Lal Masjid, Islamabad
Constructed – 1966|
Renovated – 2010
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The Lal Masjid was built in 1965 and is named for its red walls and interiors. According to Capital Development Authority (CDA) records, the Lal Masjid is one of the oldest Mosques in Islamabad. Maulana Muhammad Abdullah was appointed its first imam. Abdullah was critical of all governments except Zia's with whom he was very close. General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq had very close relationship with Maulana Muhammad Abdullah, the former head of the mosque. During the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979–1989), the Red Mosque played a major role in recruiting and training mujahideen to fight with the Afghan mujahideen. Throughout its existence, it has enjoyed patronage from influential members of the government, prime ministers, army chiefs, and presidents. Several thousand male and female students live in adjacent seminaries.
After Maulana Muhammad Abdullah was assassinated in 1998, his sons Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid took over the mosque, making it a centre for hardline teaching and open opposition to the government. Abdul Aziz remained the official khateeb (sermon giver) of the mosque until he was removed in 2005 for issuing a controversial fatwa stating no Pakistani Army officer could be given an Islamic burial if died fighting the Taliban.
The plot on which Lal Masjid was built was allotted by CDA. With the passage of time, the mosque administration encroached the surrounding area and a large complex-like a fort was constructed. Due to influence and the strong connections Lal Masjid has with the government high officials, the CDA remained unable to get the encroached land vacated until late 2006. In early 2007, CDA issued a vacation notice. Aziz and Rashid initiated the move by taking over the Children Library located nearby by using the female student force. These students were motivated in the name of religion and thus the visible conflict started. All this was to force the government to come to some compromise.
On July 3, 2007, the stand-off between the students barricaded inside the mosque and the government resulted in bloody gun battles in which over twenty people, including students of the mosque, members of the media, paramilitary personnel, and a businessman reportedly were killed and over one hundred others were injured. An FIR was later registered against Aziz and Rashid with charges ranging from kidnapping and murder to treason, as well as terrorism. People who supported the activities of Lal Masjid said they were only attacking "Chinese girls who were prostitutes and they [were] destroying CD shops which sold pornography." Lal Masjid held on to what many people call "pure and true Muslim ethic" and what the opposing parties called "fundamental and dogmatic".
Aziz and Rashid were negotiating the conflict with then Senior Minister for Religious Affairs, Ijaz-ul-Haq in consultation with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, President Pakistan Muslim League (Q). Till last minute reports, the negotiations were deemed successful. Reportedly, after the minister left the Mosque, he changed his stance and could not defend the commitments he made at the mosque. To avoid collateral loss, on July 4, 2007, the government offered amnesty to juvenile students if they surrendered and over 1000 of the students who supported the cleric accepted. Abdul Aziz was arrested while he was trying to escape dressed in a burqa. A reward was announced for the rangers who captured Abdul Aziz.
Government and Security officials had repeatedly asked Maulana Abdul Rashid to surrender but he refused. He proposed that if government would give him and his students safe passage to allow him to live a silent life in his home village, he would hand over Lal Masjid to government, Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Faridia to Wafaqul Madaris (a federation of Madaris). This agreement was made between Ulmai Karam and Government including Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain but at the final moment President Pervez Musharaf canceled the agreement and ordered to attack the mosque where hundreds of female students were present but refused to leave even on offer of safe passage. This was called "Operation Silence". Under cover of darkness, 164 elite commandos of the Pakistan Army Special Service Group stormed the Mosque-Madrassah complex from three sides. While police and paramilitary forces secured the outer perimeter of the complex, the gate and walls of the mosque were breached.
On July 8, 2007, most of the private media outlets (such as Geo and Aaj, among others) became convinced from the movements of the security forces on the ground that they were preparing to storm the building. At dawn on Tuesday, July 10, after attempts at negotiation failed, government troops stormed the mosque, taking control of most of the complex. According to Inter Services Public Relations spokesman Maj Gen Waheed Arshad, the defendants were heavily armed and put up fierce resistance. According to the BBC, after the initial action, around fifty militants had been killed and eight soldiers martyred; an estimated fifty women and children were removed from the complex, including the wife of the captured mosque leader, Maulana Abdul Aziz. Although troops cleared the ground floor, some of the mosque's defenders retreated into the basement, prolonging the standoff. By the evening, military sources stated that the operation to gain control of the mosque was in its final stages and would continue throughout Tuesday night.
Many conflicting reports swirled around the incident and it is difficult to determine the truth of these given the very sensitive political nature of the event; the actual number of casualties still cannot be verified independently.
Brigadier General Javed Iqbal Cheema of the Interior Ministry said the body of Abdul Rashid had been found in the basement of the women's school after what was described as intense fighting. Reports said the cleric had been shot twice and failed to respond when called upon to surrender. At that point, commandos fired a final volley of shots at him. Other reports stated that militants refused to allow Rashid to surrender and that he was killed in crossfire. The BBC reported that 75 bodies were found. Far right political parties also claimed that the government was unable to prove the presence of any foreigners in the mosque and that it wrongly dubbed some locals as the foreigners.
Following the week-long siege, the country entered a three-day mourning period. The bodies of those killed were buried in temporary graves, awaiting collection from family members. Hundreds of Abdul Rashid's supporters attended his funeral in his Punjabi village, amid calls for Holy War. This gave rise to fears of a violent backlash from fundamentalist quarters; the police and military were placed on high alert. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda's second in command, released a message which included the sentence: "Your salvation is only through jihad", heightening tensions in the region.
Speaking at a televised address, Pervez Musharraf said he was determined that extremism and terrorism would be eradicated in Pakistan. "Unfortunately we have been up against our own people [...] they had strayed from the right path and become susceptible to terrorism. [...] What do we as a nation want? What kind of Islam do these people represent? [...] In the garb of Islamic teaching they have been training for terrorism [...] they prepared the madrassa as a fortress for war and housed other terrorists in there. [...] I will not allow any madrassa to be used for extremism." Musharraf went on to say that those members of the military who died had given their blood for the country.
Objections to the operation
Government opposition parties have accused the government of diverting attention from an ongoing judicial crisis in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Pakistan All-Parties Conference being held in London, and heavy losses due to floods in the country. However, the more troubling point of concern is the confusion over the number of casualties as the government's official toll of 90 is in doubt.
Pro-Musharraf Party Pakistan Muslim League (Q) and one opposition party of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) attempted reconciliation and in a recent and very silent move, the Government of Pakistan has appointed Maulana Aamir Sadeeq, the nephew of Abdul Rasheed, as the new Imam (prayer leader) and khateeb of Lal Masjid. This comes in from a meeting of leaders of PML-Q, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman of JUI (F) with Maulana Abdul Aziz, the former Khateeb of Lal Masjid.
July 2008 bombing near Lal Masjid
On July 6, 2008, at 7:50 PM local time, a bomb exploded near Lal Masjid killing 18 policemen and 1 civilian. A Pakistani official claims the bombing occurred on the first anniversary of the siege and was a revenge attack. The attack occurred even amidst tight security in Islamabad, where thousands of Islamic students in Pakistan came to mark the day when Pakistani troops stormed Lal Masjid. The blast was the work of a suicide bomber around 30 years of age. Advisor to the Prime Minister on Interior Rehman Malik, who visited the blast site, said about 12,000 students attended the rally and the attack was directed at the police.
In the same month, the Urdu-language newspaper Aajkal published a cartoon satirizing the wife of Abdul Aziz, Umme Hassaan, who ran the mosque's girls' education center. The cartoon depicted her encouraging young women in burqas to "kidnap Chinese masseuses". On July 11, Lal Masjid clerics held a protest against the paper and its editor-in-chief, Najam Sethi, declaring it to be the equivalent of the Jyllands-Posten controversy, in which a Danish newspaper published cartoons negatively depicting Muhammad. Following subsequent death threats against Sethi, the Pakistani government put him under police protection.
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