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On the night of 10th July, the Pakistan army began its operations against the Jihadis entrenched in the Lala Masjid complex, Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. By the afternoon of 11th July, all resistence had ceased and the leader of the resistence, Ghazi Rashid lay dead. A military solution to the Lal Masjid crisis was both tragic and unimaginative.  It showed the working of a system, which was both tired and under stress. It also indicated Pakistan’s unpreparedness to deal with hostage situations; the standard operating procedures were found lacking.

            According to confused government spokesmen, the assault was necessary to free score of female hostages and younger seminarians; two days after the attack, there is yet no word about the whereabouts of the female hostages? TV news show despondent parents seeking to find their loved ones.

            Equally mystifying was an official statement about the presence of many wanted terrorists holed up in Lal Masjid. Who were they and what happened to them? We again don’t know.  It is also said that at the last moment before fighting broke out, an understanding was reached between the Lal Masjid rebels and government but was dismissed by hardliners to appease others. Who were they?  These and many other questions need to be answered. Denial and official vacillation will boomerang against Gen.Musharraf in the days to come. He will doubtlessly once more say self servedly to the West, that it is he who is standing between them and the terrorist; just as likely he will be believed for the umpteenth time and the cycle of violence will be repeated.

            The Lal Masjid upheaval encapsulates many other issues.  For instance, it highlights the danger of mixing politics with religion and the policy of using Jihadi organizations for furtherance of security and internal objectives including the extension of the regime’s longevity.  It is therefore not surprising that Lal Masjid radicalized itself within breathing distance of the ISI headquarters in Islamabad. The nexus was always there.

            Lal Masjid administration became radicalized during the Afghan Jihad against the USSR. Maulvi Abdullah, the father of Maulvi Abdul Aziz and deceased Ghazi Abdul Rashid, befriended Afghan Jihadis including Rauf Sayyaf, Jalaluddin Haqani and Ahmad Shah Masud.  Later, Abdullah developed friendly links with the Talibans when they emerged victors of Kabul in 1996. (1)

            President Zia, was pivotal in radicalizing Pakistan with the help of U.S. funds and weapons. He encouraged Abdullah’s fraternizing with Afghan warriors.  As a result of state encouragement, Maulvi Abdullah and the Lal Masjid enterprise grew; Abdullah usurped state  land in the prime E-7 sector of Islamabad, to establish yet another seminary called the Jamiah Fareedia, and because of his links to officialdom the authorities did not prevent him from using state land.

            Intelligence agencies thought that by funding and creating radical groups they will be able to switch them off when a situation demanded. It was a wrong assumption.  Once a radical organization is allowed to sprout and attains a certain level, it becomes autonomous in its management and policies. It is then only a matter of time before such an organization graduates first to a regional and then into an international terrorist network.

            Lal Masjid was no exception. By 2001 it began to criticize U.S. policies openly.  In 2003 the Lal Masjid organized violent protest against the murder of another leader of a Jihadist outfit Azam Tariq of the Sepah-i-Sahaba. Seminary students ransacked petrol stations, cinemas, restaurants and other property. One person was killed. In 2004, Bin Laden’s driver was arrested from the Lal Masjid compound. Despite all this, security authorities were unperturbed at the waywardness of its protege.

            The only explanation that comes to mind for this indifference is that government used the periodic Lal Masjid eruptions as justification for retaining the role of the military in Pakistani politics; tragically the sins of the father visited some unfortunate sons of the military, when officers and soldiers lost their valuable lives in the Lal Masjid operation along with more than ninty other civilians who died. Had a policy of zero tolerance been followed towards the Jihadis, so many lives would not have been lost!

            NWFP, tribal areas and Islamabad are in the throes of retaliatory strikes by the Jihadis, targeting the military and police. Attacks on military and police have already occurred in Swat, Dir, Kohat and Waziristan.  Most of the students, especially female students of the Lal Masjid seminary came from the NWFP and tribal areas. The fire of revenge will not die easily.  It is a matter of time before renewed fighting takes place in tribal areas and NWFP. 

It is unfortunate that the Lal Masjid tragedy has generated fear of Madressahs; they are religious schools engaged in providing education to a vast majority of Pakistani poor because the state is unable to provide the funds needed to send them to school.  Ordinary Madressahs not only provide rudimentary education, but place emphasis on religious observance and have thus been able to protect the spirit of Islam amongst the people and also provide a moral code for social conduct. The later is extremely important in a region where other mechanism for behavior control is almost absent.

            In our race for modernity we tend to forget this important contribution of religion in stabilizing society.  One of the good bye products of this system was the instillation of individual morality in the Muslims of India. This caught the attention of Dr. Leitner, the first principal of Government College, Lahore in 1864. He compared in glowing terms the benign impact of indigenous Madressah education upon Muslim student character, which he ranked higher than those achieved in secular schools of Europe.(2)

            However, this is not meant to say that all Madressahs are benign. There are plenty that are rotten and exploitative; these mostly appeared in the 1980’s. It was President Zia-ul-Haq, who spawned his version of a fighting Madressah epitomized by the radical variety.  Simultaneously, this period saw the mushrooming of sectarian parties through official patronage.  In 1979, there were only thirty sectarian parties in the country; it included seven Deobandi, five Brelvi, four Ahle Hadis, three Shias, while the Jamaet-e-Islami was a non-sectarian party. Today, there are more than 237 of them. They proliferated because of financial support provided to Madressahs from Zakat funds, international charity, and Saudi, Iranian, Iraqi and Libyan funding. (3) 

This proliferation coincided with Pakistan’s military doctrine, which believed in projecting its coercive power into Indian Kashmir and Afghanistan; in its exuberance it even sent Jihadis into Central Asia.  It forced the Soviet Union to deliver an invasion warning to Pakistan through the United States.  Bill Casey, the CIA head immediately flew to Pakistan to warn President Zia to stop such incursions. Zia was convinced that the Jihadist seminaries were the custodian of Pakistan’s ideological frontiers; he even made provision for imparting military training to selected Madressahs. Lal Masjid students were a creation of the Ziaist legacy. (4)

It is evident that armed Madressahs are a part of Pakistan’s internal and external policies. On the one hand their existence is meant to underscore the presence of an internal security threat, which can only be handled by the military and on the other the seminarians are used in Kashmir to force India to negotiate. Both are zero sum games in the long term; in the process however, Pakistan is becoming ungovernable. Such a strategic thinking is seriously flawed.

            It is a moot point whether Lal Masjid would have been attacked, if its students had not kidnapped the four Chinese ladies in Islamabad a couple of weeks ago.  I feel it was the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back. Perhaps a discreet warning forced the President to act against the Lal Masjid Jihadis.  It may be noted that there is a Pakistani Jihadi link with the Islamists of Sinkiang in China. It is suspected that the murder of three Chinese nationals in Peshawar on the 8th of July may have been in retaliation against the handing over by Pakistan to China, some persons it had arrested and who represented the Islamic liberation movement of Sinkiang. They were later executed there.

            It is evident that there will be more retaliatory killings to avenge deaths of civilians in Lal Masjid.  It is clear that a solution to the problem of Jihadism will lie in a twin track approach, which is based on full political empowerment by the return of undiluted democracy and a clear military commitment not to use Jihadi proxies for political or foreign policy objectives; their nexus with the intelligence services can only turn Pakistan into a crippled state. It is too high a price to pay.

            At the same time, more stringent monitoring and support of genuine Madressahs is essential. They have a role to perform. To win this war Pakistan must increase exponentially investment in publically funded education rather than spending money on the purchase of sophisticated defense equipment. We face a greater internal threat than an external danger.

            The Lal Masjid tragedy is a clarion call to re-adjust public policy and for the state to desist from dealing with radical armed groups at any level; they have the nasty ability to become autonomous.  Let the lessons of Lal Masjid not be lost.




(1) Syed, B. Sajjad. Changing colors of Lal Masjid,Dawn, 6th July 07, p. 7

(2) Chaghtai, Ikram (ed). Writings of Dr. Leitner, Sang-e-Meel, Lahore, p. 32

(3) Rana, Amir (trans), A to Z of Jehadi Organizations in Pakistan, Mashal,      Lahore, p. 121.

(4) Ashraf, Mumtaz. Beg foresees a big political change, Dawn 11th July 07, p. 12


  1. Mr khalid aziz sahib ur article both enlightening and insightful. the aspects and facts covered in your article are those that have eluded the general public or have been purposely kept behind the curtins. i personally beleive that You should write about the future re- percussions of the action on lal Masjid. My concern remians that by taking such a strong and babaric action we have made more enemies then friends with in the country. there are no two opinions about radical elements working over time in pakistan. considering our geo political situation and our actions on the internation frontiers, we are now surrounded by hostile forces. every country wants a piece of pakistan Like they wnated a piece of afghanistan in the 80’s. the point i am trying to make is that sice all these countries are waiting to push Pakistan into oblivion we have given them exactly what they have been waiting for. Now all these so called enemies of the state of pakistan will use these redical elemnts to try and de-stabalise pakistan. the govt sould have taken this into consideration before taking this brutal action against the madrassah.

  2. What a nice and clear view of things, well balnced atricle. Will sense go to the minds of our war lords( Army) or will they just get new plots and plazas whilie Rome/Islamabad burns. We need a good dry cleaning job , to clear ISI/Army and country of these radicles. I agree unless we increase the standerds and make education cheap and availible, poor people will have no choice but the send their kids to madrassas to be brain washed. By having this competetion of good schools, free to all, with good proper eduction the madrasses will have difficulty in recruiting students. May be the west has to put money in getting educational institutions up and running in our country rather than sell us F 16. We need long term soloution to this virus that has and is spreading, rather than treat the patiant after the ilness with toxic drugs .Need to pevent rather than attack innocent people in waziristan we should build schools.

  3. Civil societies are not governed by force, but when latitude is given to extremists the results will be like what happened at Lal Masjid at Islamabad, though the commissionrate works their with the old system like DC�s and all that with magisterial powers without NAZAMS who are a incapacitated lot. The government of Pakistan lacks proper training for Political Agents. By making top heavy beaurcracy at FATA will not help the government, the area is week because of too much paper shuffling. Pakistan was in problem before from these so called MULLAHS and Goras were too in there days they handled them. Why cant we cant handle them, it can be controlled with proper people in control of the area that means a strong Govenenor. Stringent action are required by the government of Pakistan. Who made TALIBS IN AFGHANISTAN

  4. Syed Abul Hassan Jafri

    Well written article based on facts. The legacy of Zia is still haunting the minds and hearts of peace loving Pakistanis which has left deep scars on nation’s body ,which may nout be fully healed in decades to come. One of the fall outs of this horible legacy is the saga of Lal Masjid and Jama Hafsa which met a tragic end. However, who ever promoted this militant organization for what ever purpose, it is heartening to note that at least one such organizations out of 237 such groups has met its waterloo. It is high time, as you mentioned, that remedial actions should be taken and I suggest that government should take the responsibility of building, running of teh affaris of all religious madressahs in coordinaion with Ulema and pumping of funds by foreign charity organization or goverments should be stopped forthwith and Government of Paksitan should ensure the financial management of these mesressahs.

  5. Worse than Jillianwala Bagh and Golden Temple massacres so the fall out this time could obviously be commensurate with the gravity of the atrocity…buckle up everyone

  6. Khalid, Your article is both a welcomed insight and yet, a frightening reminder. It is unfathomable that after thousands of years of civilization, we still haven’t learned to live with each other. Sarah– currently in India

  7. he time has come for us to pay for our sins. I agree with Mr. Khalid Aziz about the origins of the jehadists. Its like creating a mutant and it flying out of the window as a monster. Pukhtuns have had to suffer most since the Soviet invasion. It suited the US in conivence with the ruling gangs i.e. us to inject jehadi philosophy in the ignorant society and create the mujahideens, fondly called the “muj’s”. The architects thought they were using the jehadists but didnt realise they were also being used, hence the creation of monsters. It would be wrong to blame the US for what they did because it was their national interest,notwithstanding the fact that they did a poor job in identifying their interests, otherwise they wouldnt be spending a trillion dollars now to reign in the mutants they created, a quarter of this would have been enough for this area to be a more civilized place for the “natives” and them.The fault lies in us. The class which is ruling this unfortunate land considers the populace as objects,to be raped endessly.The ruling class, which includes most of us looking at this website and passing comments, are in one way or the other, directly or indirectly responsible for whatever is happening today. The tribal areas ruled under the FCR is akin to the treatment meted out to the orignal inhabitants of the North American continent or the inhabitants of Australia. What did the land of the pure do for them in the last 60 years, many a times I have heard the enlightened civil “servants” say that FCR is the only way to establish order there, the civil servants who have always imitated the “nimbu pani” drinking masters of yesteryears. There is abject poverty, no schools, no hospitals, no employment. It was the fatalistic attitude of religion they had been ingrained with that kept them from insanity but now they seem to have outgrown that attitude and have come to the conclusion that they have to get rid of all that is known to be civilized but of which they were never a part hence know nothing about. This, by the way is also true in case of the ‘objects’ in the settled areas in most part of this wretched land. What constitutes Pakistan,if I may ask,look at the Sindis and Baluchis after the floods, look at their belongings, a charpoy and a goat!Imagine if Baluchistan had been an independent country and could export their gas, they wouldnt be the sorry lot they are today, each baluchi would have been a “sheikh”, so what constitutes Pakistan? I dont buy the argument that their sardars dont allow development, we know better than that. Most of us have family and friends in the officer class of armed forces, have you noticed that when they refer to the ordinary people in general public they call them ‘civilians’ and when amongst themselves ‘bloody civilians’but then this is jealousy amongst the class or gang we all belong to. So we will have to pay for our sins. What should be done now, but for whom, us or the objects.We need a dialogue.

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