The ongoing Lal Masjid case, leaving aside everything else, is an example, if one were still needed, of what’s wrong with us.
Two sets of people want ‘justice’ for the Lal Masjid ‘victims’: those who want to bludgeon former General-President Pervez Musharraf, and the lying right wing that has made a habit of decrying everything this state stands for and then using the very institutions of this state, in this case the judiciary, to clamour for legal-constitutional rights and make space for their exclusionary agenda. Such in our beloved land are the ironies of public and private life.
Now General Musharraf is not the flavour of the month. He hasn’t been since he left office. Since his return, he has been made to run from pillar to post, his nose rubbed in the dust. Perhaps he required a lesson in humility. He is being held responsible for much that has gone wrong. At least in that, bitter political rivals boo and curse him from the same side of the fence.
I am no fan of Musharraf’s. In fact, when he took over, opposed as I am to military takeovers, despite the genius of Mian Nawaz Sharif on display from 1997 to that fateful day in 1999, I wrote against the coup. It was a difficult choice: it never is easy to choose between two bad options. I didn’t have too many takers, just like I didn’t when I wrote about the excesses of the lawyers and where their movement was headed.
So, I can chalk a long list of bad decisions by Musharraf. And I did. Interestingly, the Lal Masjid operation didn’t find a place in that. Here’s why.
The clerics of a mosque, in the heart of the capital, decided to challenge the state. Their shenanigans in the run-up to the operation are fully documented. I could give a blow by blow account of what happened, as also the clerical family that built its power through state patronage and ended up challenging the very state that has created many monsters but most of that too is known.
What does need stressing is that everything they said or did showed a supra-state mindset. They used religion as a cover to demand concessions from the state which no state can concede. They did this even though it was a known fact since 2004 that they had issued a fatwa at the behest of Ayman alZawahiri against the military personnel fighting al Qaeda.
“On the advice of al Qaeda, Maulana Abdul Aziz issued a religious decree in 2004 which declared the South Waziristan operation un-Islamic. The decree prohibited the burial of the soldiers in Muslim graveyards. Funeral prayers for those who had died in the action against Muslim militants in South Waziristan were forbidden. The decree was circulated throughout the country and 500 clerics signed it … All the combined guns of the militants could not have been as useful in belittling the Pakistan Army as that religious decree.” (Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Syed Saleem Shahzad, p.42)
This, again, is just the tip of the iceberg. Shahzad, on pages 41-47 and then 159-162, writes in detail about the close nexus between Lal Masjid and al Qaeda (AQ) and how the two brothers were part of the AQ action plan. Incidentally, this is not the only account. There were several police, Intelligence Bureau and ISI/Military Intelligence (MI) assessments of what the two brothers were up to. In fact, Musharraf wanted to take action against the brothers much earlier but was stopped from doing so by the MI which was already worried because of large-scale desertions in the army following the 2004 fatwa.
In a nutshell, the Lal Masjid clerics were pushing the AQ agenda and were deeply involved in activities that were unlawful, unconstitutional and anti-state. Not just that, and this is what no one seems to point to, they were using the seminarians under their charge, both boys and girls, in a game devised by AQ. Perhaps now, when they call for justice for those who died in the operation, the honourable court would take the trouble of asking them two questions: one, who rebelled against the state and created the circumstances that led to a military operation; two, who exploited the misdirected zeal of unsuspecting students and put them in harm’s way? These questions should have been part of the eight-point terms of reference of the inquiry commission the Supreme Court bench had set up.
No one should go unheard; but neither should lies be allowed to govern our lives.
Meanwhile, instead of taking a clear position on the issue at a time when Lal Masjid clerics are garnering support for their toxic cause, the GHQ stays quiet and chooses to file its reply through the Judge Advocate General’s Branch. And please spare me the argument that that is the proper channel and the army is only going by its traditional regard for democratic norms. We know, as the army does, that it sends out clear signals to whoever it wants to message when it deems its core interests to be under threat.
So, does the army not consider the issue of Lal Masjid to be its core interest despite knowing about the mosque’s links with al Qaeda, and the fact that it lost men in that operation?
Some of the officers are still serving; others have retired from very senior positions. I don’t need to name them. But since the Inter-Services Public Relations directorate will get to read this, here’s my suggestion to the army: the sacrifices of those men, officers and soldiers, demand that the facts on Lal Masjid be made known officially, from the mosque’s nexus with al Qaeda and Pakistani militant groups to the entire plan which the brothers were working on. The army owes this to the men it lost as well as to this beleaguered nation. This should be in addition to the letter submitted to the court through the JAG Branch.
Finally, let me debunk the bunkum that has found its way into some press stories. The army never used any chemical weapons in the operation. Pakistan is a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention and does not possess chemical weapons. Do not confuse smoke grenades with chemical weapons. In fact, don’t talk about things your genius cannot even begin to comprehend, thank you.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2013.
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