ISALAMABAD - The Musharraf era gory saga of Lal Masjid began with a brawl its affiliated seminary students had with police in January 2007, leading to nothing less than a mini war in the middle of the country’s capital city. The six-month-long standoff between government and seminary students who were out to enforce their own code of Islamic Shariah, climaxed into a day-long gun battle and the area presented the look of a war zone with frequent use of grenades and rockets.
The tragic incident claimed the lives of over 100 companions of Abdur Rashid Ghazi, including one dozen of army personnel, officials believe. Though many believe the casualties in the sad episode of Lal Masjid, located close to the capital’s two overcrowded and busy shopping venues (Aabpara and Melody markets), were much more than the officially stated number, it remained only the part of public gossips without any solid proof.
The chronology of the events that led to the July 10, 2007 fully-fledged raid by army commandoes on July10, 2007, reveal that in the first month of that year scores of female seminary students, armed with canes, occupied a children’s library in Islamabad, to demand a halt to the government plan to demolish mosques and seminaries built without official permission.
The students of the seminaries, in the start of the third month (March 2007) started moral policing - burning videos, kidnapping female workers after branding them prostitutes and engaging with the police, which panicked the government and diplomatic community in the capital.
Later, the students abducted two policemen and released them after some time. The abduction of six Chinese massage-parlour workers was, however, largely assumed as a major provoking factor which prompted the authorities in Islamabad to adopt strict measures. It was the same time when a senior hardline cleric in the month of April also threatened to launch thousands of suicide attacks if the government attempted to close down the seminary.
In April that year, the seminary students and officials accused the then Tourism Minister Nilofar Bakhtiar of committing a sin after she was splashed on newspaper pages, embracing a parachuting instructor following a charity jump in France.
This was high time for the then government to take action against the students of Lal Masjid. It blocked the mosque’s website and private radio station operating from the seminary’s premises. On July 3, escalations erupted into street battles as at least nine people died and some 150 were wounded.
The next day the sun dawned with panic and fear as the mosque was besieged with the demand of an unconditional surrender of Abdur Rashid Ghazi, the seminary head and his elder brother Maulana Abdul Aziz, the prayer leader of the mosque. As security forces prepared for the final push to get the mosque and seminary premises vacated, Maulana Aziz was arrested sneaking out of the mosque dressed in a veil (burqa). His brother Abdur Rashid Ghazi took over as the mosque prayer leader.
On July 10, after the last-ditch negotiations between the government and the Lal Masjid administration finally failed, security forces stormed the mosque. As a result, lives of over 100 students were reportedly lost. Abdur Rashid Ghazi was also killed in the action.
Since then religious parties and a cross section of Pakistani society have been demanding an impartial inquiry into the incident.