Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lal Masjid Operation: Some basic points

The operation at Lal Masjid appears to have been shelved, for the moment ... or so they say.

We may have a little time to discuss some of the fundamentals at work here.

All "Khakis" support Musharraf. No Khaki wants to be second to a Mullah, not in Pakistan. The ISI may be heartily sick of Musharraf's unannounced policy detours and they may want to convey to Musharraf that this is not the way a fauji behaves with another but they have to back him if they are to have a counterbalance to the Mullahs.

The ISI's double game makes a surgical operation difficult. Musharraf will need all manner of troops for post-operational contingencies so any operational troops will have to come from reserve units from places like Gujranwala or Bahawalpur. I anticipate that the operation itself will not consume more than a brigade of soldiers and at least a company of the "Counter Terrorist" SSG which we saw "exercising" around at Cherat recently will be involved in actually securing the leadership of the Masjid. The Lal Masjid people will not be able to resist such a force, even when applied with a paucity of actionable intelligence.

The Mullahs know that Maulana Aziz will lose so they are making sure that he fights this battle alone. The MMA and the rest of the groups are distancing themselves from him so as to avoid negative fallout from the incident. From the MMA perspective Lal Masjid is just a pawn on the chessboard. The MMA is keen to depict credible leadership, and not seem like zealots. If Musharraf approaches the MMA and the Deobandi top brass for approval for a military operation, they will give it to him, after all they were the ones that declared him Sultan-e-Adil.

Thus in a battle for control over the Lal Masjid compound- Musharraf will prevail.

However this is not a really a battle for physical space. This is a battle for control over the Pakistani soul, the national sacred space, the moral sphere of Pakistan. Musharraf's tactical thinking style makes grasping this difficult. A victory on the tactical plane will only come at great moral cost. Musharraf will be seen to have used force against a man advocating the most simple of moral choices. The Khakis will be seen as a bunch of school yard bullies. It is unclear if the "unity of command" will survive in an atmosphere where the Army is seen as a morally corrosive influence. If and when he strikes the Lal Masjid, Musharraf will win the battle but lose the war.

A number of attacks are occuring on fuel tankers going across the Pak-Afghan border to resupply US troops stationed there. The presence of these tankers is a manifestation of Pakistan's much advertised role as the "entrepot to Central Asia". Choking this supply line destablises the entire US military presence in Central Asia and negates Pakistan' projected role in the region. If the security of the supply line continues to be eroded in this fashion, the US will have to insist that Musharraf deal with Anti-US groups in Pakistan more firmly and that could act as a trigger for the operation against the Lal Masjid.

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