Today, the Lal Masjid Operation is owned by no one. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf may regret he ordered it. But the facts will not disappear.
On July 6, 2008, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) observed the anniversary of the operation by killing 19 people in Islamabad through a suicide bomb, 15 of them policemen. An al Qaeda videocassette marked the first anniversary of the destruction of Lal Masjid in which revenge was sworn.
Amir Mir, in his book Talibanisation of Pakistan from 9/11 to 26/11, states: “Before the bloodshed, the Mosque had a reputation for radicalism, mostly attracting Islamic hard line students from North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and tribal areas where support for the Taliban and al Qaeda is quite strong. Much before the military operation code named ‘Operation Silence’ was launched by the Pakistan Army, the Lal Masjid had become known to the outer world as a centre of radical Islamic learning, housing several thousand male and female students in adjacent seminaries.
“As the Operation Silence unfolded, it was discovered that elements from jihadi groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Harkatul Jihadul Islami were present inside the seminary … carrying Kalashnikov rifles, LMGs, hand grenades, petrol bombs and rocket-launchers”.
Zahid Hussain, in his book The Scorpion’s Tail: The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in Pakistan and how it Threatens America (2010), noted: “Lal Masjid clerics Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid had learned their militancy from their father, Abdullah Ghazi, who received funding and guidance from the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies for jihad. After the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan, Abdullah Ghazi became closely associated with al Qaeda.
“In 1998, he travelled to Kandahar to pay homage to Mullah Omar, and took his younger son along. During this visit, Abdul Rashid Ghazi became radicalised. He met with Osama bin Laden alone for an hour. At the end of the meeting, he picked up Bin Laden’s glass of water and drank from it and said: ‘I drank from your glass so that Allah would make me a warrior like you’.” (p.112)
Two months after the Lal Masjid siege, an 18-year-old boy blew himself up inside the high-security base of Zarrar Company, the elite commando unit responsible for Operation Silence; 22 commandos were killed. It was an insider job. Zahid Hussain writes: “One of the officers identified was Captain Khurram Ashiq, who had served in Zarrar Company” (p.121). Captain Khurram Ashiq died in Helmand fighting on the side of al Qaeda. His brother, Major Haroon Ashiq, too, worked for al Qaeda, killing SSG commander Major-General Feisal Alvi in Islamabad. He has been acquitted this year by an antiterrorism court in Adiala Jail.
British journalist Owen Bennett-Jones, in his lengthy study Questions Concerning the Murder of Benazir Bhutto (London Review of Books, December 6, 2012), refers to one of the assassins of Benazir Bhutto named Husnain Gul, who joined the killer gang because of Lal Masjid: “Husnain Gul was a madrassa student who in 2005 had received small-arms training at a camp in North-West Pakistan. The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report says that when he was arrested, he had a hand grenade and clothes belonging to his friend Bilal.
“In his confession, Gul described how a friend of his had been killed when Musharraf ordered an assault on the Red Mosque in Islamabad in July 2007… Gul decided to avenge his friend’s death and persuaded his cousin, Muhammad Rafaqat, to join him”.
Operation Silence was disowned by the ruling PML-Q government. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman was reprimanded by the madrassa network into opposing it. The media sided with Lal Masjid during the operation.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2012.