Pakistan clerics in last-ditch peace bid

The clerics say they are making a last-ditch effort to avert an assault on militants holed up in the Lal Masjid.
HT Image
HT Image
Updated on Jul 09, 2007 11:24 AM IST
Copy Link
Reuters | ByZeeshan Haider, Islamabad

Pakistani Muslim clerics said on Monday they were making a last-ditch bid to avert an assault on militants holed up in a mosque after authorities issued what they said was a last warning for them to surrender.

Troops have surrounded the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad since Tuesday when clashes between armed student radicals and government forces erupted after months of tension.

Feeding fears of a militant backlash, three Chinese workers were shot dead and one wounded in an attack in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Sunday, which authorities said appeared to be a response to the bloody siege in the capital.

The death toll in the Islamabad violence rose to at least 21 on Sunday when an officer was killed as he led a commando raid to blow up the walls of a girls' religious school, or madrasa, in the mosque compound.

"We're doing our best to avoid bloodshed, especially of innocent women and children," said Qari Hanif Jallundri, a senior official of the main Pakistani organisation overseeing madrasas.

He was referring to the hundreds for the women and children inside the compound, whom the government says are being held hostage as human shields.

Jallundri and other clerics will meet Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Monday to plead for compromise.

The Lal Masjid has been a hotbed of militancy for years, known for its support for Afghanistan's Taliban and opposition to Musharraf's backing for the US-led campaign against terrorism.

The government has demanded that rebel cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi and his hardcore of fighters surrender or die.

Ghazi has refused, saying he would prefer "martyrdom". He said he and his followers hoped their deaths would spark an Islamic revolution.

"We want both sides to show flexibility," Jallundri told Reuters. But the time for talking appears just about over.

Authorities outside the mosque compound blared out over loudspeakers what they said was a final warning on Sunday evening, fueling speculation an assault was imminent.


"Suicide Vests"

Security forces say they have held back from mounting a full-scale assault because of fears for the women and children inside. Troops have instead been blasting holes in the walls to provide escape routes for them to get out.

Government and military officials say there are 50 to 60 hard-core militants -- some from groups linked to Al-Qaeda -- leading the fighting, and hundreds of women and children in the compound the militants are using as human shields.

Religious Affairs Minister Mohammad Ejaz-ul-Haq told a news conference Lal Masjid's defenders included militants wanted both in Pakistan and abroad, and some believed to be foreign.

Ghazi says he has nearly 2,000 followers with him but no militants. The minister put the number of students at 200 to 500.

The militants have distributed suicide-bomb vests and even shot students trying to flee the mosque, officials say. One official said up to five militants were in command, not Ghazi, who was virtually their hostage too.

But Ghazi, who denies anyone is being used as a human shield, appears as fervent as ever.

"We have firm belief in God that our blood will lead to a revolution," he said in a statement carried by Sunday newspapers.

Ghazi's Taliban-style movement, which mounted an aggressive campaign for the imposition of strict Islamic law beginning in January, is a reflection of the militancy seeping into cities from tribal areas on the Afghan border.

About 1,200 students left the mosque soon after the clashes began but the number leaving has slowed to a trickle.

(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider)

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close Story
QUICKREADS

Less time to read?

Try Quickreads

  • Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif  (AFP)

    Pak stares at instability, Shehbaz’s woes mount

    New Delhi: Pakistan seems headed for long period of instability with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif facing a political challenge from his ousted predecessor Imran Khan, who is heading a long protest march to Islamabad on May 25, even as the country spirals into a deeper economic crisis (the Pakistani Rupee's free fall continues), with the Pakistan Army adopting a neutral stance.

  • A child looks on through a glass window from inside the Ssgt Willie de Leon Civic Center, where students had been transported from Robb Elementary School after a shooting, in Uvalde, Texas. 

    Texas shooting: Gunman killed grandmom before school attack; Biden addresses

    In a horrific mass shooting in Texas, an 18-year-old gunman, identified as Salvador Ramos, killed 18 children and 3 adults at Robb Elementary School on Tuesday, barely 10 days after the Buffalo supermarket shooting. This is the deadliest attack since the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed, according to CNN. Here is what we know about the Texas school shooting: 1. The shooting began around noon.

  • Leaders take different stances on Ukraine war (AP Photo)

    Leaders take different stances on Ukraine war

    What the Quad leaders said, or left unsaid, at their summit in Tokyo on Tuesday about the Ukraine crisis reflected the persisting differences within the four-nation grouping on the Russian aggression that has impacted Europe's security architecture. Foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra told a media briefing after the summit that the situation in Ukraine had figured in the discussions on regional and global issues at the closed session of the meeting.

  • China, Russia hold air drill near Japan (AP)

    China, Russia hold air drill near Japan

    China on Tuesday went on the offensive against the US' Indo-Pacific strategy and Quad alliance, which includes India, as it launched a diplomatic salvo from Beijing and deployed bomber jets along with Russian fighter aircraft over the seas near Japan. The joint drill by the two nations, the first since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, came amid a meeting of leaders of the Quad block in Tokyo.

  • US birth count rises first time since 2014; blacks see a decline | Representational image (AP)

    US birth count rises first time since 2014; blacks see a decline

    The US saw the first increase in the number of births last year since 2014, after a pronounced drop during the shutdowns of the first year of the pandemic that disrupted much social and economic activity. The total number of births rose to 3.66 million in 2021, up from 3.61 million the year before, provisional data released by the National Center for Health Statistics showed Tuesday. Read: PM hails India-US partnership.

SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Wednesday, May 25, 2022