against him and the second was that he and his companions get general amnesty,” the commission quoted Musharraf as saying, while justifying the motive behind the final and decisive assault.
The commission’s report clearly stated that those belonging to Musharraf’s team placed responsibility squarely on him, although it is clear from their admissions that Shaukat Aziz was also in the loop along with his cabinet members and coalition partners.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2013.