Islamabad: In a move that could pit it against the powerful army, Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday formed a judicial commission to probe the 2007 military operation against extremists who were holed up in the radical Lal Masjid here.
Shahzado Shaikh, a senior judge of the Federal Shariah Court, was appointed by the apex court to conduct the probe and submit a report within 45 days.
The order was issued while a bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was hearing a case related to the military operation against the Lal Masjid in July 2007.
The judicial commission was asked to ascertain the circumstances that led to the operation and to find out how many civilians, law enforcement personnel and women were killed in the action.
It was also asked to ascertain how many bodies were identified and whether compensation was paid to the families of those killed.
Additional Inspector General of Police Tahir Alam presented a report on the operation but the Chief Justice observed that security agencies had not been able to prove that those killed by the security forces were extremists.
The police report said a total of 103 people were killed in the operation.
The bench further noted that several petitioners had claimed young girls were killed in the operation.
Then President Pervez Musharraf had ordered a military operation against the Lal Masjid on July 3, 2007 after extremist elements holed up in the mosque began challenging the writ of the government.
Troops surrounded the mosque for 12 days before assaulting the compound.
The Chief Justice asked Alam if any judicial inquiry was conducted after the operation and he replied in the negative. Alam further said no women were killed in the operation as autopsies had concluded that all the bodies found at the site were of men.
The members of the bench said they were ready to accept the contention that no women were killed in the operation.
In September, an anti-terrorism court acquitted Maulana Abdul Aziz, the former chief cleric of Lal Masjid, and 16 others of the charge of killing Pakistan Rangers personnel.
Charges have been dropped against Aziz in several other cases.
The Pakistan Army has for long contended that a majority of those killed in the operation were extremists and militants.
Before the operation, madrassa students and extremists holed up in the mosque had occupied a nearby government library and launched a vigilante campaign against what they described as "un-Islamic" activities.
They also took several persons, including security personnel, hostage.