By Manal Ahmad
Associated Press Writer / July 10, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Relatives of a cleric who was slain during last year’s deadly military siege at Pakistan’s radical Red Mosque unveiled a trust Thursday established to help the families of others who died.
Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the mosque’s deputy cleric, was killed a year ago on July 10 as the eight-day standoff drew to a close.
The government says just over 100 people were killed during the siege, which came as tensions boiled over due to a monthslong anti-vice campaign spearheaded by the mosque’s leaders. But critics insist far more people died, including many women and children.
Hashmat Ali Habib, Ghazi’s family’s lawyer, said he had investigated the death toll.
“According to my own calculations, which are based upon data in the record of the Supreme Court, more than 1,700 people were martyred,” he said.
Ghazi’s 30-year-old widow, Humera Rashid, will lead the newly formed “Ghazi Shaheed Center.”
Besides financially aiding the families of those killed during the siege, opening schools, medical centers and offering legal advice are among the goals of the trust.
Trustees emphasized that the organization would serve “everyone in need,” including the families of police officers killed in militant attacks.
Ghazi’s widow and sister decried Sunday’s suicide blast in Islamabad, which left at least 18 people dead, most of them police. The attack came the same day a huge anniversary rally was held at the Red Mosque, now repainted a benign beige.
“Yes, we do want to train our students and children for jihad,” said Ghazi’s sister, Jamila Shahid. “But ‘jihad’ does not mean the murder of innocents, or attacking security forces who are just doing their duty. This is completely wrong, and we do not engage in such activities.”
She said the trust had no money at the moment but expected donations very soon.
“He was a very honest, very straightforward person,” said Yasmine Aadil, 62, a friend. “He was driven by patriotism.”
The 43-year-old Ghazi was once a relatively moderate member of Pakistan’s establishment. He became radicalized after the 1998 sectarian murder of his cleric father. After President Pervez Musharraf decided to support the U.S.-led war on terror, he took an even tougher line.
During the mosque’s anti-vice campaign that preceded the siege, radicalized students were sent out to enforce their version of Islamic morality, including abductin alleged prostitutes and trying to “re-educate” them.
The group Thursday distributed copies of what they said was Ghazi’s will, penned during the siege. In it, he defended the mosque’s goals of achieving Islamic law in Pakistan and bemoaned the government’s use of force.
“Sometimes they labeled us as mad fanatics. But today the rain of bullets is proof that we are fighting in the way of Allah,” he wrote.