THE demolition of the Babri Masjid was "an act of absolute perfidy, which should make all Indians hang their heads in shame," writes Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in his memoirs.
The senseless, wanton destruction of a religious structure, purely to serve political ends, also resulted in the destruction of India's image as a tolerant, pluralistic nation. What happened in Pakistan that unfortunate day on Dec 6, 1992, was also shameful when mob frenzy resulted in the destruction of Hindu temples, Christian churches and Sikh gurdwaras in a fanatic response that remains etched in my memory. The banned militant outfits in Punjab pose a mortal threat to the state.
I was police chief of Lahore district. As the news of the Babri Masjid destruction spread, the political and religious parties gave a call for protests. Anticipating violence, Lahore police was put on red alert and a detailed security order was issued to combat mob violence. As a result of coordination between the civil administration and the military, the corps headquarters at Lahore also put in place its contingency planning in aid of civil authority. We even placed a police wireless operator in the army office for a minute-to-minute relay of the law and order situation.
As protest processions turned bigger and more violent, police resorted to lathicharge and tear-gas shelling to prevent the mob from torching sites sacred to the minorities. As the situation turned extremely volatile, I sought the permission of the inspector general of police, Punjab, and also consulted with the deputy commissioner to allow the police to resort to firing in response to widescale damage to property.
Indecision prevailed at the policy level for some time. However, the IG came back to me and said that the political authorities had decided not to react violently to the mob frenzy. Tacitly, the IG suggested that the police should not confront the mob and let the crowd destroy abandoned temples and churches.
With a heavy heart, I had to tell the police divisional commanders not to resort to firing in the absence of any orders from the district administration. However, all efforts were made to evacuate the temples and churches so that loss of life would not occur. The mob destroyed temples and the Lahore Municipal Corporation's machinery was also deployed to facilitate the task of the mobsters.
It was a sad day for Pakistan. Religious intolerance manifested itself at the political and policy levels. Police bore the brunt of mob fury and hapless citizens suffered agony and harassment. The blame should squarely be shared and admitted by the political and military policymakers.
If Babri Masjid became a symbol of Hindu fanaticism, Lal Masjid in Islamabad reflects the bigotry and violence of zealots in Pakistan. The clash between the state and non-state actors in July 2007 brought in its wake a legacy of shame and violent extremism that refuses to go away. The duplicitous state policies and consequent intolerant and bigoted mindset that is all-pervasive show their ugly manifestations too frequently.
A case in point is the leniency shown to the firebrand cleric of the infamous Lal Masjid, who is known for his violations related to hate speech, fanning militancy, instigating sectarianism, inciting terrorism and challenging the state time and again. He had the cheek to involve the ISI in a controversy by claiming that he was negotiating with an officer of the agency while another senior official of the same institution was acting as a 'spoiler'.
I find the role of Islamabad police as timid and strange in this case; instead of setting an example of zero tolerance against religious bigots, they have chosen not to associate the accused in investigation and suggested that he obtain pre-arrest bail. The cleric is not even bothered claiming that a false case was registered against him and as per divine guidance (istikhara) being unfavourable, he was reluctant to go for bail. What logic! It defies all the principles of criminal investigation.
Why are the police reluctant to proceed with the investigation or arrest the fanatic mullah? Knowing the culture of 'nod from the boss', they are obviously awaiting the interior minister's orders. So much for the operational autonomy of the police under a mercurial minister!
Another case of duplicity in terms of the policy of the state in taking on all non-state actors is the delayed realisation after the Pathankot attack that action against Jaish-e-Mohammad should have been taken effectively as part of the National Action Plan. In the meeting chaired by the prime minister on Jan 21, 2015, I had cautioned the political leadership and security establishment that the banned militant outfits in Punjab would pose a mortal threat to the integrity of the state. The distinction between 'good' and 'bad' militants should give way to across-the-board action against all banned groups who continue to operate under new names. The state should go after the masterminds, facilitators, office bearers and activists by sealing the offices and arresting the militants under the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Protection of Pakistan Act.