Thursday 5 July 2007
Source: Afternoon Dispatch & Courier.
The stand of the clerics reflects the double standards of the Musharraf government in the war against terror.
The policies of Pervez Musharraf, the President and Army Chief are taking their toll on his country. His tactics of hunting with the hounds and running with the hares has started taking its toll on Pakistan.
Ever since the terrorist attack of 9/11, Pakistan has donned the mantle of America’s ally in the fight against terror and fundamentalist elements.
At home the situation has taken a turn for the worse.
The MMA an umbrella group of various religious parties is one of its alliance partners at the federal level and also in two of the four provincial level governments (Balochistan and NWFP) is a part of the Musharraf camp.
Some political thinkers feel that the MMA is shielding and supporting the fundamentalists. The MMA had lent constitutional support for a key amendment, known as 17th amendment or Legal Framework Order in 2004. This order gave sweeping powers to Musharraf to create roadblocks for the return of the exiled leaders like Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif back to power. One of the stipulations of this order was that no person can become the Prime Minister of Pakistan more that two times. This was aimed at Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto who had each occupied the PM’s chair twice.
What was increasingly embarrassing for the Pakistan rulers was that a larger number of fundamentalists were coming to fore from time to time like those from the Lal Masjid in Islamabad.
When Pakistan was being snubbed recently by the American Administration for not yielding sufficient results in the fight against terror, this was quickly followed by raids on the tribal areas of the North West Frontier Province. There were also air raids at Bajaur, on the pretext of flushing out terrorist elements.
These acts sparked resentment from the religious and fundamental groups. Fundamentalists like those from the Lal Masjid raided slogans against the American administration earlier in the year.
Lal Masjid increasingly came under focus when it began what it termed a ‘cleansing drive’ of Pakistani society and took bolder actions. At times, some of the security men posted outside the Masjid, ostensibly to keep an eye on the activities in the Masjid were abducted and taken into the Masjid. They were released only when the government intervened.
All this emboldened the Lal Masjid clerics, who issued more critical statements against the federal government. But, when the clerics and their adherents kidnapped some workers at a Chinese owned massage parlour in Islamabad, things started taking turn for the worse against the Lal Masjid.
The Masjid’s charge against the Chinese massage parlour was that they were indulging in objectionable activities under the guise of providing massages. People from the massage parlour asked the media to tell the clerics of the Lal Masjid, that if they were truly serious about the moral drive, then they should visit of the areas across Pakistan, where more immoral activities were taking place.
In fact, even the Chinese government took a serious note of the kidnapping of their nationals in Islamabad. It was only after intervention from senior political leaders belonging to the ruling party, that the Chinese parlour workers were released from the Lal Masjid.
The media during this period was highly critical of the government. They felt that Musharraf was fooling the Pakistani people. Though, the government claimed to be an ally in the “fight against terror” but in every city of Pakistan Islamists are kidnapping other countries’ nationals and openly moving around with weapons. This was especially so for the leaders of the Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdulrashid Gazi and his brother.
Stung by the growing media criticism, when the government started preparing for a crackdown on the Lal Masjid, the clergy hiding in the Masjid challenged the government to take action. The clerics said that they had more than 10,000 activists ready to carry out suicide attacks and if there was any crackdown or operation, these suicide bombers would be sent on their mission. This added fuel to the fire between the Pakistan rulers and the Lal Masjid. The authorities instructed elements hiding inside the Lal Masjid to surrender by Tuesday afternoon or else face bullets from the security forces.
Things have worsened as there was no surrender after deadline passed. The exchange of fire between the security forces and Islamists has resulted in several casualties. But, what is of greater concern is the spread of disturbance across Pakistan. After the events of Wednesday, there will be repercussions across Pakistan, as the MMA is a partner in government and also commands quite a following in Baluchistan, Karachi and the NWFP.
Considering the storms that have been lashing Pakistan recently, it seems that the Pakistan government is caught between two fires; that of the weather and that of the Islamists.