Lal Mosque: Aftermath and Future Repercussions
19 July, 2007
By Safdar Sial
Lal Mosque was just one piece of a ‘whole picture’ of religious extremism and violence in the country, which kept millions of people across the globe, stuck to their TV screens for more than a week. Now that the Lal Mosque saga is over, there are fears that many other pieces of this ugly ‘whole picture’ may catch fire putting the whole country, especially restive NWFP and FATA along with some other parts of the country, at high security risk in the near future. Madariss, radical clerics across the country, local Taliban in FATA and settled districts of NWFP, jihadi outfits and even religious-political parties may lead the country towards its worst security deterioration if the recent Lal Mosque operation is replicated in other parts of the country to counter the Islamic militancy and religious extremism. Swat, Malakand, Dir, settled areas of the Frontier, Bajaur and Waziristan are already at high security alert where local Taliban, clerics and militants are threatening the government of dire consequences of the Lal Mosque killings whereas ‘dormant’ jihadi outfits and seminaries have also full potential to be ignited in the aftermath of this government operation.
The government may have achieved a success for now but the ‘Operation Silence’ would leave haunting questions in its wake. Where would the students of Jamia Hafsa and Fareedia end up? Would they try to regroup somewhere else in another mosque or madrasa? Would the government take a policy decision now for the Madariss and the hostels attached with them for prevention of similar incidents in the future or would it wait for their activation and tame them one by one on Lal Mosque pattern? Would the militants and clerics in tribal belt and NWFP learn lesson from this episode or would they be ready to teach the government a lesson for its alliance with ‘infidels’ in its war on terror? Would the religious parties like JUI (F) and Jamat e Islami stand beside the government in its efforts to reform Madariss and counter militancy or politicize the Lal Mosque operation in the fast approaching elections? Would the people of Pakistan be taken into confidence on alleged ‘negligence’ of intelligence agencies about jihadi outfits and extremist sections (especially in seminaries)?
The presidential address on July 12 with reference to Lal Mosque and religious extremism becomes very relevant to all these questions in the aftermath of the operation. While strongly defending the operation he declared that no mosque or seminary would be allowed to be misused like Jamia Hafsa. He said that after the discovery of links between the Lal Masjid militants and radical elements in NWFP and tribal areas, the federal government has decided to re-organize police, Levies, Khasadar, and Frontier Constabulary, making them formidable organizations capable of dealing with militants. He revealed that government had already provided tanks to some agencies and would further equip them with modern weapons to take on religious fanatics and militants. This shows government is presently relying on the option of using force only that is prone to serious repercussions especially in NWFP and tribal areas. This policy is in fact the same old short-term remedy targeting only ‘pieces’ of the ‘whole ugly picture’ of religious extremism.
The militants and local Taliban in NWFP and tribal areas are already at war with the government and ‘un-holy’ segments of the society. The Lal Mosque operation would give an impetus to their violence and militancy. There may be more suicide bomb blasts and attacks on security forces, check posts, and pro-government and pro-US elements. The current deteriorated situation in some areas during the operation is a true indication of this fact. The militants (local Taliban) in North Waziristan have given the government a warning to pull out army personnel from the area as it was against the peace agreement which they were bound to last year. They have clarified it further that if government fails to do so within days the agreement would remain no more valid. They have also vowed to take avenge upon the government for its operation against their Islamic brothers and sisters. They also revealed that now the people of South Waziristan would also fight side by side the Taliban of North Waziristan and the dividing forces would not succeed this time. This development is sufficient to understand the mood and sentiments of the tribal militants.
It merits mentioning here that North Waziristan is in grip of local Taliban and if peace agreement vanishes, as it seems after the operation, the situation will not be in government’s control which is thinking of use of force here as well. The sentiments in Bajaur agency are also dead against the government and security personnel are at high risk here.
The security situation in NWFP’s settled areas can become more volatile in the aftermath of Lal Mosque operation. The recent protest rallies in the areas and increased targeted attacks on security persons show these areas are not going to absorb the government’s action so easily. The radical clerics in Swat, Mingora, Malakand and Dir are the real security threat for the government which is thinking of an operation against these clerics as well. But Maulana Fazl ullah has made it clear to the government that Imam Dheri is not Jamia Hafsa as people of the area were fully prepared to retaliate. The banned TNSM has the same agenda of Islamization as that of Lal Mosque. They have finances, weapons and people as well to retaliate any government operation. These should be the areas of real concern for the government.
The presence of the militants of banned jihadi outfits in the Lal Mosque is an indication that they are still active and just need platforms and launching pads to take actions. This becomes the worrying situation for Punjab also as most of the jihadi can choose another station (most probably some madrasa) to start their new row with the government. Secondly the risk of suicide bombings has also increased in Punjab in the aftermath of Lal Mosque.
The government is taking immediate measures to tackle any security situation in the country. Army troops have been sent to Swat, Batagram, Tank and Waziristan. One can hope that this should be merely a timely deployment. In the long-run, some solid, comprehensive and pragmatic approach should be adopted while countering the militancy and religious extremism situation in the country.
Threat of Polarization:
Some analysts are also terming the Lal Mosque operation a turning point that will draw a clear line between the religious extremists and the enlightened and moderate sections of the society. As regards this polarization, some division and alienation is already there but that is regional phenomenon. The people of NWFP and FATA are religious minded whereas Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan do not follow this fanatic pattern. However there is nationalist fanaticism in Sindh and Balochistan as well but that has nothing to do with religious extremism. However, there may be an increased tendency of polarization in political and religious parties while making new coalitions, now, after this imbroglio but the people of the Pakistan on the whole are being supposed to be indifferent to such proposition of polarization as they have manifested during the operation.
A large number of seminaries in the country have already started to jump into radical and extremist pool preparing the students for jihad and violent activities. Lal Mosque operation has increased the chances of more seminaries falling in line with the religious extremists. The use of force instead of any politically-advanced reforms policy (with the help of Ulema and religious parties) may erect a series of phenomenon similar to Lal Mosque threatening the security of the country in an unprecedented manner. Keeping in view the fact that though jihadi outfits, seminaries and militants are different phenomenon on their very appearance yet they have very vital linkages; the threat from madariss front can not be ruled out in the aftermath of Lal Mosque operation.
In Islamabad alone there are about 88 religious seminaries, teaching thousands of students their own version of Islam and outdated curricula. If Maulana Ghazi, having post graduate degree from reputed Quaid e Azam University, was unable to sideline the rigid religious fanaticism how can one expect from madrasa-learned clerics to brush away their religious extremism and come under government umbrella of enlightenment just fearing the operations? The slogans of ‘Al- jihad Al-jihad’ at burial ceremony of Abdul Rashid Ghazi are not merely slogans rather they are an indication of future conflicts the government and the civil society may face with the widened gulf between the ‘enlightened’ and the ‘radicalized’.
A silent threat may hover over the capital after the ‘Operation Silence’ is over thousands of madrasa students. If the linkage between militants from NWFP and FATA, and Lal Masjid clerics (as stated by the Presidents Musharraf) is real then there is possibility that, now, this link may put some other madariss at Islamabad end. Operational tactics would not help in that case.
Karachi, Lahore, Gujranwala and some (other) parts of Punjab, NWFP, tribal areas, as well as madariss regions in Balochistan have become the dormant security risk areas after operation in the capital. Three is a greater tendency that jihadi outfits and militants may use seminaries in theses areas in the aftermath of Lal Mosque to take avenge upon the government and to stop it (by terrorizing and frightening) from further operations against madariss. But if government succeeds in taking the religious factions into confidence and introduces the madrasa reforms after consultant with Wafaq ul Madariss the situation might not worsen to the situation being feared at present especially in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. Yet some extremist madariss (in these regions) having close association with tribal militancy and jihadi outfits can create some problem but to a lesser degree. The situation in NWFP and tribal areas is not similar to other areas of the countries especially in Swat, Malakand, Mingora and Dir areas where clerics are becoming more arrogant and powerful (militarily and financially). Having full control on madariss and the people of their areas as well they are real threat at the moment.
The Lal Mosque imbroglio will have its impact not only on the seminaries in major cities but the far-flung rural areas can become more hotbeds of religious extremism where people are even more radical in their thinking and are more prone to the indoctrination of clerics.
Jihadi outfits are more active in these areas and madariss are their homes. A comprehensive state policy is now need of the time to address the madariss situation. The mere use of force seems to be a failed strategy.
It is all very well for the President and the Prime Minister, as they are stating, that illegal activities in madariss will not be tolerated. The question is: what specific steps the government is taking to deliver on this promise? The government’s track record on this account is fat from heartening. Overs the years, seminaries promoting different schools of thought have become a breeding ground for religious militancy and intolerance. At the same time some madariss have been indoctrinating, training and arming militants for jihadi activities, both within the country and beyond its borders. Given the resources and expertise of the state’s intelligence apparatus it is unlikely that these illegal activities—including the stockpiling of heavy weaponry—went un-noticed all these years. So what is going to be different this time in the government’s approach is not yet clear.
Laws relating to madariss reform already exist in the form of ordinances at both the provincial and federal levels. The Madrasa Registration Ordinance was promulgated in June 2002 but thousands of madariss have yet to register themselves with the authorities. This process which was to be completed by December 31, 2005, has to be expedited and must include every madrasa. Madariss should be bound by law to reveal their sources their funding and provide detailed annual accounts of their expenditures. In 2005, the government sent all the wrong signals by kowtowing to the Ittehad e Tanzeemat e Madariss Deeniya and its refusal to divulge the identity of donors. That mistake should not be repeated.
Curriculum reform is also of singular importance. Besides religious instructions, the education of seminary students must include conventional subjects such as science, mathematics and English. Only then they can become well-rounded and productive members of society.
President Musharraf may fail to get some political credit for his operation against Lal Mosque from his people but he has once again won the sympathies of western ruling elites. Besides winning his allies’ support, Musharraf has also added to his enemies more suiciders and militants by this operation not only domestically but globally as well. Other ominous signs have appeared too. Al Qaeda’s leader Al Zawahiri has condemned the Musharraf regime and called for action against it. The Ikhwan al-Muslimoon party of Egypt has strangely become interested in Lal Masjid and has also sent a protest note. The opposition politicians will be greatly tempted to join this new international consensus. On the other side, the US administration, the UK government, and Afghanistan’s President Karzai have congratulated Islamabad and this will be another disincentive to taking an impartial position in the coming days.
What the Lal Masjid episode meant to the people of Pakistan will be redefined in the coming days. The early impressions were negative for the clerics of the illegal seminaries while the current impression is not positive for the government. The clergy has already decided to challenge the government through Wafaqul Madaris Arabiya and it is expected that the religious parties and the opposition politicians will also follow their lead. This way the newly formed alliance of the Pakistan’s political parties (sans Pakistan Peoples’ Party) may politicize the Lal Mosque against Musharraf regime. This can have a negative impact on Musharraf and its allies (most probably the PPP also) in the fast approaching elections.
But MMA has also failed to touch peoples’ heart during Lal Mosque imbroglio and it does not augur well for the religious parties also. Tribal areas, NWFP have been the stronghold of the religious parties. But the recent indifferent policy of the religious leaders towards the Lal Mosque issue has annoyed the masses in their stronghold areas. JUI (F) and Jamat e Islami, though prepared to politicize the Lal Mosque operation, may not be able to get support from masses due to their inactive role and disintegrated policy towards the issue of the mosque. However there are bright chances for JUI (Samiul Haq) to get positive response for his staunch support to Lal Mosque cleric. But this is case of people and regions having religious mindedness whereas in other parts of the country Lal Mosque may not play remarkable role in politics.
As far as Musharraf is concerned alone, two vectors are clearly meeting. The politicians want the Musharraf government out before they take part in the 2007 election and win it to get into power. The clergy wants to act quickly by challenging the Musharraf government before it can take action against other seminaries located in the “ungoverned spaces” in the country and in the big cities as “no-go” areas with massive financial underpinning.