Lal Masjid is sponsoring sectarian and jihadi activities in the heart of Islamabad

Although, Hamid Mir is notorious because of his sympathies towards jihadi and sectarian organizations, his op-ed in today’s Jang is quite interesting.

Read the first paragraph, in which Hamid Mir tells Musharraf that there are certain elements in the Lal Masjid, surrounding Abdul Aziz and Abdur Rashid Ghazi, who are forcing the two Mullah brothers not to reconcile with the Government. Hamid Mir notes that the same elements are also supported by the Government because they were arrested red-handed with weapons from the Lal Masjid by the Police, however, after a few hours, some other people from an agency forced the Police to release those armed criminals.


Historical Context

It is worth noting that Mullah Abdullah, the father of Mullah Abdul Aziz and Mullah Abdul Rashid was a leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and a leading supporter of the ISI-sponsored Afghan Jihad. And so were his sons.

Excerpt from Daily Times, Editorial 5 July 2007

As for Lal Masjid itself, a little bit of a history lesson would help contextualise what has happened. The father of the two brothers who run Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdullah, was close to Gen Zia and many a senior politician and military man. During the time of the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, Lal Masjid became a favoured conduit for sending ’mujahideen’ to Afghanistan, and also Kashmir. It is also widely believed that he was patron to several sectarian groups such as the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Harkatul Mujahideen. Even now, and as publicly stated by President Musharraf, several members of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad, for whose leader’s (Maulana Masood Azhar) freedom Maulana Abdullah had publicly spoken many a time, were said to be hiding in the compound and helping the two brothers. The question that should be foremost on everyone’s minds and which governments past and present need to answer is why the situation was allowed to come to this. Why wasn’t the jihadi manufacturing machine fuelled by extremist seminaries and mosques such as Lal Masjid not reined in and kept a tight leash on? Also, the issue of Lal Masjid and what has been happening, especially the revelations that many of the students were not exactly willing residents, should hopefully attract public and media scrutiny on the role played by madressahs towards fostering extremist views in the country. Of course, a solution to this problem is not easy since it involves the decrepit and crumbling mainstream education system, but these are all questions and issues that need answers and introspection.


Excerpt from Terrorism Monitor
History of the Red Mosque and its Former Caretakers
The foundational stone of the Red Mosque was laid in 1965 by Maulana Abdullah—the father of the militant clerics Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi—a year after the birth of Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad. Maulana Abdullah, a Deobandi Muslim,
was appointed as the mosque’s imam by Pakistani President Ayub Khan (The News, July 8). During agitation led by religious parties against Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977, Abdullah successfully mobilized the masses in support of the
protests. By virtue of this contribution, he gained the favor of General Zia ul-Haq, the military dictator who dislodged Bhutto. Zia’s tenure was a key time for religious groups to expand, and Abdullah earned additional gratitude for volunteering in the Afghan war of 1979-1989. As a reward, he was allocated land in
the prized and posh E-7 sector of Islamabad to establish Jamia Faridia, a seminary. Arab financing also helped Abdullah build an institution where many orphans and
poor children received religious education (The News, July 17). Abdullah’s agenda changed, however, as he became involved in sectarian politics and started to
support the newly emerged Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba Soldiers of the Prophet’s Companions)—an anti-Shiite terror outfit. General Zia was hardly perturbed, as he
despised Shia Muslims, and could not see how these sectarian fissures would destabilize Pakistan in the future. In the process, Abdullah motivated thousands of
people for jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and in collaboration with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) he continued to provide fodder for the Afghan theater.
In 1989, he attracted the limelight when at the time of Benazir Bhutto’s electoral success, he issued a fatwa declaring women’s role in politics as un-Islamic. [The Fatwa had been engineered by General Hamid Gul and Qazi Hussain Ahmed.]


Lal Masjid theatrics: mob rule or ’topi drama’?

by Prof Adil Najam

The News, June 26, 2007

The standoff created by the attack on a ’massage’ centre in Islamabad by the Lal Masjid militia and the abduction of a number of Chinese nationals lasted less than a day. The criminality of this shameful act notwithstanding, the matter was thankfully resolved and the ’pious posse’ from Jamia Faridia and Jamia Hafsa released the kidnapped individuals. However, far from resolving the larger crisis of puritanical vigilantism, this episode has only deepened it. The government has succumbed, yet again, to the militant tactics of the Lal Masjid leadership who have, in turn, declared victory. This episode will further embolden the already violence-prone brigands at the two madressahs and we are likely to see an escalation in their demands as well as their tactics. Meanwhile, with the government has once again demonstrated an inability and/or unwillingness to act decisively. The much-cherished ’writ of the state’ continues to rot in tatters.

This loss of control by the state apparatus — not only in the far reaches of the tribal belt but in the very heart of the federal capital — is much more than a spiralling ’law and order’ situation; it is an erosion of state sovereignty. The militants from Lal Masjid have been acting not just with impunity, but in equality to state functionaries. With all the pretensions of a state within a state, Lal Masjid ’authorities’ are now negotiating as equals with government ’authorities.’ And they have been doing so with increasing frequency and with amazing success.

What is even more surprising than the abdication of control by the state is the lack of outright outrage amongst the public. Somehow our national passions are far more likely to be flared by the award of meaningless honours to unimpressive novelists by foreign governments thousands of miles away than by the spectacle of crumbling state sovereignty in the very heart of our national capital. This lack of public outcry is partly — but only partly — explained by the political savvy of the Lal Masjid leadership. Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi and his comrades have shown great ingenuity in their choice of issues and in operational execution. By focusing on issues of public morality and highlighting the government’s failures in enforcing its own laws, they have been able to present themselves as reformers rather than as bullies and as guardians of social virtue rather than as promoters of intolerance.

Much more than that — and even amongst those who fully recognise the gravity of situation — one finds a pervasive feeling that there is more to the Lal Masjid theatrics than meets the eye. Even members of parliament have been suggesting that the government and its intelligence agencies are manipulating the Lal Masjid militancy. There is a widely held view that even if the intelligence agencies are not actively ’managing’ the Lal Masjid, the government is choosing to tolerate and possibly encourage its antics for its own short-term goals. The common refrain is that everything happening at the Lal Masjid is part of an elaborate ’topi drama’ — an intricate, carefully calibrated, stage-managed confrontation which is not a confrontation at all.

But why would the government (either directly or through its intelligence agencies) collude with the leadership of the Lal Masjid to produce or tolerate situations — the continuing capture of a children’s library, abduction of alleged brothel workers, hostage taking of policemen, and now the kidnapping of Chinese nationals — that are clearly embarrassments for the government? That the government, despite all the instruments of force at its command, has been repeatedly caving in to the demands of the stick-totting madrassah students has fuelled rumours of secret deals and devious deceptions. But it also makes the Lal Masjid crowd look like heroes even as the government comes out looking ineffectual.

What possible benefits does the government derive that would outweigh this embarrassment? Two reasons are commonly given. First, there is the theory of domestic payoff. It is argued that strategically timed eruptions from Lal Masjid can provide valuable respite and distraction from other irksome political crises, especially the continuing saga of the chief justice debacle. The second theory posits the possibility of international payoffs. In this case, the argument is that since each eruption from the Lal Masjid is quickly contained, but never fully resolved, the military regime is sending a message to its US patrons that (a) Pakistan remains a country at the brink of fundamentalist fervour and (b) military control is needed to keep such militant groups in check.

Even if there were some in the realm of power who once actually believed in such ideas, neither of these theories is empirically defensible today. In relation to the first, it is now abundantly evident that Lal Masjid woes add to, instead of distracting from, the domestic political mess. Quite clearly, nothing that has happened by or in the Lal Masjid has made even the slightest dent in the public or media enthusiasm for following the minutia of the chief justice story. The second theory stands equally discredited. Instead of viewing the Lal Masjid skirmishes as evidence of just how bad things are in Pakistan, most analysts in Washington now see this unending drama as proof that the military government is increasingly unable to contain the rebirth of Talibanism in Pakistan. In short, the continuation of the Lal Masjid crisis is not merely an embarrassment for the government, it is actually dangerous for the regime; both domestically and internationally.

I am, of course, not privy to the inner thinking of the intelligence apparatchiks in Pakistan. However, it is at least likely that this is less of a ’topi drama’ than people seem to believe. That whatever the relationship between intelligence agencies and the Lal Masjid might have been in the past, today the ’movement’ (as Maulana Ghazi likes to call it) has assumed a life all its own as a very potent — and ugly — manifestation of self-sustaining vigilantism and mob rule. If so, the government’s inaction against this ’movement’ can be explained either as a gross miscalculation of the lurking dangers, or it could be based on a real fear that touching the hornets nest at Lal Masjid would unleash demons so horrific that our already divided society will be further torn apart. The government’s own statements suggest that it is the latter.

Just like standing still in the middle of the road at the sight of the blinding lights of a truck speeding towards it does not save the life of the stunned deer, doing nothing about this escalating crisis out of fear that doing anything will only make things worse is not going to help the government, or Pakistan. Something needs to be done, and done fast.

Contrary to popular logic, there may be important payoffs for the government if it does act to judiciously dismantle militancy at Lal Masjid. Internationally, it will be seen as an imp victory and a real step against rising Talibanisation. Domestically, it will mean one less crisis to worry about and could rally support from the moderate majority in Pakistan who once supported General Musharraf but have now become disenchanted. Ultimately, however, the most important reason to dismantle the militancy is that it is the right thing to do.

The writer is a professor of International Negotiation and Diplomacy at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, US, and the founding editor of Email: adil.najam@

Tail piece

The News informs us:

According to CDA records Lal Masjid is the oldest mosque built in Islamabad … The mosque was constructed by CDA. The construction was funded by the Finance Ministry and the mosque belongs to the Auqaf Department… Maulana Abdullah was appointed the first Imam of Lal Masjid.

Just who was this Maulana Abdullah?

Surprise, surprise, not only was he the father of these two firebrand brothers currently behind the Lal Masjid ruckus – Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi – but he had also been a privileged personal favourite of General Zia-ul-Haq.

The journalist Amir Mir tells us that Maulana Abdullah was ‘a highly politicized Deobandi mullah who remained critical of all the governments except that of General Zia’s.’

During the 1980s Abdullah was famous for delivering fiery speeches in support of the Afghan Jihad. With the approval and patronage of the government and the ISI, the Lal Masjid soon became a centre for Deobandi jihadis going to fight the Soviet occupation troops. Other Deobandi militants – such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen – were also patronised by Maulana Abdullah. Leaders of these extremists groups would regularly come to deliver sermons and raise funds in the mosque.

Amir Amir further informs us that:

Maulana Abdullah [became] a devoted supporter of the Taliban and the al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, with whom he had reportedly developed special ties. In a newspaper interview, Maulana Abdur Rashid Ghazi, the younger son of the late Maulana Abdullah, confessed that his father had special ties with Osama bin Laden and the two had met on several occasions.

As fate would have it, Maulana Abdullah met a violent end on 17 October 1998 when he was assassinated – shot dead as he crossed the courtyard of the Lal Masjid – by suspected Shia militants. As is the case for most tit for tat sectarian killings the culprits were never found.

After Abdullah’s death his two sons – Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi – took over the running of the mosque along with two madrasas, Jamia Hafsa, for female students and Jamia Fareedia for males. They continued preaching an uncompromising and extreme form of Islam.

Abdul Aziz remained the official khatib in this government-owned mosque until 2005 when he was sacked for issuing a Fatwa declaring that no army officer killed fighting the Pakistani Taliban could be given a proper Islamic funeral.

While Abdul Aziz is a proclaimed offender in number of cases the regime has proclaimed its inability to nab him. It blames this helplessness on the grounds that he is protected by hundreds of baton wielding female students.

It is believed that there are around 7,000 students studying in the male and female sections of the religious seminary. Some 70 per cent of these are said to be from Waziristan and other Pashtun tribal areas.

Despite regime protestations, journalists like Umer Farooq (‘The Firebrand Cleric And His ‘Lal Masjid’ Polemics’) have a different take on the current state of affairs.

The impunity with which this new fundamentalist group is pursuing its agenda has led many observers to believe that Abdul Aziz and his baton wielding female students have the support of some powerful segment of Pakistan government. Abdul Aziz doesn’t deny this. He told Asharqalwsat [a UK-based Arabic newspaper]that a lot of people from the administration and police are coming to us and extending secret support.

However, this is not the only reason why people think that the fundamentalist group enjoys the backing of powerful people from within the government. The precision and dexterity with which Abdul Aziz and his brigade of female students have so far handled the so-called movement to enforce Islamic law in the country has compelled many analysts to believe that there is a mastermind pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

So what is really taking place in Islamabad?

Your guess is as good as mine, but one thing is for certain: In Pakistan what meets the eye and what the hidden reality is, are often two different things.