Musharraf approves amnesty; update on latest news from the Lal Masjid and the Taliban’s response
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who survived an assassination attempt earlier today, is prepared to pardon the Islamists and the leaders of the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, according to Pakistan’s Daily Times. President Musharraf “approved a plan to extend a general amnesty to about 100 militants still holed up inside Lal Masjid, provided they lay down their weapons and surrender to the security forces,” sources privy to a meeting in Rawalpindi told the Daily Times. “The sources said that the government had decided to withdraw all criminal cases filed since February against the 100 or so militants, including Lal Masjid deputy cleric Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi, provided they surrender.” There is no word if Abdul Aziz, Ghazi’s brother who was captured attempting to escape the mosque in a burka, will also be pardoned.
The impetus for this amnesty offer comes from within the military and intelligence establishment, “who suggested that the militants had taken Ghazi hostage.” Rumors have persisted that both Ghazi and Aziz have been coerced by “militants” to take a radical position. But this ignores Ghazi and Aziz’s long history of supporting radical endeavors. Most importantly, the clerics were behind the 2004 fatwa, or religious edict, which “stated that Pakistani soldiers fighting South Waziristan did not deserve a Muslim funeral or burial at Muslim cemeteries in the event that they were killed while fighting in the tribal region” against the Taliban and al Qaeda operating there. “The decree turned out to be a major reason why many officers and soldiers in the Pakistani army refused to fight militants in Waziristan.”
Both clerics have been instrumental in fomenting the current crisis in Islamabad. They have threatened suicide campaigns and vowed to start the “Islamic revolution in Islamabad” at the beginning of April by implementing sharia law. Aziz and Ghazi have repeatedly supported the cause of both the Taliban and al Qaeda. “We have a relationship of love and sincerity with jihadi organisations,” Aziz said in an interview on Pakistani television yesterday. He also called al Qaeda “our foreign friends.”
The battles at the mosque are still ongoing. Sporadic gunfire was heard throughout Friday, and “intense firing” was reported around midnight. The Pakistani army has blown holes in sections of the wall, and continues to fire tear gas into the compound. Over 60 students fled the mosque and were captured, and a security official told Dawn a number of them were members of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which is the new name of the banned terror group and al Qaeda affiliate Lashkar-e-Taiba. Jamaat-ud-Dawa has been put on the Specially Designated Global Terrorist list.
The Pakistani government’s willingness to appease the Islamists of the Lal Masjid should come as no surprise to those who follow the Pakistani government’s dealings with them. On July 4, the day Aziz was captured, we noted the Pakistani government may be willing to let Aziz and others captured in the operations off the hook:
Will the government try Aziz and others captured during the standoff and risk the political fallout from such actions? Pakistan has a rich history of conducting its own terrorist catch-and-release program. Terrorist leaders and Taliban and al Qaeda commanders and operatives are repeated detained, only to be released at a later date.
The next day, we noted the Pakistani government was sending those captured at the mosque back to their homes after a security screening. Many of them come from the Northwest Frontier Province. The Pakistani government has surrendered the tribal agencies of Bajaur and North and South Waziristan in a series of “peace deals” over the past year, and many of the tribal agencies and settled districts are openly under Taliban control, the government has unofficially surrendered areas to the Taliban (such as Bannu and Tank), or the areas are contested.
As the crisis in Islamabad plays out, the Taliban and al Qaeda continue the terror campaign in the hinterlands of the Northwest Frontier Province. Four police were murdered in an ambush in Peshawar, the provincial capital. Four missiles were fired at a Pakistani military camp in Landi Kotal in the Khyber Agency. The Mujahideen-i-Bajaur distributed leaflets warning of attacks in the tribal agencies because of the government’s actions at the Red Mosque. “Mujahideen strongly denounce operation and killing of students in Lal Masjid and they will take revenge by carrying out suicide attacks.”
See The Fall of the Northwest Frontier Province for more information of the deteriorating security situation.
Previous articles on the Red Mosque standoff: