The Lal Masjid saga represents the struggle that is undergoing in Pakistan between the extremists and the moderates and it is not going to be resolved anytime soon. ILLUSTRATION: ANAM HALEEM
The judicial commission mandated to investigate the 2007 Lal Masjid operation has released its report. Six years after the incident, which led to over 100 deaths, the operation continues to divide the polity demonstrating the extent to which Pakistan has mixed religion and politics. For a starter, it is a good development that the report has been made public. The report tells us clearly that military assistance sought was lawful and necessary given the escalation of tensions. In any case, Article 245 of the Constitution supports such interventions.
At the same time, the report of the one-man commission avoids fixing responsibility and also why the civil administration failed to tackle the problem. The larger question whether peaceful negotiations were possible also remains unanswered. While the report says that then prime minster Shaukat Aziz and president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf gave the “final decision”, it falls short of apportioning clear responsibility and the logical action to be taken. It has become commonplace to blame General (retd) Musharraf for everything that happened during 2007 — from the Lal Masjid fiasco to the imposition of emergency and to the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The truth of the matter is that the civilians — both in the political sphere as well as in the bureaucracy — were fully involved in the decision-making.
Former ministers Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Ijazul Haq have also been blaming General (retd) Musharraf in a rather opportunistic style. The Aziz brothers of Lal Masjid had challenged the writ of the state, amassed weapons in a seminary and were out to impose their brand of Sharia in Islamabad and elsewhere. General (retd) Musharraf was mocked for not taking action and once he did, he received harsh criticism for his actions. The media’s role in this episode also requires a fresh look as some media persons became a party to the conflict as it unfolded. The role of negotiators and competing intelligence agencies required a deeper investigation. The Lal Masjid saga represents the struggle that is undergoing in Pakistan between the extremists and the moderates and it is not going to be resolved anytime soon. Sadly, the commission report raises more questions than it answers.