Your Blogger deliberately has avoided commenting on Lal Masjid/Jamia Hafsa issue until now.
He has had a sneaking suspicion all the while that this ruckus had been intentionally created to divert public attention from the Chief Justice debacle, as well as use this ‘manifestation’ of ‘the spreading virus of Talibanisation’ to wring international support for a beleaguered regime.
So rather than be accused of spreading ‘conspiracy theories’ it seemed preferable to stay mum. But now as I find a chorus of other voices harbouring similar suspicions, it is time to take a look at what has taken place.
Today’s News sums up the state of affairs in a nutshell:
[Islamabad] is being seized bit by bit by two brothers, Maulana Abdul Aziz and Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi who between them manage the Lal Masjid, the Jamia Faridia (the male madressah) and Jamia Hafsa (the female madressah). It has been reported, but not yet confirmed, that Faridia and Hafsa between them have about 10,000 resident pupils, 2,500 males and 7,500 females. The male pupil hides his identity behind a black mask that covers his head and face which looks quite ominous. The female pupils are clad in black and armed with stout bamboo sticks. They present a formidable and awesome picture. It is nearly impossible to determine the gender of the person clad from head to toe in black burqa. They are tall, hardly anyone less than 5 feet 9 inches which is well above average height of Pakistani females.
Here are the views of four diverse columnists:
Abbas Rashid commented in today’s Daily Times:
It is possible that the Musharraf government is allowing the standoff to prolong in order to distract public attention from the issue of the suspension of the chief justice. He could also be making the point with his increasingly restive allies in the West that they would be better off supporting him in his efforts to roll back the resurgent talibanisation — dramatically manifest as a clear and present danger in the very heart of the capital — rather than becoming too concerned about the essentials of democracy in Pakistan.
Such tactics would certainly be par for the course. The role of disaffected former intelligence officials can also not be discounted. But, in any case this would not be the first time that Musharraf has backed away from taking a stand when it comes to religio-political forces, regardless of the consistent tone and tenor of his liberal rhetoric.
In the same newspaper Brigadier (retd.) Shaukat Qadir is even more forthright.He also informs us that Jamia Hafsa/Lal Masjid was (and quite likely still is) funded by the Islamabad Regime:
While falling prey to ‘conspiracy theories’ is not commendable, there is little doubt that occasionally there is substance to such theories. Let’s consider this case.
Jamia Hafsa was begun with government funding and continued to receive substantial government funding for many years. Whether it still does is not known. The opposition has already alleged that the government has created this situation to divert attention from the chief-justice crisis. Even the MMA has collectively condemned each act of the students of Jamia Hafsa and Lal Masjid and disclaimed responsibility for their acts.
In the background, General Pervez Musharraf is not only faced with the judicial crisis he has created, but is being pressured by the United States on the necessity to hold free and fair elections (US congressmen have gone from Pakistan straight to London to meet with Nawaz Sharif. They were already in contact with Benazir Bhutto, with whom a government deal appears to be in the offing).
It is difficult to see why the government, which can easily pull the curtain on this drama, has refused to do so thus far. Why would Musharraf, who proudly portrays himself as Pakistan’s strongman, allow this episode to drag itself unnecessarily in Islamabad when he has not been averse to using force in the tribal areas, in Balochistan and in Karachi?
Is it possible that he has deliberately permitted the situation to go this far, in the hope that it will reinforce the view that he is indispensable if Pakistan has to have a moderate future? This may or may not be true. But if it is, then all one can say is that if he has, then he has descended to depths hitherto unprecedented. His legacy will be worse than his predecessor, Zia-ul Haq’s.
In the Gulf News Husain Haqqani had this to say:
There are four possible explanations for the deteriorating situation in Pakistan. The first, given by Pakistani officials, is that religious extremism has deep roots in Pakistan and would take many years and a lot more US dollars to root out.
The second, offered by American officials (notably outgoing US ambassador Ryan Crocker) claims that the Pakistani government does not have the capacity to control the Taliban and their sympathisers in all parts of the country.
The third, somewhat harsh, view is that Pakistan's military-intelligence-bureaucratic complex is deliberately encouraging extremism in an effort to extort more international support, manage domestic crises and to persist with their decades old dreams of expanding influence in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
The free rein for Jamia Hafsa's vigilantes, for example, serves the regime's purpose by taking attention away from the crisis generated by Musharraf's suspension of the Sup-reme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Choudhary.
The fourth explanation is a hybrid of the second and the third. Pakistan's rulers, it suggests, give priority to regime survival above long-term national strength. As long as Pakistan's ruling elite presents itself as being between a rock and a hard place, the world will continue to bail it out. After all, no one wants a nuclear-armed state to fall under the control of the Taliban.
The official Pakistani explanation does not hold much water. If the aim of Musharraf's policies is to weaken deep-rooted Islamist extremist groups then why are these groups gaining in strength instead of losing ground?
In principle it seems reasonable that the Pakistani state should avoid using extreme force against its own citizens. But such qualms have never held back the Pakistani state from killing Bengalis in erstwhile East Pakistan or Baloch and Sindhi dissidents.
As for the American account of "limited capacity" of the Pakistani state, that is only partly true. Had Benazir Bhutto or Asif Ali Zardari been the ones hiding in Waziristan, instead of Afghan Taliban and Al Qaida figures, I am quite certain that the Pakistani state would have found the means to deal with any armed supporters they might have had.
That leaves us with the harsh view that the generals like the chaos generated by Islamists and the explanation based on the Musharraf regime's wrong priorities.
There is enough evidence to demonstrate past collaboration between the Pakistan military-intelligence apparatus and extremist Islamists to make the cynics seem plausible. On the other hand, if instead of being used as personal security guards for an unpopular ruler or rent-a-crowd tools at Musharraf's rallies, Pakistan's security forces were properly deployed they could, at least, protect Pakistan's federal capital from Talibanisation.
The survival of Pakistan depends upon eliminating extremists. But the Pakistani establishment's erroneous view that its survival in power is synonymous with Pakistan's survival is pushing the country further to the brink. Regime survival requires manipulation or calibration of the extremists. Pakistan's survival necessitates their containment or elimination.
Then there is a furious Raoof Hasan in today’s Nation who blames the regime directly for the ‘Lal masjid’ mess and lambastes Musharraf, Shaukat Aziz et al and calls them ‘a bunch of half-wits’.
It is when a coterie of self-seeking and self-aggrandising individuals take positions, or indulge in acts, in contravention of the basic provisions of law, that the edifice of the state is rendered insecure before immoral, illegal and untenable assaults. The history of Pakistan is replete with instances graphically illustrative of this malaise. The frequent nightly assaults by tin-pot generals to usurp power from democratically elected governments have provided a classic, unstoppable phenomenon that has repeatedly played with the fate of the state. When that happens, it follows logically that ‘law’ has been replaced with a lack of it, and ascendancy to positions of importance is through non-conformance to the basic tenets of law as against conformance. It also follows that the writ of the state does not emanate from abiding by the book of law, but from the whims and fancies of an individual who, through an unconstitutional, illegal and immoral act, has grabbed for himself the position to be the sole arbiter of the fate of the state and its people. These assaults, repeatedly ‘legalised’ by the use of the notorious ‘Doctrine of Necessity’, have resulted in indescribable tragedies for Pakistan and its people.
The total disappearance of the ‘writ’ of the state emanates from this basic reality: the absence of a lawful and institutionalised mode of governance and its replacement with ‘writ’ being dispensed by a self-anointed individual who, in the first place, is there through an act violative of the relevant provisions of the Constitution of Pakistan. The book is clear and candid about how to deal with such individuals.
Additionally, in the absence of government in accordance with the provisions of law, the likelihood of smaller groups of vested interests within the establishment exerting to ‘destabilise’ the government to meet their own nefarious ends, enhances immensely. The prospect that the establishment is currently riddled with machinations of such vested interests is, therefore, not beyond the realm of possibility, even probability.
Consequently, the charade being enacted at the Lal Masjid and the government’s total inaction and impotence in the face of this unprecedented provocation is understandable. As a matter of fact, those who still dream of any remedial measures in this regard may, as well, stop doing so. This is the fate that we have to resign to in the face of continuing nightly assaults on the state by a bunch of half-wits touting as rulers. If ever lawful authority of the state is to be restored, these usurpers will have to be shown the door, for good!