By Ashraf Ali, Special to Muslim Media News Service
Peshawar, Pakistan–The â€˜operation silenceâ€™ at last broke the silence when 102 persons including Red Mosque deputy cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi, seventy two seminarians and ten soldiers were killed and over 130 injured as security forces stormed the Red Mosque-Jamia Hafsa complex–on July 10.
The operation, although it put an end to a six-month long stand off between the Red Mosque clerics and the government authorities, has given birth to many questions.
The foremost question asked is: why did President Musharraf chose this time for launching an operation against the mosque, and secondly, how come the heavy piles of arms and ammunition could make its way to the mosque and Jamia Hafsa in the capital right under the nose of intelligence agencies? The political observers believe that the launch of the operation at this times was aimed at diverting peopleâ€™s attention from the on-going judicial crises which started with the suspension of the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the governmentsâ€™ failure in delivering to the flood-hit areas where the torrential rains during the current monsoon played havoc with thousands of people in parts of the country; and finally sabotaging the efforts made for making the All Parties Conference a success, which was due in a couple of days after the operation was launched.
According to a government spokesman, the assault was necessary to free hundreds of female hostages and young seminarians, but a week after the attack the despondent parents are still seeking their loved ones.
In an officially arranged visit to the Red Mosque and Jamia Hafsa, the security forces showed the media persons a huge cache of arms and ammunitions, which according to the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) was recovered from the mosque and the madrasa Hafsa. This included rockets, landmines, suicide bombing belts, light machine guns (LMGs), Klashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic guns, pistols, revolvers, night vision equipment, and over 50,000 live bullets of different calibers. Three crates of petrol bombs prepared from green soft drink bottles, gas masks, recoilless rifles, dozens of AK 47s, two way radios, large plastic buckets held tennis-ball size homemade bombs and knives were also put on display for the visiting media persons. While briefing the media persons, Director General ISPR, Major General Waheed Arshad said â€œwe also recovered the head of a suicide bomber and his body parts.â€
If the government is true in its claim, then the question posed is how come the huge dumps of arms and ammunitions could make its way to the Red Mosque and Jamia Hafsa and how it got radicalized itself within the breathing distance of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) headquarters in the capital, Islamabad.
And secondly, why did the government delay any action against the Red Mosque when it knew that the mosqueâ€™s administration have been challenging the writ of the government for the last six months when the Ghazi brothers started brandishing un-authorized weapons in public.
The Red Mosque administration became radicalized during the Afghan jihad against the USSR. Maulvi Abdullah, the father of the deceased Maulvi Abdul Rashid Ghazi, befriended Afghan jihadists including Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf and Jalaluddin Haqqani during the early nineties. Later, Abdullah developed friendly links with the Taliban when they emerged as victors of Kabul in 1996. General Zia ul Haq, the then President of Pakistan was more pivotal in radicalizing Pakistan, with the help of US funds and weapons. He encouraged Abdullahâ€™s fraternizing with Afghan worriors. As a result of state encouragement, Maulvi Abdullah and the Red Mosque enterprise grew; Abdullah usurped state land in the prime E-7 sector of Islamabad to establish yet another seminary, Jamia-e-Fareedia and because of his links to the high ups in the establishment, the authorities did not prevent him from using state land.
The former Chairman of the Department of Political Science, University of Peshawar and political analyst, Professor Iqbal Tajik, said, â€œboth the Ghazi brothers of the Red Mosque were pampered by the successive military regimes which lends credence to the widespread nexus between the mullahs and Army.â€ â€œHow could they build up such a military compound right at the heart of the capital without the knowledge of the army and intelligence agencies?â€ asked Professor Tajik.
Intelligence agencies thought that by funding and creating radical groups they would be able to switch them off when a situation demanded. But it was a wrong assumption. The government did not take into account that once a radical organization is allowed to sprout and attains a certain level, it becomes autonomous in its management and policies. It is then only a matter of time before such an organization graduates first to a regional and then into an international terrorist network. The Red Mosque was no exception.
By 2001, it began to criticize US policies openly. In 2003, the Red Mosque organized violent protests against the murder of another leader of a jihadist outfit, Azam Tariq of a banned religious party, Sepah-e-Sahaba. Seminary students ransacked petrol stations, cinemas, restaurants and other property.
In 2004, Osama Bin Ladenâ€™s driver was arrested from the Red Mosque compound. But despite all this the government was unperturbed at the waywardness of its people. A legal expert cum political activist and former member of the national assembly, Abdul Latif Afridi, explained the logic behind the governmentâ€™s silence on the issue in question, in these words: â€œThe only explanation that comes to mind for this indifference is that government used periodic Red Mosque eruptions as justification for retaining the role of the military in Pakistani politics.â€
The political pundits are of the view that at this juncture President Musharraf, exploiting the situation, wanted to show the American administration that the threat of religious extremism still exists in Pakistan and that he (General Musharraf–a man in the uniform) could be the best option for America to crush these extremist forces with full might.â€
But Musharraf and his government had to pay a huge price. Immediately after the operation, a series of retaliatory attacks rocked various parts of the country, claiming hundreds of people including youths of the Pak-Army, police, levies and Frontier Constabulary (FC). During the weekend alone, seventy-one people have lost their lives and scores of others have been wounded as a result of suicide attacks in the North West Frontier Province of the country.
In North Waziristan, a troubled area in the tribal belt, the militants, while unilaterally scrapping their 10-month-old peace accord with the government, have threatened guerilla style attacks against the security forces in the area. Abdullah Farhad, a spokesman for the Taliban in the restive tribal areas while talking to The Muslim Observer on telephone from an undisclosed area, said that â€œtheir Amir (leader) has announced that the agreement with the government which reached on September 5thl, last year, stands terminated.â€
He further maintained that the Amir had ordered the Taliban to start guerilla attacks against the security forces re-deployed in the area following attacks on the security forces. Leaflets announcing the scrapping of the accord were distributed in Miranshah, headquarters of North Waziristan, prompting scores of families to flee the troubled area. He later claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing on Sunday that killed 26 including 15 policemen and 11 candidates who had gathered for police recruitment, and injured more than 50 in police lines in Dera Ismail Khan, a southern district of North West Frontier Province.
Following a bloody suicide attack in the Swat valley which killed 13 persons including 11 soldiers, the government has already sent reinforcements to the troubled area where a local cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, has challenged the authority of the government. Maulana Fazlullah who has been running an illegal FM radio station is said to have the active support of thousands of armed men at his back in an area which is the stronghold of a banned religious outfit, Tahreek-e-Nifaz-e-Sharia-e-Muhammadi (TNSM)- a movement for the implementation of the Islamic Shariâ€™ah. TNSM was founded by Maulana Sufi Muhammad in 1992 and since then the movement has been struggling for the implementation of a Taliban-style government in the Malakand region of the Swat Valley. After 9/11, Sufi Muhammad took more than ten thousand people to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban against US-led forces there. In 2002, President Musharraf banned TNSM along with some other religious outfits on charges of their being involved in terrorism-related activities.
It is clear that there will be more retaliatory killings to avenge the deaths of civilians in the Red Mosque. A solution to the problem of jihadism lies in a twin track approach, based on full political empowerment by the return of undiluted democracy and a clear official committement not to use jihadi proxies for political or military objectives–their nexus with the intelligence services can only turn Pakistan into a crippled state. Its is too high a price to be paid.