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Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Fallout From Pakistan

The Fallout From PakistanLast Friday morning President General Pervez Musharraf would chair an urgent meeting called for at his presidential camp office in Rawalpindi. With no other options, and staving off a possible coup attempt, Musharraf would be forced to approve a plan presented to him by intelligence and security officals that would give amnesty to the estimated 100 pro-taliban militants still holed up inside the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, provided that they lay down their weapons and surrender. This would be Musharraf's last chance.
From the perspective of the opposition, Musharraf's regime had become a corrupt authoritarian tool of Western imperialism helplessly infected with the heretical concepts of modernism, westernism and secularism a view shared with Islamabad's political power brokers. More interested in appeasing Western demands that it was of governing the people. Something had to be done, but how? With no means of mounting a revolution on their own, the opposition could only come to power by either collaborating with the military and intelligence agencies and ousting Musharraf or by throwing their lot in the with the militants, another army coup might have suited them, but there was no one to carry it out. The only potentially revolutionary initiative seemed to lay with the clerics of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad.The Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) is one of the oldest mosques in Islamabad, its name comes from the color of the paint used on its exterior walls. Since 9/11 the mosque in Pakistan's capital has became a fortress for firebrand clerics and their pupils, the burqa-clad young women among them being more prominent than young men, not only because of their robes and the long bamboo sticks in their hands but also because of their training for combat and their desire for jihad.Despite the leadership of the Lal Masjid having a vehement disdain for modernization, The tech-savvy cleric Maulana Abdul-Rashid Ghazi and his brother soon set up a website (now offline) and eagerly grasped the techniques of mass communication and public relations frequently giving interviews to the local and foreign media with aplomb and relentlessly denouncing Musharraf's regime with impunity. As their influence grew, Pakistan's opposition party members from the MMA seeking some sort of religious legitimization and the sympathizers from within Musharraf's own core-constituency and government seeking atonement for their sins would begin to wait in line outside the cleric's offices to pay homage.In Islamic usage, civil society and the congregation of the faithful are conterminous, and within a short period of time the mosque leadership, would initiate an anti-vice campaign. Despite the local and foreign media reports on their vigilantism, the reality is that many of the residents of Islamabad saw them as a positive factor, an Islamic Guardian Angels if you will, determined to "rid the streets of crime and vice, make citizen's arrests and offer "education programs" to businesses and individuals" - get caught selling those immoral sexy Bollywood VCDs and instead of getting a karate kick from Curtis Sliwa, you would get severely whacked upside the head with a bamboo stick wielding Raisinet. The smashed Bollywood VCDs and music tapes were quickly replaced with Islamic books and VCDs which espoused an anti-Western, pro-jihadi fundamentalist school of thought. Soon these would begin to sell in the capital's night markets like hotcakes. In turn, the madrassahs would begin to fill up and Pervez Musharraf would stand by impotently as 14 new anti-western, pro-taliban madrassahs opened in the capital of Islamabad (more than any other administration) and who's membership would swell to over 16,000 students,
doubling in the last year alone.Having effectively mastered the medium, the message from the propagandist clerics of the Lal Masjid gained further credibility with it's relentless repetition. The message was clear, and that was that Musharraf's corrupt regime linked to the United States and the "war on terrorism" was the epitome of evil, a regime that put the demands of the United States above the demands of the Pakistani people.For six months the regime passively swallowed every indignity heaped upon it by the Lal Masjid command. As the regime’s credit declined across the land, General Musharraf defended his capitulation to the mosque militants by saying he did not want to see people getting killed. Comfortably sitting on the fence, Musharraf could feign loyalty to both sides, but the tide had now turned against him and Musharraf instinctively knew that an attack on the Red Mosque would be the beginning of the end, an affirmation of his corruption and his submission to the West. The incorruptibility of the clerics in the eyes of the Pakistanis had granted them larger than life status something that can never be taken from them, even in death. Musharraf had been set up.No one is going to believe that Pakistani psyops story about Maulana Aziz trying "escape" the mosque in a burka. The truth has already been told by Maulana Shah Abdul Aziz, that Maulana Aziz was deceived and that he spoke for peace but Musharraf insisted on a military operation which killed a large number of people. Regardless of how the crisis ends the Lal Masjid leadership will being painted as martyrs. They will be shown as people who stood up to the dictatorship and asked for the simplest of things that any Muslim could want.On the surface of it, Pervez Musharraf appears to have won, he has the militants surrounded in their mosque, he has their leaders in custody awaiting trial and he has a media that will only report what he wants it to, but Pervez Musharraf forgot the one thing that his military once taught the Taliban. "Only fight on the physical plane to secure victory on the moral plane".Regardless of how the siege on the Red Mosque ends, the game is over for Musharraf, he knows it, but does the United States?

Published Sunday, July 8, 2007
Behind a Siege in Pakistan, Rumblings of Wider Dissent
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 7 — With the rattle of gunfire and boom of explosions, the standoff at the Lal Masjid in the center of the capital, dramatic as it is, is but one part of the far larger challenge facing the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, nationwide. The immediate problem for the general remains how to end the siege with minimum loss of life, and how to contain any backlash, particularly in the event of a bloody denouement. The government has done its best to avoid such an ending and appears to be winning the high ground. The militants, it now seems clear, precipitated the fighting by firing first and killing an Army Ranger. The mullahs and their students have earned little public sympathy in their own neighborhood or around the country with their campaign to impose Shariah law, raiding shops and smashing CDs and music tapes. The arrest of the leader of the mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz, who tried to escape in a burqa while leaving behind hundreds of his students, many of them female, has brought ridicule in the news media, which have largely supported the government. Neither the public nor the religious parties have protested the actions of the government, which has won praise for its relative restraint. But the standoff is far from over, and several bombings in the North-West Frontier Province this week, including a suicide bombing, and gunfire as the president’s plane took off Friday, are a reminder that the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, is only the most visible bulwark of Islamist militancy that is lodged in cities and districts across Pakistan and appears to be growing. Questions are already being raised over why the government waited so long to move against the clerics of the Lal Masjid. Government officials are privately saying they hope that the government will next go after another radical cleric, Fazlullah, the acting leader of the extremist group Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, or the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, who has been vocal in his support for the Taliban and suicide bombing as well as the clerics in the mosque. But going after individuals may not be enough. An investigation published Friday by The News, a national daily, found that 88 seminaries belonging to various sects were giving religious education to more than 16,000 students in the capital. Moreover, the number of students here attending religious schools belonging to the Deobandi sect, an anti-Western, pro-jihadi fundamentalist school of thought that inspired the Taliban, among other movements, has doubled in the last year alone. The newspaper cited figures for students taking exams, using information collected from unidentified government agencies. In 2006, 5,039 students from Deobandi seminaries took exams conducted by the sect’s central examination board, with about 3,000 of them coming from the two seminaries attached to the Lal Masjid. Today those two seminaries hold 10,700 students, the report said. “The reason for this big surge in the number of students is still not known to the government,” it said. The number of students at the Lal Masjid’s two madrasas, or religious schools — 5,039 — is not far short of the total in the whole province of Baluchistan. It also is almost equal to the number of students in the 74 schools belonging to other sects in the capital, which together have 5,400 students. The spread of madrasas in the capital has been steady since the 1980s when Gen. Zia ul-Haq, then in power, promoted the madrasas as a source of mujahedeen to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the report said. Seven madrasas were founded in the capital during his 11-year rule, 15 more during the 11 years of civilian governments under Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from 1988 to 1999, and 14 during General Musharraf’s eight-year rule. Certain lessons must be drawn from the Lal Masjid episode, the national daily Dawn wrote Friday in an editorial. “Characters like the two Lal Masjid brothers are to be found all over the country,” it wrote. “They have money and arms and brainwashed followers willing to do their bidding.” While their followers may be innocent and sincere in their belief, their leaders often operate with impunity, it said. “It is, thus, the brains behind them that the government should go after.” “The Lal Masjid drama is a symptom of a deeper malaise,” it said. “The nation expects the government to move against terrorism until it no longer becomes a force.” A successful end to the Lal Masjid showdown will provide a much-needed lift to the Pakistani government and General Musharraf himself, Teresita C. Schaffer, a former assistant secretary of state for South Asia and the director of the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a speech this week. Failure to act earlier was a reflection of the severe erosion of the government’s authority, she said. “But Musharraf and his government are not out of the woods,” she said, listing major problems confronting the general, who faces elections this year, and the country. The militancy issue alone is daunting. “Fighting between government forces and groups friendly to the Taliban in the provinces bordering Afghanistan, is still going on, with at least two suicide bombings in the last 24 hours,” she said. “Sympathizers of the Red Mosque as well as Afghan-oriented parts of the militant movement may be looking for more opportunities to make their presence felt.”

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