Since then we have had to behold the dreadful Lal Masjid catastrophe in Islamabad, which was followed a week later by a momentous judgment from the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Perhaps it is time your Blogger attempted to come to grips with the violent finale at the mosque at Islamabad.
The Lal Masjid - which happened to be located only a few blocks away from the ISI headquarters – was widely recognized for having provided, over the years, shelter to various groupings of Sunni extremists.
It is not all that long ago that Musharraf attempted to enlighten the world about the distinction between the regular terrorist and the Pakistani ‘freedom fighter’. According to Musharraf’s yardstick Al-Qaeda and its associates were terrorist organisations, while all the Sunni extremists fighting our proxy wars in Kashmir and elsewhere – groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Toyiba – were ‘freedom fighters’ resisting the might of pitiless occupiers.
And yes, despite the military regime's avowed aim of cleansing Pakistan from all forms of terrorism, exceptions were always made. As BBC recently noted:
Many of Pakistan's top militants - including those suspected of plotting to assassinate the country's leaders - are known to have once been members of the myriad militant organisations engaged in Kashmir.
Yet they appear to have been totally exempted from the [anti-terrorist] campaign.
Even in cases where high profile Kashmir-related militants have been arrested, the government has shown little interest in pursuing their prosecution.
It is true that British born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh is in jail. He is currently contesting his conviction in the murder of Wall Street reporter Daniel Pearl.
But most militants linked to Kashmir have been spared altogether.
Leaders of three of Pakistan's largest militant organisations engaged in Kashmir - Lashkar-e-Toyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkatul Mujahideen - roam free to this day and are reportedly in touch with their cadres.
During the Lal Masjid siege even Musharraf was forced to concede that most of the militants holed up inside the mosque belonged to the supposedly banned bunch of ‘freedom fighters’, namely the Jaish-e-Muhammad (Army of Muhammed).
At the time of the siege many questions were openly raised by the media and others. As BBC then commented:
But what makes Lal Masjid of special interest to the media is the alleged involvement of Pakistani security agencies in its affairs.
It is generally believed that the mosque administration has powerful friends within Pakistan's security apparatus…
In view of a history of the mullahs close connections to the ‘authorities’ the questions being raised after the disastrous and bloody conclusion are:
- Why were these mullahs allowed to hold sway and intimidate ordinary citizens for so long?
- Despite heavy security precautions prevalent in the capital city, how did the inhabitants of the mosque obtain stocks of gas masks, machine guns, anti-tank mines, incendiary explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, recoilless rifles, dozens of AK-47 assault rifles, pistols and two-way radios.
- Why was there this noticeable coincidence of the mullahs of the mosque indulging in dramatic headline seeking activity every time there was an upsurge in the news coverage of Chief Justice’s case?
- What was the need for the attacking troops to carry out such a horrendous mass slaughter?
- Why the media was not allowed access to the destroyed mosque for two days after the army's strangely appropriate named operation 'Silence'? (This led many members of the general public to wonder if there were too many skeletons hidden in the Lal Masjid cupboard?).
It is now widely believed that Musharraf decided to act after receiving a severe reprimand from Beijing. As the Daily Times reported on 29 June 2007:
The federal interior minister, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, during his visit to Beijing, got an earful from the Chinese minister of public security, Zhou Yongkang Zhou, who asked Pakistan for the umpteenth time to protect Chinese nationals working in Pakistan. The reference was to the assault and kidnapping of Chinese citizens in Islamabad by the Lal Masjid vigilantes. The Chinese minister called the Lal Masjid mob “terrorists” who targeted the Chinese, and asked Pakistan to punish the “criminals”.
Given these circumstances your Blogger is of the opinion that there had been a symbiotic relationship between the regime’s agents and the mullahs of the mosque. But as can happen in such cases, this alliance caused the empowered party, in this case the mullahs, to become more and more bombastic as time went by. Finally their ill-considered highhanded activities led to a point where they were damaging rather than propping up the regime.
The Pakistani military establishment serves only its own interests. It has a history of ruthlessly severing off connections from anyone past their sell by date. Just ask the members of the agency-created MQM (Haqiqi) or the handpicked police officers who helped round up the MQM men during the period of violent upheaval in Karachi during the mid-1990s. When Musharraf needed to make a political alliance with MQM, these Haqiqi party members and Police SHOs were left out completely unprotected in the cold and many, if not most, were subsequently gunned down at will.
And so in early July, despite the fact that a deal to end the siege was almost complete, Musharraf, after months of prevaricating, ordered his men to wipe out the militants of Lal Majid.
Why then? Because it obviously suited him to do so. Caught between a rock and a hard place, as he is these days, Musharraf will do anything that prevents his kursi from tottering too visibly.
And yet once again he botched it up badly.