The mystery of Lal Masjid

Published: January 9, 2016


PHOTO: AFP The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc. She tweets @iamthedrifter

The liberal civil society in Islamabad and the rest of Pakistan, and even the Pakistani diaspora abroad, tend to get very upset with the continued presence of Abdul Aziz in the heart of the capital. There are some activists who have even made a career out of flagging the Lal Masjid issue. The emphasis of the argument is that Aziz survives due to protection of the political government. This may not be entirely incorrect as the interior minister recently claimed to have known the cleric and that he has personal terms with him.

It is indeed odd that a government whose prime minister recently claimed to be personally liberal would then turn a blind eye to someone creating anxiety in the heart of the capital. This is not just about protection of the capital or the diplomats who live here, but also sending a message around the world that the state is unwilling to discipline a group or an individual who created such chaos in 2007 and probably has the capacity to incite people into bloody action against the rest of society.

But Aziz is an old mystery, not a new one. In fact, there is a history of the state turning a blind eye towards him and his family despite reports about their action or involvement in activities punishable under different provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code. From 2001 up until July 2007, 39 FIRs were filed against Lal Masjid’s management and students. Out of these, the initial four reports were filed in 2001, followed by two in 2004, three in 2005 and the remaining in 2007. From illegal possession of weapons and the unlawful use of loudspeakers to the illegal intimidation of people, kidnapping, wrongful confinement, harbouring of offenders and homicide or attempted homicide, the state had sufficient reasons to proceed against the Lal Masjid brigade. However, no decisive action was ever taken except for the 2007 military operation that may have been initiated to placate the Chinese or the Americans.

The accused were acquitted in the four cases filed in 2001, declared proclaimed offenders in another four cases of 2004 and 2005, and investigations were carried out in all other cases that were of a more serious nature. In none of the cases did the state try to bring decisive evidence against the culprits. Strangely, the Lal Masjid brigade was not even punished for the loss of life of around seven military officials.

For those surprised by the civilian government’s lack of action, it is a fact that no one has ever seriously brought the Lal Masjid brigade to book. In fact, a couple of senior police officials, who tried to take some strict action in 2007, were removed from their positions. (As a footnote I would like to add that a similar thing happened in Bahawalpur in 2002, when the Jaish-e-Mohammad besieged the town hall and the local administration, and threatened that rivers of blood would flow. The police officer responsible for taking action against the group was eventually removed.) Mind you, this protection was provided under a military government, which also earned kudos from around the world for firmly responding to a threatening situation in Islamabad. Many years later, a lot of people think of General (retd) Musharraf as a ‘liberal’ because he ordered the military operation against Aziz and his men and women. Did he really intend to take any action? And was he alone in his fight against the Lal Masjid or did all of his men back him in the operation? The Lal Masjid clan continued to operate freely even when the police discovered intimate conversations between the female leadership of the mosque and people involved in, for example, the killing of a Polish engineer.

Apparently, post-2007, Aziz was kept on a tight leash and looked after by some influential contacts of the state. The mosque was rebuilt and Aziz was rehabilitated in it despite the Ghazi force — which grew out of the 2007 incident — being responsible for several acts of terrorism, even within the capital city. The approximately 30 madrassas in Islamabad linked to Aziz were also provided for and he was often facilitated in giving help to his people back home in Rajanpur.

And at no point did Aziz demonstrate that he was not a rational actor. He chose to escape during the 2007 operation clad in a burqa, indicating his flexibility, which means that he is not the kind who would sacrifice his life for his ideology. He did not even object to dealing with a female business and marketing executive, who was made responsible for overseeing the rebuilding of the mosque. This was not a burqa-clad female, but a modern person with moderate beliefs who was just performing a task assigned to her. According to some sources, his recent anxiety about implementation of sharia in the country was probably linked with the personal issue of rescuing a family member rather than anything else.

Aziz will probably continue living in the capital city. He is a beneficiary of some secret decision — not to take action against him — at some critical levels of the state. He is extremely beneficial in keeping the state engaged with both the right and the centre (I am assuming that there is no real left present to engage with). Those who follow him or consider themselves devout feel that Aziz’s continued presence means that the state has not undergone any drastic ideological shift. On the other hand, his presence keeps the centrists, which include those who consider themselves to be left wing, busy and excited. Every now and then, there will be commotion on the streets or in the social media, indicating resolve to remove the cleric. But this gentle and manageable friction reflects Islamabad’s version of moderation. The real threat to the powerful and to the establishment can only really come from a potent socioeconomic narrative, which is still missing. Aziz will certainly not stand for the disempowered. After all, he is a project of capitalism and will continue to thrive.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (29)

  • student
    Jan 10, 2016 - 1:01AM

    Interesting article. Dont know whose binocular is not in order that’s why not able to analyze the matter.Recommend

  • Dong
    Jan 10, 2016 - 2:39AM

    The author quiet naively glosses over the real reason he is kept by the authorities. His father was the first person to invent the slogan of “kafir kafir Shia kafir” and still in each of their sermons and rallies this slogan is chanted vehemently. Infact during muharram the innocent “students” of Lal Masjid chant the same slogan in presence of Police against the Muharram processions.

    He is the face of the Anti-Shia movement in Pakistan and in his extensive network of Madrassas this teaching is explicitly propagated, those in establishment who hate the Shias do their utmost best to protect him and his network. Our Saudi Masters hold his leash and any attempt to harm him will come with consequences.Recommend

  • lalai
    Jan 10, 2016 - 3:36AM

    No one can survive in this country without the tacit approval of power centre. The day they think he is redundant, he will be dispatched just like Malik Ishaq. Recommend

  • Avtar
    Jan 10, 2016 - 4:47AM

    The contradictions in the Lal Masjid case reflects the muddled thinking the Pak government and the Military has on issues related to extremism, sectarianism and terrorism. Everyone is aware of the well articulated “good Taliban” or Bad Taliban” arguments. Pretty soon it will be good ISIS or Bad ISIS!Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jan 10, 2016 - 6:49AM

    There are some activists who have even made a career out of flagging the Lal Masjid issue.

    Is this not what the good thinking author doing as well? Why not pay a visit to Lal Masjid to listen to Friday sermon and have a talk with Mr Aziz the care taker of the house?

    Rex Minor.Recommend

  • khalid Pathan
    Jan 10, 2016 - 8:58AM

    Long live Moulana Aziz, long live Nawaz Shareef, long live Chowdry Nisar and long live law enforcement agencies. Moulana Aziz is a symptom of a deadly disease afflicting this nation.Recommend

  • Arifq
    Jan 10, 2016 - 9:23AM

    Project of capitalism! Really? I thought the purpose of capitalism was to create wealth, not terrorist. Rest of the article was spot-on, thanks Ayesha but we need to find and state the real reasons behind these frankensteins.Recommend

  • Jawad U Rahman
    Jan 10, 2016 - 10:18AM

    Many in the Pakistani state undersestimate the damage caused by these indecisions. The state is undermined permanently.Recommend

  • TTT
    Jan 10, 2016 - 10:45AM

    It should be ban on this man to be cleric-Recommend

  • Ali S
    Jan 10, 2016 - 10:55AM

    This guy is a walking slap on the face of the NAP – he is undermining its entire credibility by the very fact that he’s still a free man despite his very public actions and opinions. I’ll try to be optimistic here and assume that he’s being set up to meet Malik Ishaq’s fate, who also thought he was invincible right until the very moment that he was extra-judicially discarded like a used tissue paper.Recommend

  • Jan 10, 2016 - 10:57AM

    This is pakistan,imagine,the government and its powerful institutions itself keeps the paid killers,to take personal,political beneficiaries from them and use in strategic depths.Recommend

  • Kakar
    Jan 10, 2016 - 12:04PM

    He must be doing the required bidding to the satisfaction of those who matters otherwise how can he get away with killing of scores of SSGs personnel and the unthinkable adventure of attempting to kill COAS. Wonder as to how these Azizs, Azhars, Saeeds ETC will be dealt with when they earnestly began their prime bidding of conquering the state ?Recommend

  • ashar
    Jan 10, 2016 - 12:18PM

    Well, now I believe if the person in question is eliminated, the unlawful possession of arms, abuse of loudspeaker will be finally checked, and ante shamim will live peacefully ever after.Recommend

  • Ding
    Jan 10, 2016 - 12:30PM

    @Dong: Well said. And it can be added that the father was given his post as Imam of Lal Masjid by Field Marshal Ayub Khan as a reward for issuing a fatwa against a woman – no less than Fatima Jinnah – running against him as head of state in the 1965 election. Anti-Shia, anti-woman…anti-Pakistan? Recommend

  • hypocrite
    Jan 10, 2016 - 12:46PM

    Pakistan is built on religious ideology confused with western secular democratic ideas. Religion is used as a tool to fool people ,mullas for political gains. The religious parties are used to serve the interest of the rich chowdharis and punjabi military elite. Everything is so confused within the establishment that no one knows what they are fighting for. Darkness has engulfed the Pakistani society. we have to announce to the darkness that they will not be diminished by the brevity of our lives.

    PS : It is the Hypocrisy in our lives that is killing us.Recommend

  • Punjabi
    Jan 10, 2016 - 12:57PM

    Reference to comments: What a story about women being dominated and sidelined in every sphere – social and political. The story of Pakistan.Recommend

  • NHA
    Jan 10, 2016 - 1:01PM

    It is no mystry. But why the Author is in hurry. A brilliant General is already suffering from aftermath of Lal Masjid. The State is faced with many similar problems. An enabling environment is needed which is developing to tackle this menace.

    But when this happens, Pl Ayesha Sadiqa don’t be the 1st to chnage sdies. Recommend

  • Dan
    Jan 10, 2016 - 2:06PM

    Chaos in the Capital in 2007 was created by Khawaja Khalid a planted mole in Lal Masjid by the then government (who met his fate a few years ago). Maulvi Aziz should have act wisely.Recommend

  • Parvez
    Jan 10, 2016 - 2:32PM

    @Dong: You said it……..and said it loud and clear.
    Let us also not forget the role played by Ejaz-ul-Haq ( son 0f Zia-ul-Haq the man responsible for much of Pakistan’s woes ) in protecting both brothers.Recommend

  • rex minor
    Jan 10, 2016 - 2:54PM

    @khalid Pathan:
    The author is playing with a highly charged theme trying to advance neu liberal teachings in place of individuals faith. The sharifs are no such liberals and to combat disease human body requires white cells in blood the masjid imam is the white cell.

    Rex minorRecommend

  • Fuzail
    Jan 10, 2016 - 3:42PM

    Sot on, Ayesha Siddiqa. Brilliant piece. We need to take our voice to people in the streets to loudly protest this silence of all three Sharifs. Recommend

  • Malik
    Jan 10, 2016 - 5:45PM

    Your last paragraph really summed up everything perfectly.

    The notion that there is a “liberal leftist class” that exits in Pakistan is an utter myth. There is left in Pakistan, just people in the center, who play a fake role of being liberals.Recommend

  • Jahan
    Jan 10, 2016 - 9:33PM

    For miss siddiqa, there is a page on facebook named as “commandeleven” the admin has a nice reply for you please check it out. :)Recommend

  • FaiselH
    Jan 10, 2016 - 10:35PM

    Connivance, Incompetence or simply ‘National Inaction Plan’ ?Recommend

  • smalee
    Jan 10, 2016 - 11:32PM

    I just want to say few words.

    If he is a bad man, then why he is not in jail ?

    If he is a good man, then why we all are afraid of him ?

    If any one during his job commit a crime minor or major, he may loose his job.

    On the other hand, he is still holding a key position, isn’t it strange ?

    But one thing is very clear, everybody who used to say that Musharaf did a mistake by initiating operation against him and his innocent followers….

    Now they are saying Musharaf was right and he foresee the situation.

    That is why he is still among us but once the requirement is complete he will meet his brother.Recommend

  • Ali
    Jan 11, 2016 - 1:12AM

    OK, let’s call it Crony Capitalism. Right? BTW, we can get the ‘real reasons’ by looking at the picture Ayesha is painting.Recommend

  • anonymus
    Jan 11, 2016 - 1:39AM

    @Ding.. thanks for sharing this information. if possible, please post referencRecommend

  • Ding
    Jan 11, 2016 - 8:40AM


    See, Hassan Abbas, The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).Recommend

  • Shaikh Mohommad
    Jan 11, 2016 - 7:54PM

    No reference is made in the article about women and children killed as a result of Military operation by General Musharraf. The dead were not handed over to their relatives. What happened was the dead wee buried in graves – sometimes two or three dead bodies were buried in one grave. Shouldn’t an enquiry be held and the main culprit i.e. Musharraf be tried and punished?Recommend

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