Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Lal Masjid: Truth Will Out?

INSIGHT: Truth will out — Ejaz Haider
Daily Times, July 12, 2007

Could it be that the government did not want Ghazi to remain alive and at some point talk to the media? The operation was codenamed “Silence”. It makes sense to dub it such if there is an urgent need to “silence” someone
The government has closed the file on Lal Masjid. Time now to answer some questions.

As argued in this space, states use force or threaten its use and that is considered legitimate (the issue of legitimacy is of course linked to either a large majority of people approving the use of force in a situation or the state’s ability to do so without fear of being effectively challenged). Philosophers since Plato have noted that “politics involves managing coercive force because human condition involves conflicts of interests”.

But there is a caveat: force cannot be used gratuitously; it is a means towards an end and not an end in itself. This is true both of a state’s use of force against internal challenges and external threats.

The question then is, what is the truth behind the “last” draft which had been worked out between Abdul Rashid Ghazi and the government — through the ulema — and which was changed by the presidency?

This question is vital because if it is correct that Ghazi was prepared to lay down arms, the entire rationale for the use of force disappears. At the risk of overemphasis, let me reiterate that while it is a mistake to shy from using force in situations where appeasement can lead to encouraging a group (or state) to continue with its unacceptable conduct, it’s even more unacceptable that force be used when it can be proved that a situation could be resolved through other means.

Killing people is no joke. Which is why force must never be used unless it becomes absolutely clear that the benefit of using it far outweighs the cost. The government constantly said that it gave the Lal Masjid a long rope because it wanted to resolve the issue peacefully. That is correct. True also is the fact that the two brothers kept pushing the envelope. But precisely on the basis of the government’s own argument that it was reluctant to use force can one now ask why force was used when (or is it if?) Ghazi had agreed to surrender. Was there a hidden agenda?

On the authority of various sources, and in the absence of transparent facts, it seems that the final parleys with Ghazi were an eyewash and a decision had been taken to kill him. If this is correct, and unless the government can prove to the contrary, it is unacceptable and the government must explain why such a decision was taken, at whose behest, and to what end. It must prove, beyond any doubt, that all deaths — on both sides — from the moment the deal was scuttled can be justified.

The religion minister Ijaz-ul Haq has been saying that Ghazi inquired about the fate of the “foreigners”. Haq’s statement is in line with the government’s claim that the mosque was hiding Al Qaeda (foreigners) and Jaish-e Mohammad (local) terrorists. There is absolutely no doubt that all communications were being recorded. Could we have the transcript of this conversation? It would also be good to see the bodies of the foreigners who, according to the government, were holding Ghazi hostage. What did Ghazi mean when he spoke to a channel, his last communication with the outside world, and said that those who had deceived him would be answerable to God on the day of judgement? What was the deception? What “political ulema” was he talking about?

Could it be that the government did not want Ghazi to remain alive and at some point talk to the media? The Lal Masjid connections with jihadi (and sectarian) groups are known and they go back to the Afghan jihad. The state was involved in that policy and it empowered them. When the government says the Lal Masjid people had stockpiled weapons and ammunition, would someone like to tell us how and over what period of time? Was there an intelligence failure; more likely, was it done in collaboration with intelligence agencies? (Please note that the government stands in violation of article 1373 of the Security Council if it allowed the mosque to stockpile weapons and give sanctuary to “terrorists”.)

The operation was codenamed “Silence”. It makes sense to dub it such if there is an urgent need to “silence” someone. Ghazi was of course straining at the leash to cross the red line. Was he put up to it by some elements who then decided that he was expendable? Why did Ghazi fall for their machinations?

Why are the media being kept away from hospitals; why were reporters/cameramen not allowed to go inside the mosque when Ghazi invited them to come in and see for themselves what the situation was like (the argument that they could be made hostages is flimsy because there are effective ways through which this could have been avoided). There have been reports of security forces personnel intimidating the media (reporters/cameramen) and not allowing them to function smoothly. The government can say that it only tried to keep the media away from harm’s way but that too does not wash. If a reporter or cameraman is prepared to risk his life, so be it. And if he comes back alive, three cheers for him. He can wear the result of that adventure like a badge of honour.

Was it concern for the media’s security or the fear that media snooping could lead to some embarrassing facts? Some answers would again be welcome.

It is important for the government to realise that hiding facts will not do for a simple reason: facts have an annoying way of surfacing at odd moments; also, their absence gives rise to rumours and speculation. It’s best to be transparent, even when mistakes have been made.

The ulema have asked for a judicial inquiry into the whole episode; such an inquiry, in any case, should be standard procedure. If the government is clean, it should have no objection to this demand; indeed, it should have taken the initiative and announced one itself. The exercise should go beyond just a fact-finding mission and should include representatives from political and civil-society representatives.

The file will remain open until the truth is out.

Ejaz Haider is Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times and Consulting Editor of The Friday Times. He can be reached at

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