Massive Street Battle in Pakistan’s Capital
Army versus Muslim Militants
Dawn reports on the fierce fighting in the streets of Islamabad between radical fundamentalists and the army loyal to secular general Pervez Musharraf, which left 21 dead (including one soldier) and 150 injured. The government’s Interior Minister had recently warned of the spread of Taliban-type activists through the country. The seminarians at the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) have been accused of bothering local merchants in Islamabad, including video stores. On Tuesday, they were calling for jihadis to rally to their side from nearby madrasahs, brandishing automatic weapons, and threatening suicide bombings against the government.
‘ ISLAMABAD, July 3: Paramilitary Rangers and riot police fought a daylong running gunbattle with hundreds of heavily armed and well-entrenched militants around their stronghold of Lal Masjid as a six-month-long standoff between mosque’s radicals and the authorities exploded into a major clash on Tuesday, leaving at least 10 people dead and more than 150 injured.
Dozens of the injured suffered multiple bullet wounds, and the condition of some of them being critical, doctors feared the death toll might rise.
It was perhaps the worst, and the bloodiest, incident in Islamabad’s history as never before such a large number of armed militants had taken on the authorities — and that too in the heart of the capital.
The trouble started around 11.30am with some madressah militants trying to occupy a nearby government building, and within no time a fierce clash broke out between the armed seminary students and security troops. Sporadic clashes had continued till past midnight when unconfirmed reports suggested a massive security operation to sweep the Lal Masjid of armed militants, raising the possibility of more armed clashes and larger casualty. ‘
Zee TV reports that the government is demanding an unconditional surrender of the clerics, and arrested a senator for his efforts to find a negotiated settlement.
Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has been under pressure from the middle classes and civil society organizations over his dismissal of the country’s supreme court head, his crackdown on the press, and his refusal to take off his uniform before seeking another term as president. Some analysts suspect that the dramatic action against the fundamentalists is an effort to distract the public from the other issues. The evidence appears to be, however, that the fundamentalists started the shooting.
Despite their reputation in the West as fundamentalists, most Pakistanis are actually Sufi mystics, or mild traditionalists, or secular, with fundamentalist activists being a minority that is somewhat feared, especially by many urban youth and women.
For those with leisure to watch it, the recent briefing on Pakistan at the New America Foundation by Anatole Lieven and Peter Bergen, who had just visited the country, is very worthwhile.
For the other side, the USG Open Source Center translates an interview conducted on Tuesday with the cleric in charge of the Red Mosque, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, as well as with an independent analyst, Kamran Khan.
|Geo News TV Talks to Red Mosque Cleric, Analyst on Today’s Events|
From the “Newsday” program
Geo News TV
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
At least 10 people are now confirmed dead after a standoff between law enforcers and the Lal Masjid erupted into violence. (passage omitted on details of the report, including dispatches by correspondents on the losses and situation, already covered through various reports filed earlier)
Earlier, in the day, we spoke to Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the head cleric of the Lal Masjid. We asked him what triggered today’s events in his opinion and this is what he said.
(Begin recording) (Ghazi) We have been asking them that you should not come very close because it can create problems with the students. But today in the morning they came very near and started erecting their pickets with sandbags and then our some students went and they have I mean quarrel with each other and then they started shelling and our students young, small kids (two words indistinct) were wounded and then that is how it started.
(Jaffer) (word indistinct) Maulana, how many people according to him were dead or injured inside the seminary?
(Ghazi) Now, they have I mean targeted with snipers. They are using the snipers from the buildings just in front of the mosque and they are using sniper and they are targeting our students and they have so far hit about eight persons who have martyred.
(Jaffer) Yes, Maulana, lastly, whether any women were among the injured and those who were killed?
(Ghazi) One woman, I am hearing but I am not sure. I am on the other side and (word indistinct) sure about it.
(Jaffer) Mr Ghazi, now, you have made statements earlier on about the weapons that were possessed by the Lal Masjid students as for being licensed. Now, footage is showing automatic weapons in their possession. Where are these weapons coming inside the seminary from?
(Ghazi) We have told it that these are our gun mans and you know that that is the reason we are still on defensive that is why our casualties are on very higher side and the government had mood to do it and they have done it because they have cordoning the… rangers were cordoning the area and we have been asking them and we have been saying that they should not do it. But if they have mood to do it that is they have done it.
(Jaffer) Maulana, you also made statements about a suicide attack if there was any operation on the Lal Masjid. Now, what we are seeing looks very much like that. Are you going to follow through on your statements from before about a suicide attack?
(Ghazi) So the thing that the government is in a mood to make bloodshed in the capital ∧ in the mosque and that would be I mean very dangerous for the country.
That was the question and answer session we had with Maulana Abdul Rahid Ghazi, the head cleric of the Lal Masjid, earlier today. (end recording)
To talks about the implications of the developments in Islamabad in a greater context, we are now being joined by a senior analyst Mr Kamran Khan.
(Begin recording) (Anchor Owais Jaffer) Mr Khan what do you think will be the political fallout of this move considering that the elections are just round the corner and the judicial crisis is at its peak?
(Khan) Obviously, the timing is very difficult for the government and for Gen Musharraf because only yesterday Supreme Court had passed a very strong ruling against the intelligence agencies and the Supreme Court’s observations were a major setback for the government’s case and this wouldn’t have come at a worse time. It is really difficult time for the government and this development today we don’t know whether we can call it an operation or not but this development today has come at a very difficult time and we don’t know actually what is going to be political fallout because we don’t exactly know what is going to happen in the next few hours and next few days. Initially, people are watching with keen interest and I think country is not much divided.
There is a growing consensus in the country that the government should take action. Government should go forward. Government should have a major crackdown on these elements. But I think the cost going to be very heavy for the government if government goes for a direct action or if the security forces launch a massive operation which could lead to major major (repeat the word major) casualties and a lot many people may got killed. So probably it is too early to say whether there will be political fallout or not but I am sure that the government is very very (repeat word very) cautious at this moment.
(Jaffer) Mr Khan, we have seen the number of casualties coming into PIMS. Now, keeping everything in context, how real is the threat of a social backlash from seminaries around the country now.
(Khan) Actually, if it really turns out to major event in the sense that we see more casualties, if we see more people getting killed and we see a direct action resulting in the death of many students of this seminary and Lal Masjid, obviously, it will have a repel effect and seminaries all over the country would have sympathy for the students who may get killed here or who may get wounded here and if the size is really big, if the number of causalities is lot more than we expect then obviously it will have a major fallout and we may see that it may probably trigger a backlash from the seminaries and students may get out they may confront the law enforcing agencies. There may be a major violent challenge to the government.
(Jaffer) Mr Khan, you said that this incident started out because with the shootout from elements inside of the seminary and Ranger’s official getting killed. Now, why do you feel in your expert analysis this particular day was chosen by those elements.
(Khan) I think the government was tightening the noose around this area. And probably these guys inside the mosque, they were under psychological pressure. They probably thought that the action is coming and they probably thought that the action is coming any moment. Secondly, as I said earlier, that yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling has put government on the (word indistinct). These are very embarrassing moments for the government. Probably, they may have this also in mind when they initiated today’s shoot out. Probably, they thought that the government is in very week corner and more importantly they wanted to pick their own timing to start this provocation.
(Jaffer) Mr Kamran Khan, senior analyst, thank you very much for talking to us on Newsday. (end recording)
As expected condemnations of today’s clashes between security forces and Jamia Hafsa students have started coming in with Jamia Binoria seminaries criticizing the government and calling the clashes an assault on the Lal Masjid.
(Begin recording) (Unidentified correspondent) Jamia Binoria alleges that the government has not kept its promises with the Lal Masjid. Sudents from Jamia Binoria believe that the government should negotiate with the seminary otherwise the situation could worsen.
(Unidentified student, in Urdu with simultaneous translation in English) The government was looking for an excuse to eliminate seminaries and once it had made a case, it assaulted Lal Masjid. I appeal to government to be patient otherwise number of people could die.
(Unidentified student, in Urdu with simultaneous translation in English) Our training does not allow us to disobey the government and I always pray for peace and for success.
(Unidentified student, in Urdu with simultaneous translation in English) The government should not do it this way. They should adopt a sensible method and settle this through negotiations and consensus.
(Correspondent) The seminaries of Jamia Binoria are demanding that the government should immediately stop its assault on Lal Masjid because it could further aggravate the situation, while they also asked government to fulfill its promises made with Lal Masjid authorities. This is Farhan Ahmed reporting for Newsday, Geo News. (end recording)
Those were the latest developments on the situation unfolding in Islamabad. For the latest developments as they unfold keep on watching Geo News.