We learn from this morning’s newspapers that at a high level meeting yesterday - attended by Musharraf, Shaukat Aziz, prominent ministers and intelligence chiefs – it was decided not to impose a clampdown on the activities of the Fundos running a parallel state a stone’s throw from the regime’s seat of governance.
In a front page story in the Daily Times we are told:
‘The intelligence bosses maintained that a crackdown would create a law and order situation in Islamabad and would strengthen extremists in the country.’
'Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao told the meeting that the government could not afford the use of force against madrassa students since general elections were near.'
'Javed Iqbal Cheema, director general of the National Crisis Management Cell, also opposed the use of force, “because we are already confronting difficult situations in Waziristan and Balochistan”. '
'Sources said that almost all meeting participants - which included Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Law Minister Wasi Zafar and Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani - opposed a crackdown on madrassa students.'
The News columnist Nasim Zehra agrees with this decision but for different reasons. According to her General Musharraf has simply opened too many other fronts – the legal fraternity, the Media, the Baloch and the ‘liberal’ politicians – to take on these religious extremists. And the country is paying a high price for his recklessness.
Gen Musharraf certainly has a problem on hand. A violent reprisal on women students can incite protests across the country and add to his woes. Besides, many students are wards of non-commissioned officers in the Pakistan Army, a factor which has its own set of problems for the President who was, three years ago, targeted by a coalition of terror groups and junior officers in the intelligence agency and Pakistan Air Force.
Whatever might be Gen Musharraf's compulsions to allow the brothers in Lal Masjid to hold Rawalpindi to ransom, he will have to live with this growing realisation among the people in Pakistan that law and order is fast spinning out of his control.
There are quite a few clear signs of such an eventuality. The street protest over the suspension of the Chief Justice was one. The 'Talibanisation' of the tribal areas and NWFP is another. Areas in Bannu, Malakand and Tank in the frontier province are virtually under the Taliban rule. Jihadis, too, exercise a strong hold over large towns in the area like Dera Adam Khel and Dera Ismail Khan. The Taliban has ordered the closure of girls' schools, video shops, barber shops and NGOs. The provincial Government, controlled by religious extremists, is planning to ban dance, music and other cultural events in the region.
In Baluchistan, despite the brutal slaying of veteran Baluch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti last year and the forced disappearances of young Baluch leaders, the situation is far from being under control. Rocket attacks and bomb blasts are recurring regularly in Quetta, Pasni and Turbat towns. In the last six months, 116 bomb blasts have been reported from the province.
In the Northern Areas, the Sunni-Shia conflict continues unabated, particularly in Parchinar and Chitral. In Sind, young women, both Hindu and Christian, are forced to convert to Islam. Temples and churches are attacked and vandalised. False cases are registered against Hindus.
In Punjab and other areas, journalists, daring to express dissent or simply report incidents, are being systematically brutalised. The highly respected Dawn group of newspapers recently front-paged its run-in with the Musharraf Government.
The question being asked both in Pakistan and outside is: How long will it take the Pakistan Army to realise that its Chief of Staff has become a liability, and might just threaten the supreme position it holds in a country which is often called 'An Army's Nation'?