Is Islamabad at verge of another Lal Masjid episode?
The residents of the capital city have yet not forgotten the Lal Masjid Operation that was carried out during President Gen Musharraf’s regime. A large number of persons were claimed either killed or missing as military units deployed around the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Aabpara, located in the heart of the capital. Major markets, schools, offices and residential sectors are located around the controversial mosque. From some recent developments, the danger of the second episode of bloodbath there has emerged.
The first operation in July 2007 was the net result of criminal negligence of the Capital Police and other law enforcement agencies because a major buildup of arms and ammunition was allowed inside the Lal Masjid. Militant groups, comprising both men and women, were not nipped in the bud when they were sprouting all across the country. Extremists were given a free hand to hold violent demonstrations in every part of the city under the leadership of Maulana Abdul Rashid, younger brother of Maulana Abdul Aziz - who was later killed during the operation in the Lal Majid. The operation began after a bullet fired from within the mosque premises martyred a senior military officer sitting in his tent outside the mosque during the siege.
Maulana Abdul Aziz was arrested after the operation but released on bail later by the Supreme Court the same year. The court directed the Capital authorities to settle the issue with the cleric by providing him some other piece of land for building a mosque. The matter remained undecided due to various factors and the Maulana remained silent. But two weeks back, Maulana Abdul Aziz suddenly returned to Lal Masjid claiming that he was the prayer leader, the position which was lying vacant due to transfer of the officially appointed Khatib of the mosque.
As expected, the Maulana started delivering provocative sermons after every prayer. The situation took a serious turn when a group of 100 female madrassa students in a violent trespass entered the premises of Jamia Hafza in Sector H-11. This seminary was being controlled and run by the Lal Masjid clerics back in 2007 and their illegal occupation was forcibly vacated during the operation.
For the past one week negotiations were being held between Maulana Abdul Aziz and the Islamabad Administration and an agreement is understood to have been reached under which the cleric has agreed to leave the mosque in 72 hours. The deadline is Thursday afternoon. Meanwhile, the female occupants of Jamia Hafza have started vacating the premises and police contingent deployed there have gradually been withdrawn.
It is learnt that the Administration has agreed to allot 20 kanals of land to Maulana Abdul Aziz as an alternative as was directed by the Supreme Court in its order. During negotiations, Maulana defended his movement against former military dictator Gen Musharraf who, he alleged, was bent upon demolishing religious buildings including mosques and seminaries. He warned the Administration representatives that if such an attempt was relaunched, he would resist it with full force. The Maulana was assured that no such move was imminent and that his complaint would be passed on to relevant authorities.
However, the Maulana was told in categorical terms that his demand to be appointed Khatib of Lal Masjid could not be entertained. His demands include granting him Rs250 million along with a piece of land to build Jamia Hafza and gave him the control of Children’s Library adjacent to the Jamia Hafza premises.
All other religious organizations having a strong presence in Islamabad have assured the city administration of their cooperation to bring about a peaceful solution to the Lal Majid issue. Particularly, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), under the leadership of its local President Hafiz Nazeer, is playing the role of a mediator.
The Maulana who earlier enjoyed all kind of moral, political and financial assistance from religious parties and philanthropists was left all alone this time and his attempt to seek the endorsement of his stance from Deobandi organizations - including Jamia Fareedia, Jamia Rashidia and Jamia Muhammadia – bore no fruit. If Maulana felt being left high and dry, there is a danger he may resort to some extreme, even violent, steps out of desperation.