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Echoing Lal Masjid

The article argues that it is not because of the Lal Masjid army operation that General Musharraf’s party, Pakistan Muslim League (Q) lost in the February 18 elections as is being claimed by its leaders. It says that whatever the differences over the timing and methodology of the Lal Masjid army operation may have been, one can always put forward a number of alternate ways of dealing with such phenomena.

by Dr. Khalil Ahmad

Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

It was just when the results of the February 18 elections started pouring in that the allies of the military government, who were in the throes of an impending defeat, and its apologists concocted the excuse of Lal Masjid army action for their losing elections on such a scale. Their excuse may be worded thus: It was our army action on the Lal Masjid that got us unpopular with the electorate of Pakistan and threw us out of the new assemblies. In other words, it meant: had we not resorted to the army action on Lal Masjid, we would have won 115 seats as we had claimed before the elections.

One of the stalwarts of General Musharraf’s PML and its government, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, when asked in a TV talk show: how in your view the new coalition government would fare vis-à-vis people’s expectations, was furious enough to ignore his own political opportunism and unleashed a tirade against the PPP and PML (N) leadership, and said: These are the same landlords and capitalists who have been exploiting the poor people, and they are once again together to fool them, and that the lot of the poor will never improve, they will remain in the same miserly condition. When questioned that with such good ideas, how come that he could not win his seat from Rawalpindi? He put the blame on the Lal Masjid action.

Nothing could be farther from truth than this theory.

First, it is the lamest excuse that has been devised in a fit of rage in the face of an unexpected landslide defeat.

Second, it works as a double edged ploy. On the one hand, it says that by resorting to Lal Masjid action in fact we did a thankless job; on the other, it implies that we were wrong in that and that hints at a streak of sympathy for the Lal Masjid Brothers.

Third, it ignores the resentment of various quarters over the logistics of the Lal Masjid operation. Of course, there were different opinions as to the timing and methodology of that operation. It has been argued that were it not for the gravity of the judicial crisis, no Lal Masjid action would have taken place. However, it does not mean the whole electorate took it to their heart not to vote for the General’s hirelings on this pretext alone.

Fourth, it negates Ggeneralissimo and his chosen party’s another theory that was in vogue before the elections on the basis of which they were dead sure to win at least 115 and at most 180 national assembly seats. It was the development theory: we managed to achieve an average growth rate of 7 %; we spent so much via Public Sector Development Program; we initiated so many development schemes in various sectors such as education, etc. etc. What is fact and what is fiction that forms the foundation of this theory does not concern us here. However, it must be mentioned that the post-election theory of Lal Masjid action derides a very important development: that the people of Pakistan cannot be toyed by slogans of economic security. The seats that General’s PML won if they be analyzed in the light of this new development prove the same point.

Fifth, it was also argued that just on the verge of February 18 elections, the caretaker government could not manage the rising prices of wheat/flour and other food items, thereby causing the emergence of an unfavorable wave of reaction vote. It is the same Lal Masjid army action theory in a different guise. In a like manner, it also aims at hiding the true causes of General’s party’s defeat, and thus creating a false impression of the situation on the ground. All such attempts try to downplay the Chief Justice of Pakistan factor. It is no new thing. Right after the Lal Masjid army action, various writs re the Lal Masjid army action were filed in the Supreme Court and, it may be conjectured, such judgments were secured which may be said to have provided the conspirators with an excuse to question the impartiality and sanctity of the Supreme Court’s judgments. So, in this fray they did try to malign the Supreme Court.

As is being argued and debated that the surge in the acts of terrorism and targeting of security and police forces especially is a direct result of army action on the Lal Masjid, it may safely be assumed that it is not so at least in the case of February 18 elections. Or we shall have to assume that every voter was a suicide bomber but his target was the ballot box, and he in a very scientific manner destroyed the General’s party’s votes only.

Clearly that’s not the case in any case. A patient and careful analysis of the General’s party’s defeat would, among other things, reveal that eight year long General Musharraf’s military dictatorship seemed to have exhausted not only its own existential justification but all the possibilities for future military takeovers and dictators also. He uprooted every institution upon which both government and society stand, sustain and prosper. Last in a series of worst military dictators, one of the greatest damages he did was the destruction of the value system of our society. He deprived us of all good values, and ruled us by might is right.

But as he in his ‘omnipotent’ mood tried to subdue an already conquered judiciary, to his utter dismay he came across that unknown soul which is known as ‘someone somewhere fights back.’ Were it possible for the Pharaoh to fore-locate his enemy, Moses would never survive!

It’s largely this CJP factor which infused the nation with a new revolutionary spirit, and qualitatively changed the ethos of the civil society. It’s this factor that made the miracle. It acted as a touchstone for the humiliated and the insulted of Pakistan, and helped them separate the gold from the dust in the February 18 elections. It proved to be the Philosopher’s stone for the politicians and turned those who happen to touch it into gold.

Thus, in fact it’s the CJP factor which is the target of so many conspirators who are constantly trying to nullify its snowballing effect. We need to be fully aware of all such attempts, and beware of all such conspirators. They are all in a frenzy to prove that people of Pakistan do not want justice. It must be clarified here that people of Pakistan do not want “social justice,” because it again implies the same development theory that in ultimate terms means economic security. People of Pakistan do not want doles, subsidies, ration cards, utility cards, torture-camps like public sector schools and health centers, and poverty alleviation funds that resultantly make them poorer. They want justice and rule of law. They want their fundamental rights ensured to them. It is for this reason that they want an independent judiciary, supremacy of the constitution, and a constitutional, responsible government. They know it is natural for them to earn their livelihood, what they want from the government is protection of their life and property, and ensuring of their rights and freedoms to them so that they could live in peace and prosperity.

Hence, obviously it is not the Lal Masjid army action that detracted the electorate from voting the General’s party. It’s their complicity in dismantling the Supreme Court and other institutions of the state, in subverting the constitution of the country, in supporting anti-people, anti-democratic, anti-meritocratic policies of a military dictator that earned them wrath of the people.

In the end, it needs to be mentioned that whatever the differences over the timing and methodology of the Lal Masjid army operation may have been, one can always put forward a number of alternate ways of dealing with such phenomena. However, what left the Lal Masjid operation unfinished is the absence of a thorough judicial probe into i) how an ordinary mosque transformed into Lal Masjid in the very heart of the capital of the country where an army operation had to be carried out; ii) how two employees of the Auqaf Department managed to command such a powerful position that they started challenging both writ of the law and state and violating the rights, freedoms and privacy of their fellow citizens, and who were their patronizers.

This is what raises doubts about the whole case of Lal Masjid from its A to Z. If the previous government could not dare to take up this job for certain reasons, whether the new government would mind such a probe and let the law of the land take its course is yet to be seen. Without this probe and as a result without bringing the responsible officials and dignitaries to book whoever they are, the case of the Lal Masjid will never be considered closed, and will keep on echoing in ever newer contexts. It is the only way that somehow may help pacify those disgruntled elements who take inspiration from the Lal Masjid army operation.

This article appeared in The Post on March 27, 2008.