Another stiff test for
Musharraf By Syed Saleem
KARACHI - From the mountains of
Pakistan's tribal areas to the capital Islamabad
and up to the insurgent coastal belt of
Balochistan province bordering Iran and
Afghanistan, pan-Islamists are developing a united
front ultimately to take on the West and its
allies in the region.
target, though, is the administration of
West-leaning President General Pervez Musharraf.
Islamists of all hues are coming together. These
include those believing in tribal traditions (the
Islamic Emirates of the Waziristans and the Taliban
Afghanistan); global jihadis (al-Qaeda),
proponents of Islamic democracy (the
Jamaat-i-Islami Pakistan and the newly organized
United Islamic Front of Afghanistan), and
madrassas (seminaries) led by the Lal
Masjid (mosque) in Islamabad).
groups plan to join hands next Tuesday in a mass
sit-in protest in Islamabad against Musharraf.
Several recent catalysts have helped the
pan-Islamists smooth over some of their
differences, including Musharraf's sacking of his
chief justice, unrest in the South Waziristan
tribal area, and a protest against vice by
students linked to Lal Masjid.
unrest Infighting between a segment of the
Pakistani Taliban and foreign militants in South
Waziristan that broke out last week has in effect
turned into a broader battle against Pakistani
security forces. Islamabad intervened by sending
in troops to try to arrest or kill militant Uzbek
leader Tahir Yaldeshiv.
(councils) of North and South Waziristan put their
feet down, and differences between the Taliban and
al-Qaeda-linked foreigners have now been shelved
to concentrate on battling the Pakistani security
The Pakistani press widely
reported Pakistani soldiers being killed in South
Waziristan, and the flames of unrest took no time
to spread to settled towns of North West Frontier
On Wednesday, the
Pakistani Taliban mobilized hundreds of men in an
attempt to seize control of Tank, the NWFP town
nearest South Waziristan. Local police were not
able to control the situation, and the Pakistan
Army and paramilitary troops were called in. They
contained the situation and clamped a curfew on
the town, although there are still reports of
Students against vice
On Tuesday, Musharraf addressed a rally in
Rawalpindi and called on the masses to stand up
against religious extremism. But only a few
kilometers away in the federal capital Islamabad,
young men and women associated with Lal Masjid's
seminaries of Jamia Hafsa (for girls) and Jamia
Faridia (for boys) were engaged in a powerful
protest against vice.
The students (mostly
women) took to the streets to persuade video shops
not to sell "vulgar" movies. The campaign took a
turn when the students seized a brothel owner in
the Aapara area, where both the Taliban-supporting
Lal Masjid and the state's Inter-Services
Intelligence are situated. They held the woman
hostage in their seminary.
complaints, the government has been unable to do
anything about the brothels in the area because of
the unholy nexus between high-ups and the
Thus the students took
matters into their own hands, much as the Taliban
did as they emerged as a power in the 1990s in
Afghanistan and in the Waziristan tribal areas.
The students had the full backing of
prominent religious personalities Ghazi Abdul
Rasheed and Maulana Abdul Aziz, the brothers who
run the Lal Masjid and the men's and women's
The police tried to broker the
release of the brothel owner and, when they
failed, they arrested two female teachers from the
seminary. In a matter of minutes, students and
followers of the Taliban blocked all important
arteries in Aapara, and also took two police
officers with their official vehicle as hostage.
When Aziz threatened to call a jihad, the
two women were released, so the students then
released the policemen. The brothel owner is still
Speaking to Asia Times Online,
Rasheed explained his feelings on a call for
jihad. "The students from universities and
colleges and youths from all walks of life ask why
we do not call for jihad against a repressive
regime, but I always say that the time is not
ripe. But when pious lady teachers are punished
and arrested for the sake of prostitutes, a call
for jihad is imminent."
Rasheed and his
brother Aziz command widespread support and are
vocal in their backing of the Taliban. The
authorities have on several occasions tried to
have them arrested, but have always desisted for
fear of a powerful backlash, both among the masses
and segments of the establishment.
chain that drags Musharraf Deposed chief
justice Iftikhar Chaudhary is due to appear before
a judicial council on Tuesday over allegations of
abusing his position. His suspension has aroused
countrywide anger and served as a rallying point
for both the political and religious opposition to
Many thousands of protesters
are expected literally to join hands in Islamabad
on the day of Chaudhary's hearing. Most believe
that he has been sidelined to allow Musharraf a
clear run at retaining the presidency in elections
this year, while also remaining army chief.
The occasion serves the Islamists' cause
well, and they will be out in force not only in
the capital but in other parts of the country.
Musharraf has few choices. He can continue the
impossible fight against Islamists, at the behest
of Western forces, all the way from the mountains
of the Waziristans to the southern port city of
Karachi and the deep seas of Gwadar, or switch
sides and make a major compromise that could
eventually support the emergence of a green
crescent in Southwest Asia.
Musharraf, though, has survived many challenges to
his rule since taking power in a coup in 1999.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia
Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be
reached at email@example.com.