August 9, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1671

Pakistani Journalists Blame Government in Lal Masjid Showdown

August 9, 2007
Pakistan | Special Dispatch No. 1671

In two recent articles in the Pakistani press, Pakistani journalists blamed the Pakistani government for the Lal Masjid showdown. Just before the mosque was stormed, Najam Sethi wrote in the pro-Kashmir Roznama Nation to describe the history of the Ghazi brothers' ties with Pakistani intelligence services; following the confrontation, Hamid Mir wrote in the right-of-center Roznama Jang ("The War Daily") that the government had mishandled the situation and alienated public opinion.

The following are excerpts from the articles:

Najam Sethi: Ghazi Brothers Have Full History of Connections with Pakistan's Intelligence Agencies

On the eve of the military operation against the Lal Masjid, senior Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi wrote, in the weekly edition of the pro-Kashmir Roznama Nation, that the Pakistani government had a history of support for the heads of the Lal Masjid, and accused the government of staging the confrontation in order to impress international opinion:

"The Ghazi brothers [i.e. Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Abdul Aziz] have a full history of connections with the intelligence agencies of Pakistan.

"Their father, Abdullah, had been offering services in Pakistan's several jihads in the neighboring country [i.e. Afghanistan], in exchange for which they [the Ghazi brothers] were given benefits.

"As time passed, the administration of their mosque [i.e. the Lal Masjid] began [building] illegal extensions on adjacent government land, and the government, fearful of [the security] agencies, could do nothing.

"In 1998, Abdullah Ghazi became a victim of sectarian [Shi'a vs. Sunni] terrorism and lost his life. In 2004, when jihadists and Al-Qaeda... attempted to kill General Musharraf, explosives and a rocket were recovered from Abdul Aziz's car, and on this basis he was then arrested. Yet Religious Affairs Minister Ejaz-ul-Haq intervened, and he was released.

"The important point is that despite their pro-Taliban and pro-Al-Qaeda views, their sympathies for and aid to the two [groups], and their opposition to America, the Ghazi brothers did not, like [other] people of their ilk, disappear at the hands of the intelligence agencies!

"The second point is that the Lal Masjid issue is attracting the full attention of the media at a time when issues of national importance, such as the independence of the judiciary and the decision on the fate of the [suspended] chief justice, are at stake. The Lal Masjid 'drama' was reaching its peak during March and April… When Chief Justice [Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhary] launched long marches across the country, the 'Ghazi brigadier,' in order to divert people's attention, began abducting women, children, and policemen, and also attacked CD and music shops in Islamabad.

"Then the government kept pretending to be in 'talks' with them, despite the fact that [already] in April they had established shari'a courts and were warning of suicide attacks across the country.

"When the Lal Masjid [leaders] issued a fatwa against [Tourism Minister] Nilofer Bakhtiar [for embracing a male parachuting instructor], the government took away her ministry. Even after that, the activities continued. In May they abducted four policemen, and in June they took seven Chinese citizens hostage. During these three months, the government did not attempt to encircle Lal Masjid or to monitor the movements of these leaders, even though General Musharraf himself had recently said that heaps of weapons were present there and that the compound was a fortress of Jaish-e Mohammed terrorists and Al-Qaeda suicide bombers.

"Still, the president did not bother to clarify how these weapons and militants reached [Lal Masjid] despite... powerful and omnipresent [intelligence] agencies.

"Another important point is that these mullahs, having drawn media attention, have been releasing the abductees without receiving any ransom payment.

"The third point is that the 'brigadiers of Lal Masjid' have failed in gaining the sympathies of other madarsas and religious groups. This is quite strange, as one would have expected their successful religious 'activities' to inspire similar activities – yet most of the religious groups stayed away and criticized them strongly for the[ir] methods.

"Maulana Fazlur Rahman, an alert politician, has said time and again that the Ghazi brothers are dancing to the tune of [intelligence] agencies so that people's attention would be diverted from the problems faced by General Musharraf in the country, and in order to impress upon the outside world that Islamist extremism has become such a serious danger that only a moderate and progressive commando like General Musharraf can meet this challenge.

"The national media has been exploited [in this episode], and the international media has been fooled. Extremist Islamists have been put to shame, and have no more credibility..."[1]

Hamid Mir: I Am Shaken by How People are Talking About the Government; The Clashes Are Likely to Spread Radicalism

In a July 16, 2007 article in the right-of-center Roznama Jang ("The War Daily"), Hamid Mir, a well-known Pakistani journalist who has interviewed Osama bin Laden, wrote that most Pakistanis, while not supportive of the Lal Masjid, were angry at the government over the bloodshed, and that the clashes were likely to lead to the spread of radicalism:

"I have been flooded with letters, emails, and telephone calls. Angry people are asking me, 'You can enter the war-torn regions of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon in order to fulfill your journalistic obligations, so why couldn't you enter the Lal Masjid in… Islamabad?'

"I cited several reasons; I reminded them of the limitations of the curfew there; but the anger the people does not appear to be subsiding…

"For the past three to four days, the kind of conversation that has been taking place inside and outside Pakistan… about the government has shaken me. All my telephone lines are tapped. The institutions tapping my telephones should convey to General Pervez Musharraf the details of the kinds of calls I am getting. The strange fact is that ordinary Pakistanis are angry with the government over the Lal Masjid tragedy, and at the same time also unhappy with the opposition.

"Many women have expressed surprise at Benazir Bhutto's support for the use of force against the Lal Masjid. Many young people have questioned why the All Parties Conference organized by Nawaz Sharif in London did not openly condemn the Lal Masjid tragedy. Ordinary Pakistanis had never backed the ways of protests by the [leaders of] Lal Masjid over the martyrdom of mosques, but the indiscriminate use of force against the Lal Masjid left even [human rights activist] Asma Jahangir, who was a critic of Lal Masjid, fuming. She does not consider extremism to be an answer to extremism.

"Two questions are being raised by ordinary people. First, why did the talks between Abdul Rashid Ghazi and the government fail? Second, why were the bodies of male and female students who were martyred inside Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa unidentifiable? And, were the bodies made to disappear?

"As far as I am aware, Abdul Rashid Ghazi made every effort to make the talks successful, up to the final moment. He wanted to save the lives of his colleagues, but with dignity.

"The reason for the failure of the talks was, along with the behavior of the government, also the behavior of the 'ulama, who were present together with [former prime minister] Chaudhary Shujaat Hussein outside the mosque up until the last minute. The behavior of many [of these] 'ulama was not serious.

"Chaudhary Shujaat Hussein and [radical Islamist leader] Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil were talking to Abdul Rashid Ghazi on the phone, and many 'ulama present with them were having fun. Once, this reached the point where some friends of Chaudhary Shujaat Hussein had to formally request that the 'ulama stop laughing.

"As the talks, which began at 6 PM, continued late into the night, the 'ulama ordered food from... [an upscale area of] Islamabad and began eating, whereas Chaudhary Shujaat Hussein and Fazlur Rahman Khalil made do with biscuits and water. The two asked Abdul Rashid Ghazi if he had eaten; he said 'no' and told them, 'We will consider you really our well-wishers if you could send in food for a few hundred people.' Chaudhary Shujaat Hussein immediately sent his men to arrange food for 300 people.

"Meanwhile, Abdul Rashid Ghazi had agreed to hand over some of his so-called foreigner friends because they were young students. He was also to leave the Lal Masjid and Jamia Faridia. The 'ulama present there [as part of the talks] wanted the Jamia Faridia to be handed over to [the pro-Musharraf association of madarsas] Wafaq-ul-Madaris, but the government was unwilling to do this. It was not such a big issue.

"The real problem was to save the Lal Masjid and the lives of hundreds of male and female students. But Maulana Hanif Jalandhri and his 'ulama friends left the talks over this dispute. Only Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil remained there. In the end, he convinced Abdul Rashid Ghazi to send 20 women and men outside, but meanwhile his cellphone battery went dead, and they were disconnected.

"Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Chaudhary Shujaat Hussein were trying to reestablish the connection, but then the military operation began. For the hungry and thirsty men inside Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa, there was no path but resistance, and helpless women silently accepted entrance into the mouth of death. How many women and girls were martyred? This is one question for which the government does not have a satisfactory answer.

"The day after the martyrdom of Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the government took journalists on a tour of the Lal Masjid, and showed lots of weapons, including rocket launchers. People are asking why Abdul Rashid Ghazi and his men did not use these launchers. In light of the people's anger, the Wafaq-ul-Madaris decided to declare July 13 a day of protest.

"It is strange that while the Lal Masjid tragedy took place in Islamabad, the leadership of Wafaq-ul-Madaris did not organize any protests in Islamabad; rather it assured the government that the students of [their] madarsas would not protest in Islamabad. At a mosque in Rawalpindi [the twin city of Islamabad], during Friday prayers, one preacher criticized Abdul Rashid Ghazi, and people took him by the collar and started shouting slogans.

"Even the leadership of [the alliance of religious parties in power in the northwest, and in opposition in Islamabad,] Majlis Amal was absent from Islamabad [on the day of the protests]. An address by Abdul Ghafur Haideri before a small congregation was a facade. The pragmatism of Wafaq-ul-Madaris and Majlis Amal meant that political protests were not strong. But there was an increase in suicide attacks. The dejection of youths [and their deception at] the religious leadership could lead to a rise in extremism.

"The important question is: Will the Lal Masjid operation lead to a decrease in extremism in Pakistan? The answer is no.

"The day after the operation, a government minister of state inaugurated a dance club in the F-10/3 sector of Islamabad.[2] In this area, a wine shop has opened. Will establishing dance clubs and pubs reduce extremism in Pakistan? The truth is that religious extremism is, in effect, a reaction to liberal and secular extremism. Until the pro-Western liberal and secular ruling elite do not end their extremism, moderation will not grow in [Pakistani] culture.

"Think for a while! If the British government's policies can make the Muslim doctors there extremists, then which way will the extremism of our rulers lead our half-educated religious youths?"[3]

[1] Roznama Nation (London edition), July 7-13, 2007.

[2] The reference is to the Health Minister Shahnaz Sheikh; Sheikh's version of the events is that she was invited to inaugurate a health club, and when she realized it was a dance club she left after 10 minutes.

[3] Roznama Jang (London edition), July 16, 2007.

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