One of the most debated events in our recent history will be debated once more as the Supreme Court has decided to appoint a one-man commission to look into the events surrounding the Lal Masjid operation in 2007. The decision to do so is a curious one since most of the facts are not in dispute. We know, for instance, that the girl students of the Jamia Hafsa, in an act of vigilantism, kidnapped Chinese women they thought to be prostitutes. It is also undeniable that the Lal Masjid was home to a large cache of weapons and that it had violated many building codes. Those weapons were used to fire at policemen and army soldiers, killing many of them. All children in the Lal Masjid were offered free passage before an operation was carried out. The facts of the Lal Masjid saga should not be in dispute especially since the matter was documented in detail in the media when it occurred in 2007.
However, there are some unsettled disputes about whether negotiations still had a chance to work before General (retd) Pervez Musharraf ordered the operation. But this is a political, not judicial, question. The government had the right to take action and there is no need for judges to second-guess that decision so many years later. Instead, the judiciary may want to look at its own role in the affair, especially how it released just about everyone involved in challenging the state from the Lal Masjid.
The clerics at the Lal Masjid, it should go without saying, were terrorists who continually defied the state. If there is any criticism to be made of how the affair was handled, it is that Musharraf gave them too long before using the military option, thereby allowing a media circus to develop. If anyone’s role in the affair needs to be investigated, it is that of a media, then newly-discovering the power of sensationalism and political parties, including Musharraf’s own PML-Q that used the Lal Masjid affair to distance itself from the dictator by spreading false information. Misperceptions about Lal Masjid persist and if there is any good to come out of the Supreme Court commission, it will hopefully be to lay these myths to rest.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2012.