ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Bloody End to a Siege

The Pakistan army’s bloody assault on the Lal Masjid on July 11 – an action code named “Operation Silence” – killing the mosque’s main cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi and many others has only deepened the political crisis set off earlier. The Lal Masjid in Islamabad for long symbolised the symbiotic relationship that exists between Pakistan’s military and “hardline” Islamic elements. Maulana Mohammad Abdullah, the first cleric of the masjid, had Zia-ul-Haq’s support when the latter ruled Pakistan as chief martial law administrator (1977-88). Zia bolstered his shaky regime by reaching a deal with Islamic elements and by his active championing of the Taliban during Afghanistan’s civil war. The masjid has also been alleged to have links with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence that helped train and fund “jihadis” during the Afghan civil war. The present clerics of the masjid, Abdul Aziz Gazi and Abdul Rashid Gazi were among the most forceful critics of Musharraf’s increasing proximity to the US, and especially, of Pakistan’s role in the war against the Taliban.

Bitter fighting broke out in the Lal Masjid early in July, after months of the government appearing to appease the radical elements there. This was prompted after inc r e a s ing cha l l enge s to the gove rnment ’ s and Musharraf’s authority evident since January, when female students of the Jamia Hafsa, a seminary attached to the masjid, occupied a children’s library in Islamabad and forced the government to backtrack from plans to demolish illegal mosques and madrasas. In May, the Lal Masjid threatened suicide attacks against government attempts to close down the Islamic sharia court it had set up. In what could have been the last straw, several students kidnapped nine people, including several Chinese citizens, from an acupuncture clinic, claiming it was a brothel.

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