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Lal Masjid Operation: The Aftermath

The reactions to the raid of the Pakistani security forces into the Lal Masjid complex in Islamabad have been violent in the Pashtun belt in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) —- as anticipated— and angry, but non-violent in the rest of Pakistan.

2. Attacks continue to take place on military and police personnel in the tribal areas. Since the launch of the military operation, 32 members of the security forces and three Chinese have been killed by unidentified persons in the tribal areas. The three Chinese, who were killed in Peshawar, were reportedly staying in a guest room of the Peshawar slaughter house and were in the business of export of meat, hide and skin to China. A fourth Chinese, who was also staying with them, escaped with injuries. He is reported to have stated that he and his slain countrymen were getting threatening phone calls after the Army launched the raid and had reported the matter to the local police, but the police did not do anything to protect them.

3. Concerned over the attacks on security forces personnel, President Gen.Pervez Musharraf has advised them not to wear uniform, when they are not on duty or moving alone in the area. He has also rushed reinforcements to the tribal areas to bring the situation under control. The illegal FM radio stations operating from the mosques and madrasas in the tribal areas have been appealing to the people to rise in revolt against Musharraf. They have also been criticising the US, China and the Hamid Karzai Government in Afghanistan in very violent language. They have also been repeatedly broadcasting the taped message of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s No.2 in Al Qaeda, calling for a jihad in protest against the Army raid into the Lal Masjid.

4. The protest demonstrations in the non-tribal areas after the Friday prayers on July 13,2007, were largely attended, but by and large non-violent. Angry slogans were shouted against Musharraf, President George Bush and Karzai, but not against the Chinese. The anger against the Chinese is confined to the Pashtun belt and the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) from where most of the students in the two madrasas attached to the Lal Masjid came.

5. There are varying estimates of the total number of Chinese living and working in Pakistan—-varying between 3,500 and 5,000. They consist of three categories.In the first category are the Chinese engineers and technicians working in Chinese State-aided projects such as the Gwadar port construction and Saindak copper-gold extraction projects in Balochistan, the construction of a hydel power station in the FATA and the expansion of the reservoir capacity of the Mangla dam in Mirpur in POK. All these Chinese are well-protected by the Pakistani security forces, but despite this, some of the engineers working in Gwadar and FATA were killed in terrorist attacks, allegedly by the Uighurs, in recent years.

6. The second category consists of independent Chinese businessmen running small-scale business enterprises employing not more than half a dozen Chinese per enterprise like the one in Peshawar, which came under attack. The third category consists largely of single Chinese women in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi working in massage and beauty parlours, dental and native Chinese medicine clinics etc. These two categories do not enjoy any special protection. They are dependent on the local police of the area, where they are living and working, for their protection.

7. There was a campaign of slander against these single Chinese women by the clerics of the Lal Masjid and their Uighur students, which led to the kidnapping of some of them working in Islamabad by some of the Uighur students. While the clerics were describing them as prostitutes corrupting the morals of Muslims, the Uighur students were accusing them of being agents of the Chinese intelligence agencies sent to Pakistan to monitor the activities of the Uighurs in Pakistan before next year’s Olympics in Beijing. The allegations against the single Chinese women voiced by the clerics of the Masjid and the Uighurs are not supported by the other Islamic fundamentalist parties.

8. There are wild rumours about what really happened inside the Masjid complex when the security forces entered it, how many people were inside, how many of them were women and how many were killed. The security forces managed to take over the madrasa for boys without casualties in a fairly neat operation because it was located some distance away from the Masjid complex. The operation to take over the madrasa for girls, which was located inside the masjid campus, was very untidy and bloody messy.

9. Journalists, who were taken inside the campus after the operation was over, have reported without exception that most of the fighting and exchange of firing seemed to have taken place in and around the madrasa for girls and not in the masjid itself. The Army has attributed this to the alleged fact that a group of foreign and Pakistani militants had kept the girl students as hostages in the madrasa and were using them as a shield in order to prevent the security forces from advancing. The Army has not so far been able to produce the bodies of many foreign militants to substantiate its claim.

10. According to independent and reliable police sources, there were not more than 15 non-Afghan foreigners inside. Of these, three were the armed Uzbeck bodyguards of Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the deputy chief of the masjid, who was killed along with his bodyguards. The remaining 12 were Uighur students—- boys and girls— who had surrendered, but were allegedly killed by the Army.

11. The Army has tried to project that the number of girls killed during the raid was less than ten, but its claim has not been accepted by independent sources. According to one police source, the Masjid was looking after about 300 girls of the POK and Balakote in the NWFP, who were rendered orphans by the earthquake of October,2005. While many of the other girls, who had their parents living, managed to escape and reach their parents, these quake orphans had nowhere to go and stayed put in their madrasa. It is alleged that all of them were killed in the exchange of firing and the Army had their bodies secretly buried in mass graves before the journalists were taken to the masjid campus.

12. Two judges of the Pakistan Supreme Court have taken cognisance of the wild rumours circulating about the casualties and have been calling for details from the authorities.

13. Pakistan’s ulema (religious clergy), who had maintained a distance from the clerics of the Lal Masjid, are now expressing their solidarity with them as a result of their indignation over the manner in which Maulana Abdul Aziz, the chief of the Masjid and the elder brother of Ghazi, was treated by the intelligence agencies. When the army surrounded the masjid complex and asked the women inmates to come out and surrender, he came out wearing a burqa along with other women. He was detected and arrested. The intelligence agencies later showed him on the Government-owned TV with and without burqa and ridiculed him as a coward.

14. The way he was sought to be humiliated has shocked the Ulema. Zawahiri’s message too strongly condemns his humiliation. Some of the Ulema claim that Ghazi had decided to surrender in order to avoid a bloodshed, but when he saw on the TV the way his brother was ridiculed and humiliated by the intelligence agencies, he changed his mind and decided to stay in and fight till his death. . Some of the clerics are claiming that Ghazi sent his brother out in a burqa in order to make alternate arrangements for the quake orphans. They assert that he did not go out due to fear as projected by the agencies.

15. It is said by police sources that Musharraf himself was shocked and disturbed when he saw on the TV the way the intelligence agencies were humiliating the head of the masjid and rang up the TV studio and ordered them to stop it immediately. By then, the damage had been done.

16. The Police sources also say that Musharraf’s original idea was to have the masjid campus surrounded and play a game of patience with the inmates without raiding it, but a strong phone call from the Chinese President Hu Jintao rattled him and he ordered the raid shortly thereafter, overruling the advice of his civilian advisers to be patient. (14-7-07)

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.)

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