This piece was written in July 2007, immediately after the military action on Lal Masjid
And finally there was an “action” by the government on Jamia Hafsa – Lal Masjid (JH – LM) duo leaving many dead. Started rather haphazardly on July 3, 2007, the stand off met its bloody end on July 10, 2007 with the death of Abdul Rasheed Ghazi (ARG)- the Naib Khateeb of Lal Masjid and earlier arrest of Maulana Abdul Aziz (MAA), his elder brother and Lal Masjid’s Khateeb. The seven day wrestle saw many a dramatic turns of “negotiations” between government and the Maulanas. Many conspiracy theories on the speculations about government’s intentions of this operation emerged, examining the issue at its facade. A linear analysis, one would argue, has always been proved to be misleading and in this case, it would be dangerous.
With the media hype that the whole episode got during its course, one of the conspiracy theories that got to the front pages was selection of timing for the action to correspond with All Parties Conference and the other one was, much talked about, president’s amour propre with
Washington. While the two may seem quite convincing and one might find couple of reasons to believe on, but the fact remains that complex nature of problem needs a profound examination. Fighting extremism might seem, at face, western agenda especially in the backdrop of events unfolding after 9/11. One still wonders why it should not be Pakistan’s own concern to fight extremism. Why any bid to pull this society towards egalitarianism is immediately tucked in the pockets of west when it seems to be most pressing need for our own social order to free it from the shackles of radical, intolerant and obscurantist forces that are pushing it closer to the medieval era day by day.
Pakistani society as it was in fifties or even till mid seventies had no space for mushroom growth of religious seminaries nor had people shown any penchant towards them as educational model for their children. The phenomenon started with bipolar world order’s political encroachment in
Pakistan's religio-social landscape. This intrusion proved to be incurable malady for Pakistan’s then forward-thinking society. The jihadi sentiment got official shield, obscurantism was made to acquire popular approval using state controlled media, secret agencies were deployed not only to coach unripe youth in tactics of war but also to instill hate propaganda against godless communism to counter it through a new definition of Jihad. Education system was gradually “reformed” to fit new framework of national strategy and to produce a generation with a world vision easy to be manipulated to guard Islam against atheist Russia through Muslim Brethren of Afghanistan. No wonder, the militant mode of enforcing Islamic Shariah got acceptance and prevalent most forcefully in the areas bordering or near Afghanistan.
Everything happened according to the plan till mission accomplished. World turned to a “tranquil” unipolar order with unquestioned authority of single world power. The power brokers within the system went nasty for accumulation of wealth and reinforcing economic hegemony ensuing a strong and violent sense of nationalism in the target countries. Arab nationalism gave rise to a phenomenon that let its course defined by events like 9/11. The events that gave a shock treatment to the world powers, who in a flash turned against their all time allies – the Islamists. The game plan was ready to give nationalist aspect of Arab backlash a shroud of clash of civilizations. All guns were pointed towards the “Islamists” around the world. The opportunist Pakistani rulers, who historically speaking have never let any opportunity go waste, grabbed the moment and went hostile to the religious extremists. The antagonistic statements about the Islamists, however, were released only for the consumption of an infuriated west and small minority of liberals at home, who took them to face value. The clandestine support to the obscurantist continued in order to justify a longer rule by the “enlightened moderates” than would have otherwise been expected.
Some of the elements in secret agencies within the system internalized the “Islamist” agenda to the extent that it became awfully difficult for them to pursue new line of action as dictated to them by the new policy. Musharraf government, well known for its honeymooning with the liberal agenda, was not ready to succumb to the internal pressures, at the same time, was not ready to take bolder unpopular steps to uproot extremism. It could surely not sustain external pressures when it came to Tribal Areas’ ripe patronage of militant Islam, which was surely a product of military – mulla marriage of convenience during last two and a half decades. This forced divorce of clergy from military in these areas provided safe corridor to foreign and native militants towards urban centers of the country. Whereas Lal Masjid cannot be easily dubbed as the result of this policy alone, it surely shows government’s leniency rather investment in religious extremism since long.
Since 2004 when a linkage of LM with Al-Qaida came to the surface following amnesty granted to LM by powers that be, the LM administration had been at the forefront of Islamic doctrinaire movement. The events dubbed by the media and civil society as challenging ‘writ of the state’ led the issue to the prime news space in electronic and print media. And that was it! Extreme right of the center forces within military and secret agencies were able to take it to the hype where it could not go un-noticed by most indifferent quarters of society. When most mature of political analysts give credit to Musharaf government for a conspiracy hatched to appease US pressure by taking violent action on LM –JH complex, one is forced to think about the forces that’ve actually benefited from this whole imbroglio.
Can’t it be the forces who wanted to embarrass Musharraf by making a fool of him trumpeting hollow rhetoric of fighting extremism on hundreds of dead bodies? Who has benefited by deploying huge number of military force right under Musharraf’s nose in the heart of federal capital? Does anyone know that invisible power responsible for delaying any legitimate action – non violent – on LM-JH administration.
Islamabad has seen deployment of police and rangers around LM-JH around half a dozen times during last couple of months. Something happened at eleventh hour to stop any firm action by law enforcing agencies.
Finally and suddenly something happened in the power quarters that an action against miscreants of LM-JH was started with a siege of the complex. A strategy first christened by the media as the best possible option. On exactly the second day of siege, however, media chose to take a u-turn in opining about the strategy. Whereas one cannot go without praising the role of media in covering the events during past few months especially last couple of weeks during which at least one of the media men lost life leaving couple of others seriously injured. One can not justify media distancing itself from its actual role of observing and reporting, and assuming the role of negotiators and mediators. Agreed, that the intense moments anticipating deaths of hundreds and sleepless nights were telling on the media persons, but how could one reconcile with all those grumpy Talats, grouchy Hamids and sulky Kamrans suddenly turned impatient to intervene and act as go-between government and Ghazi. How could one justify Ghazi’s unbridled access to media till last moments of his life to interact with public opinion freely? How could one give one good reason of Ghazi’s unhindered mobile signals in fourth level under the ground basement of LM while I cant receive a phone call on my cell in the lower ground portion of my house due to completely absent signals? Can someone explain absence of all the background sounds of firing and blasts when Ghazi kept talking to electronic media airing his calls live? And mother of all questions: how come media was covering it live despite the presence of as intolerant an agency as PEMRA that could penalize the TV channel with stroke of pen had the powers disliked the coverage?
It remains a pity that almost all the rational scrutiny has been replaced by a linear and shallow emotional imagery of the LM-JH event. Ghazi, a criminal mind, who openly advocated engagement of energetic youth in forceful seizure of all the institutions and violent attack on all the individuals who do not conform to the ideals of his own interpretation of Islam, is being portrayed as a symbol of resistance. Who is benefiting from this anti-operation propaganda? Surely, it’s not Musharraf, or inversely speaking, the progressive and liberal segments within the government. Powers who left the operation look like a complete fiasco on the part of government might seem too intimidating for the media to be resisted and even to be mentioned. But once again, media’s role is more than appreciable here. By making the aberration too obvious, media has actually reported it, if one has the ability to read between the lines.
The dangerous turn, which this whole event has taken, however, needs to be addressed by the government sensibly if it wants to take the liberal agenda forward, with whatever intentions. The ones who’ve turned unanimous approval of the operation by masses into a bout of sympathy towards militants and disapproval of the operation is rather a strong signal. This should be the beginning of Operation Silence – silence of the silent power brokers who have often brought irreparable embarrassment to the nation. A divorce of military-mullah combine that is in the offing is a potent sign of opportunity egalitarianism is having right now. Let it not be wasted.