The Lal Masjid showdown
Countdown to sharia: Pakistan on the precipice of caving to al Qaeda's allies of the Lal Masjid
The demands of the Taliban and al Qaeda friendly Lal Masjid clerics Maulana Abdul Aziz and Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi for the nationwide application of sharia, the rebuilding of illegal mosques destroyed in Islamabad and resolution of a purported rape case may all be close to being accepted by the Pakistani government. In the latest round of negotiations, Chaudhry Shujaat, the president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, has signaled the government is willing to accept all demands issued by Aziz and Ghazi.
"The PML chief assured the mosque administration and girl students of Jamia Hasfa that the government was ready to accept all their demands, including the enforcement of Sharia," Dawn reports. "Talking to journalists after the meeting, Chaudhry Shujaat said all contentious issues between the government and Lal Masjid clerics had been settled, adding that he would tell details of the talks before the parliament on Wednesday."
"No Muslim rejects the enforcement of the Islamic system in the country," Mr. Shujaat responded When asked about the contentious issue of the enforcement of sharia, the strict brand of Islamic law touted by Islamist terrorists.
Mr. Shujaat also stated there would be no military operations against the Jamia Hafsa, the female madrassa run by the Lal Masjid. Mr. Shujaat claimed "there is no ammunition in Jamia Hafsa" and "denied the presence of activists of banned outfits and illegal arms in the mosque." This comes as the banned terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed stated it would defend the Lal Masjid against any government military or police operation.
Zafar Iqbal Waraich, Pakistan's Interior Minister, stated that there is no timeframe for resolving the Lal Masjid issue, and has not provided any further details on the negotiations. Mr. Waraich claimed "the clerics were using the female madrassa students as shields during the crisis and the government did not want to take any action that could lead to bloodshed." In the past, Pakistan's intelligence agencies have opposed 'cracking down' on students of Lal Masjid mosque. The Pakistani military refused an order by President Musharraf to conduct an airstrike on the Lal Masjid late last year.
The clerics running the Lal Masjid have become emboldened since the Pakistani government demonstrated a willingness to cede areas in the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies and the Northwest Frontier Province to the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Lal Masjid crisis began earlier this year as the clerics demanded the government rebuild mosques which were illegally built. Aziz and Ghazi became increasingly strident in their statements against the Pakistani government, and began to kidnap police and civilians, seize building and increase their calls for opposing the government via force.
On March 31, Aziz gave the government 7 days to impose Sharia law, and then set up Islamic courts after the deadline expired. The notorious al Qaeda and Taliban supporting Binori Town madrassa in Karachi welcomed the Lal Masjid's imposition of sharia in Islamabad. The Islamist Taliban and al Qaeda support political party Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (or MMA) refused to denounce the actions of the Lal Masjid clerics.
Aziz threatened a wave of suicide attacks "if the government impedes the enforcement of the Sharia." Just yesterday, Aziz declared the Musharraf government "un-Islamic" and stated it was every Muslim's duty to wage jihad against the government.
While the Pakistani government has yet to officially cave to the demands of the Lal Masjid clerics, it appears frighteningly close to doing so. Pakistan's track record in the northwest gives little room for comfort.