Jul 8, 2007

The Fallout From Pakistan

Last Friday morning President General Pervez Musharraf would chair an urgent meeting called for at his presidential camp office in Rawalpindi. With no other options, and staving off a possible coup attempt, Musharraf would be forced to approve a plan presented to him by intelligence and security officals that would give amnesty to the estimated 100 pro-taliban militants still holed up inside the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, provided that they lay down their weapons and surrender. This would be Musharraf's last chance.

From the perspective of the opposition, Musharraf's regime had become a corrupt authoritarian tool of Western imperialism helplessly infected with the heretical concepts of modernism, westernism and secularism a view shared with Islamabad's political power brokers. More interested in appeasing Western demands that it was of governing the people. Something had to be done, but how? With no means of mounting a revolution on their own, the opposition could only come to power by either collaborating with the military and intelligence agencies and ousting Musharraf or by throwing their lot in the with the militants, another army coup might have suited them, but there was no one to carry it out. The only potentially revolutionary initiative seemed to lay with the clerics of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad.

The Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) is one of the oldest mosques in Islamabad, its name comes from the color of the paint used on its exterior walls. Since 9/11 the mosque in Pakistan's capital has became a fortress for firebrand clerics and their pupils, the burqa-clad young women among them being more prominent than young men, not only because of their robes and the long bamboo sticks in their hands but also because of their training for combat and their desire for jihad.

Despite the leadership of the Lal Masjid having a vehement disdain for modernization, The tech-savvy cleric Maulana Abdul-Rashid Ghazi and his brother soon set up a website (now offline) and eagerly grasped the techniques of mass communication and public relations frequently giving interviews to the local and foreign media with aplomb and relentlessly denouncing Musharraf's regime with impunity. As their influence grew, Pakistan's opposition party members from the MMA seeking some sort of religious legitimization and the sympathizers from within Musharraf's own core-constituency and government seeking atonement for their sins would begin to wait in line outside the cleric's offices to pay homage.

In Islamic usage, civil society and the congregation of the faithful are conterminous, and within a short period of time the mosque leadership, would initiate an anti-vice campaign. Despite the local and foreign media reports on their vigilantism, the reality is that many of the residents of Islamabad saw them as a positive factor, an Islamic Guardian Angels if you will, determined to "rid the streets of crime and vice, make citizen's arrests and offer "education programs" to businesses and individuals" - get caught selling those immoral sexy Bollywood VCDs and instead of getting a karate kick from Curtis Sliwa, you would get severely whacked upside the head with a bamboo stick wielding Raisinet. The smashed Bollywood VCDs and music tapes were quickly replaced with Islamic books and VCDs which espoused an anti-Western, pro-jihadi fundamentalist school of thought. Soon these would begin to sell in the capital's night markets like hotcakes. In turn, the madrassahs would begin to fill up and Pervez Musharraf would stand by impotently as 14 new anti-western, pro-taliban madrassahs opened in the capital of Islamabad (more than any other administration) and who's membership would swell to over 16,000 students, doubling in the last year alone.

Having effectively mastered the medium, the message from the propagandist clerics of the Lal Masjid gained further credibility with it's relentless repetition. The message was clear, and that was that Musharraf's corrupt regime linked to the United States and the "war on terrorism" was the epitome of evil, a regime that put the demands of the United States above the demands of the Pakistani people.

For six months the regime passively swallowed every indignity heaped upon it by the Lal Masjid command. As the regime’s credit declined across the land, General Musharraf defended his capitulation to the mosque militants by saying he did not want to see people getting killed. Comfortably sitting on the fence, Musharraf could feign loyalty to both sides, but the tide had now turned against him and Musharraf instinctively knew that an attack on the Red Mosque would be the beginning of the end, an affirmation of his corruption and his submission to the West. The incorruptibility of the clerics in the eyes of the Pakistanis had granted them larger than life status something that can never be taken from them, even in death. Musharraf had been set up.

No one is going to believe that Pakistani psyops story about Maulana Aziz trying "escape" the mosque in a burka. The truth has already been told by Maulana Shah Abdul Aziz, that Maulana Aziz was deceived and that he spoke for peace but Musharraf insisted on a military operation which killed a large number of people. Regardless of how the crisis ends the Lal Masjid leadership will being painted as martyrs. They will be shown as people who stood up to the dictatorship and asked for the simplest of things that any Muslim could want.

On the surface of it, Pervez Musharraf appears to have won, he has the militants surrounded in their mosque, he has their leaders in custody awaiting trial and he has a media that will only report what he wants it to, but Pervez Musharraf forgot the one thing that his military once taught the Taliban. "Only fight on the physical plane to secure victory on the moral plane".

Regardless of how the siege on the Red Mosque ends, the game is over for Musharraf, he knows it, but does the United States?

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