Musharraf's Crisis Finally Spotlights Pakistan Role in Islamic Terrorism
(IPS) KARACHI --
security forces stormed Islamabad's Red Mosque July 10 to flush out armed militants barricaded within the complex.
The attack will likely help Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf deflect international criticism about what he's been doing to contain the Taliban on this side of the Afghan border. On the national front, however, things are a bit more complicated.
On Saturday Musharraf warned that the army would be ruthless against the militants. "We have been patient. They should come out and surrender, and if they don't, I am saying this here and now: They will be killed."
Deputy chief cleric of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), Abdul Rashid Ghazi, was among the dead as commandos stormed the complex, according to state-run Pakistan Television, which quoted interior ministry sources. The chief cleric, Ghazi's brother Abdul Aziz, had already been apprehended from the compound trying to escape, dressed in a burqa. At least 50 others died in the shooting, according to military reports, while about the same number of women and children who had been held hostage were rescued.
Ghazi made a phone call to the Geo TV station in which he accused the authorities of "naked aggression" and said his martyrdom was certain. He has not been heard from since.
Musharraf had prepared the background for the raid by getting Ejazul Haq, minister for religious affairs, to inform the media that the government had information that several internationally wanted terrorists were holed up inside the Lal Masjid complex, which includes seminaries for male and female Islamic scholars.
"Nine suspected terrorists, said to be far more dangerous and harmful than al-Qaida and Taliban operatives, were hiding inside the mosque compound," Haq said at a Sunday press conference, though he refused to reveal their identities.
According to Haq the "high-value terrorists" rather than the chief cleric were in control of the mosque. He said the chief cleric was being held hostage there along with women and children. But Ghazi, whose support of the Islamic extremist Taliban was well known, had appeared several times on television to say that he preferred 'martyrdom' to giving up.
Ghazi had said that as many as 1,800 followers were in the mosque and that some 300, including women, had been killed during raids carried out by the army on Sunday. Senior commando officer Lt. Col. Haroon-ul-Islam died in the raids. The number of people killed in the raids has yet to be verified.
Trouble began brewing at the Lal Masjid early this year when its affiliated seminary for women, Jamia Hafsa, occupied a children's library, calling for the reconstruction of six mosques that had been demolished because they stood on encroached land. Members of the women's seminary also demanded strict enforcement of Islamic law and kidnapped an alleged brothel owner in an attempt to chastise her.
By early April the mosque had set up an Islamic Sharia court and Maulana Abdul Aziz announced that any attempt to close it down would be met with revenge by thousands of suicide attacks.
"Moral squads" of girls and boys from the seminary were then allowed to rampage through the streets to "prevent vices and promote virtue," following the example of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Things came to a head when nine Chinese citizens, six of them women working in a massage parlor, were abducted last month. They were released a day later after diplomatic intervention.
As the Lal Masjid standoff began to take new twists and turns with each passing day, many critics viewed it as a stage-managed affair.
"There is a pervasive feeling in Islamabad that the chief cleric and his brother played into the hands of intelligence agencies. The tragedy is whoever planned it failed to see that so many lives would be lost, and the people living in the G-6 area in Islamabad would become prisoners in their own homes," said an Islamabad-based journalist, requesting anonymity.
The timing of the operation also raised serious doubts about the real motives of Pakistan's military government.
According to Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri, news editor at Geo TV, the Lal Masjid standoff was a "masterpiece of intelligence agencies" and an "eyewash" to deflect attention from issues of national importance, such as the Supreme Court hearing of the petition of Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who Musharraf summarily suspended as chief justice.
Mekhri's views were endorsed by Hamid Mir, senior political analyst at the same TV channel. "Musharraf wanted to diffuse the Multi-Parties Conference in London. Before that he was using Lal Mosque to distract the judicial crisis," Mir said. The Multi-Parties Conference was a meeting of dozens of Pakistani politicians that took place July 7-8.
According to Mir, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, who was sent to negotiate with the mosque administration and who was about to resolve the issue in April, was "asked by someone very important to delay it."
However, Mehkri said there could be a longer-term scheme on the part of the Musharraf government in all this. "This could be a motive to seek U.S. blessings for President Musharraf to remain in uniform," he said.
In a statement the chairman of the Communist Party of Pakistan, engineer Jameel Ahmad Malik, said, "The religious fundamentalist forces in Pakistan are the brainchild of the ISI [Inter Services Intelligence], the military intelligences and American imperialism."
The reference was to Pakistan-based Mujahideen or Islamist militants who successfully fought the Soviet army in Afghanistan through the 1980s with support from Washington.
After the Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan, Pakistan is also known to have diverted the Mujahideen to Kashmir to help with its protracted dispute with India over possession of the Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir.
Opposition parties in Pakistan have been accusing Musharraf of secretly encouraging Islamist radicalism to counter secular political groups' demands for elections and the restoration of the democratic process.
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Albion Monitor July
11, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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