militants, divided leaders
Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Very much
like in the post-September 11 days, Pakistan is
once again standing at a crossroad between the
military and the mosque following the bomb attacks
in London on July 7.
However, a major
difference now is that the US and the United
Kingdom are watching Pakistan's every action with
unrelenting vigilance, which could force President
General Pervez Musharraf to take action that will
place him on a path of confrontation with various
religious and political elements in the country.
As an important ally in the US-led "war on
terror", and given that three of the four London
bombers are said to have visited Pakistan within
in a year prior to the attacks, Musharraf had to
act, both quickly and firmly.
As a result,
security forces have detained about 300 suspected
Islamist extremists in raids on religious schools
and other centers across the country.
Within Pakistan, though, this has had an
almost immediate and potentially dangerous effect:
there is a split within the corridors of power,
and complete harmony among the previously
splintered underground militant organizations,
developed within days to fight back against
televised address to the nation on Thursday was in
effect a public announcement of a divorce between
the military and the mosque. For the first time,
although without citing its name, he called the
influential Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) , the country's
largest religious group, a regressive force.
"They were the ones who declared
Jihad-i-Kashmir un-Islamic in 1948 [referring to
the statement of the founder of the JI, Syed
Maududi, that sending Wazir tribespeople to
liberate Kashmir was un-Islamic, that war should
be declared by the state and not by private
citizens] and now they are disturbing the peace
process between India and Pakistan."
most significant part of the speech was
Musharraf's condemnation of the JI's role in 1971
when it ran the "Bangladesh unacceptable" movement
demanding that the rulers not recognize Bangladesh
after the fall of Dhaka. (The JI's militant wing,
al-Badr, fought side-by-side with the Pakistani
army against Bengali separatists and the Indian
army in the former East Pakistan. )
the key question is whether the Pakistani army as
an institution approves this divorce from
On Thursday, police raided the
core of Islamic madrassas (seminaries), the
Binori Town Islamic Seminary in Karachi, and
detained several foreign students. The Muttahida
Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a powerful alliance of six
religious/political parties, has responded by
calling for nationwide protests.
masses react to the government crackdown on
madrassas is, however, secondary.
The central issue is that several
underground militant organizations have linked in
preparation for retaliatory action against the
government if it, under immense Western pressure,
carries out "real" actions.
most "crackdowns" were were a setup - militant
groups were taken into confidence before members
were arrested, and asked to be patient until the
storm blew over. Now, both the militant groups and
the army know that they cannot fool around as the
US and the UK are both serious.
The case of
one Hasib Hussain raises questions. The
16-year-old Briton of Pakistani origin was
pinpointed as one of the four London bombers, and
according to Pakistani immigration officials he
visited Pakistan last July via Saudi Arabia.
Now, Hasib Hussain and his father have
been interviewed at their High Wycombe home in
England by Pakistani TV station ARY. "I first saw
my photograph on Channel 4 [news] and I was
terrified," the boy told ARY. "I didn't want
people looking at me saying, hey, you are supposed
to be dead," he told ARY. "Or someone saying that
there goes the London bomber." His father told ARY
that the family had indeed visited Karachi via
Saudi Arabia. He appealed for British and
Pakistani authorities to clear up the confusion.
Yahya Mujahid, a spokesperson of
Jamaatudawa (formerly known as the
Lashkar-I-Toiba), also took issue with reports
that have surfaced about another of the bombers,
"The whole story is built
with bad intentions. Most of the allegations
leveled against us are false. Even the story of
Shahzad Tanweer, that he attended a
madrassa at Mureedkey [headquarters of
Jamaatudawa] is false. In fact, according to his
uncle's statement, he attended a madrassa
near Lahore. There are dozens of madrassas
near Lahore and he need not necessarily have gone
to Jamaatudawa. Secondly, he also spent time with
Tableegi Jamaat, which is [ideologically] contrary
to Jamaatudawa in all aspects. How come would he
wear two hats at the same time?" asked Yahya.
"On such baseless allegations they are
aiming to put us behind bars. Are we only here to
be rounded up? Don't we have any human rights?"
Yahya asked. "We condemned the London bombing. It
was murder of civilians, which just cannot be
approved," Yahya maintained.
stand, divided we fall
differences between Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz
and Musharraf have been circulating for some
months, but they appear to be coming to a head.
Shaukat recently called on all heads of
law-enforcing agencies and asked them to report
directly to his command.
flexed his muscles when, on the instructions of
President House, Brigadier Javed Cheema of the
Crisis Management Cell led an operation against
Lal Masjid Islamic Seminaries in Islamabad and
detained several dozen students and teachers.
Shaukat asked the concerned police
officials why they had acted without his
permission, and issued an order for the immediate
suspension and transfer from the service of all
the top police officials of Islamabad. The
arrested teachers and students were released.
Shaukat is proving more ambitious than
Musharraf would like, with the premier wanting to
be powerful and the person to whom all
intelligence agencies and law-enforcing agencies
report. This puts him on a collision course with
No obstacles in "war on
After rounding up the editorial
staff of several pro-jihadi publications, the
government issued notices to 17 different media
organizations, including the two top-most
newspaper groups, telling them that support of any
"unscrupulous" group would be tantamount to
meddling in the "war on terror" and that the
government would take strong action, including
arrests and seizure of publications.
message from Musharraf is clear: you are either
with us or against us. The government has also
approached the US government and asked it to
monitor some Washington-based Pakistani
journalists and scholars who are disseminating
misinformation against the Musharraf government,
and in this manner disturbing his drive against
Syed Saleem Shahzad,
Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online. He can
be reached at email@example.com
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