Pakistan’s Supreme Court has constituted a judicial commission to probe the 2007 Lal Masjid operation – a government crackdown on a controversial pro-Taliban mosque in the capital which ended in a bloody eight-day siege killing at least 58 Pakistani troops and seminary students.
“Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry observed today that police have failed to satisfy the court and ordered a judicial commission to probe the matter,” said Tariq Asad, a lawyer involved in the case.
The pro-Taliban mosque, with the radical Maulana Abdul Aziz leading several armed seminary students, had announced the establishment of a parallel judicial system, vowing to enforce Islamic Shariah laws in the federal capital and threatening to unleash a wave of suicide bombers if the government took any action to counter it.
A military raid in July 2007 under then president Pervez Musharraf eventually overcame the armed militants.
However, several questions regarding the operation were left unanswered.
The Supreme Court took up the case the same year to demand answers to several questionable aspects of the siege, including the legality of the operation and the large number of civilian deaths in the raid.
A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, continued hearing the case here on Tuesday. During the proceedings, a report prepared by Assistant Inspector General (AIG) of Police Tahir Alam Khan was presented before the court.
After reviewing progress achieved so far in the investigation on the case, the bench appointed senior judge of the Federal Shariat Court, Shahzado Shaikh, to head the judicial commission.
Police has been ordered to hand over all documents relating to the case to the one-man commission, which will be tasked to answer these questions:
What were the reasons behind the Lal Masjid operation? How many civilians and security personnel were killed in the operation? Were all the dead identified and bodies handed over to their loved ones? Were the victims’ families paid the compensation promised by the government? Was any legal action initiated against those who carried out the operation? With the available evidence, is it possible to identify those responsible for the casualties during the siege and the raid on the mosque?
The commission has been directed to present its report in a period of 45 days.
Critics say the apex court’s move could fan further tensions between the judiciary and the army.
Political analyst Hasan Askari said it was unclear what the commission could achieve other than to provide militant groups with a forum and reprimand the then government, given that Musharraf is no longer in power or in Pakistan.
“It’s their desire to be populist, they know they’ll get support on this from the Islamists, the right wing and it also goes against the army,” Askari told AFP.
“The army is already unhappy with the judiciary so the judiciary is hitting in all directions and it is causing political uncertainty in an already uncertain and confused political system,” he added.