The recent developments in Pakistan force a person of ordinary prudence to conclude that Islamabad’s role in the war against terror has been a farce that has strengthened the religious bigots while it has weakened civil society. ‘Talibanisation’ used to be Pakistan’s ‘export quality’ product before 9/11. Now it is a domestic product.
In the heart of Islamabad, a Kandahar has come up in the form of Lal Masjid; a Mullah Omar in the form of Lal Masjid’s prayer leader Maulana Abdul Aziz; a Mullah Dadullah in the form of Lal Masjid’s deputy prayer leader Maulana Abdur Rashid; and a Ministry for Vice and Virtue in the form of the baton-wielding force of the Jamia Hafsa and the Jamia Faridya, consisting of thousands of its male and female fidayeen.
Maulana Abdul Aziz rose to prominence when women members of the Lal Masjid raided the house of Mrs Shahim and abducted her along with her daughter-in-law and the latter’s child. The Lal Masjid accused Mrs Shahim of running a brothel and obtained a confession through coercion after which she was made to repent in front of the media. Shahim has now left Islamabad fearing for her life. So by scaring women Abdul Aziz came to prominence.
The Lal Masjid is ‘Islamacising’ Islamabad by attacking music shops and burning CDs. They have threatened to throw acid on the faces of women who don’t wear a full burqa. Aziz has labelled the Quaid-e-Azam University as a “hub of prostitutes” declaring co-education an evil. He has issued an edict of hadd against Nilofar Bakhtiar, a staunch supporter of Pervez Musharraf who quit as Tourism Minister this week, for hugging a paraglider instructor. Abdur Rashid loves to talk to the media, crank out statements and write columns in jehadi publications to justify the Talibanisation drive.
The Talibanisation drive is not confined to Islamabad. A girls’ school at Mardan received threats that it would be destroyed if the students did not wear burqas. The Taliban of Peshawar have threatened to bomb the Khyber Medical College if the administration did not impose the burqa on its female students. Female parliamentarians of the Jamat Islami have introduced a bill in the NWFP assembly that seeks a ban on using women as models in TV commercials and print ads. The Taliban of Bajaur (one of the agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [Fata]) has closed down music shops and instructed barbers not to shave the beards of their customers. The list of places under ‘reconstruction’ goes on.
Making Pakistan a ‘true democracy’ is a claim that Musharraf makes passionately, addressing public rallies and urging people to vote for his party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Q). The truth is he is hell-bent on being elected as President for another five years and remain army chief. The Constitution that he has amended states that the President of Pakistan cannot keep any other office of profit or such an office that entitles him to remuneration. And then he blames suspended Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry for proclaiming that such practices are undemocratic. It doesn’t make sense. Instead State power is brutally unleashed against the public to stop it from expressing its sympathy for Chaudhry.
The protests against Musharraf are becoming violent. He has failed to curb terrorism and extremism and to improve the general law and order situation in Pakistan. He will have to proceed swiftly on at least two issues: the Talibanisation spree of the Lal Masjid and the growing public support for the Chief Justice. Musharraf has been expressing his inability to move against the Lal Masjid saying that doing so will disturb the law and order in Pakistan and the country will be in the grip of suicide attacks. If Musharraf does not tackle the Lal Masjid, the Americans might do it sooner or later.
On the Chief Justice issue, Musharraf could help himself by distancing himself from the ‘wrong kind of sycophants’ and by dropping the idea of imposing Emergency. Some of his ‘right kind of sycophants’ are advising him to withdraw the reference against Chaudhry. Moreover, he should also drop the idea of seeking re-election from Parliament. He should step down both as the army chief as well as President. The US should also know that as long as it continues to support dictators, it will be strengthening terrorists and extremists, because the agenda of both is the same — jehad.
Mohammad Shehzad is a journalist based in Islamabad