Monday, July 30, 2007

Lal Masjid: I fear a "Shia Holocaust" is in the works

After the Lal Masjid confrontation and the assasination of Maulana Ghazi and the ritual humiliation of the Deobandi clergy by the Pakistan Army here is an unfathomable sense of anger in the radicalised population of Pakistan. A majority of this population is Sunni and a number of the tanzeems have a long history of sectarian violence. Some experts even suggests that a number of the Pakistani Islamic tanzeems were originally concieved as ideological defense mechanisms against Shia radicalism emanating from Iran.

The ground is very fertile here.

For centuries now, the regime in Iran has acted as the protector of the Shia. The present Islamic revolutionary regime has been at the forefront projecting power on behalf of minority Shia all over the world. In a world where nuclear potency is regarded as a demonstration of international relevance, a predominantly Sunni Pakistan possessing a nuclear bomb has caused concern in Shia Iran. The concern that Sunni Pakistan may be sharing nuclear weapons knowledge with Saudi Arabia, Iran's ideological adversary in the Middle East, is cause for alarm in Iran. An atmosphere of relentless confrontation with Saudi Arabia's ally, the United States of America, does not help Iranian comfort levels either.

An undesirable change from the US point of view, in the Iranian nuclear status is not impossible and if such a change does occur the US will have no choice but to move against Iran. If the US moves against the revolutionary regime in Iran, at least until a new power center emerges and establishes itself agains the US, the Shia the world over will have no protector.

Needless to say that in places like Pakistan, the radicalised population will express their dissatisfaction with an American takeover of Iran and most of their anger will be directed at the Pakistani Army which is propped up as Pakistan's ruling class by American support.

In a bid to save themselves, the Pakistani Army is likely to deliberately sow the seeds of sectarian violence. This will in turn deflect mainstream Sunni anger on to the Shia population. In the face of heavily organised radicalism, and lacking institutional protective support from a regime in Iran, the Shia will stand no chance. They will be decimated.

Like the Jews of Europe in the 30s and 40s, the Shia will be a lost cause, an unanticipated consequence, an unwitting victim of global machtpolitik.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Lal Masjid: The Battle of the Potohar Plateau

The MMA has stuck its neck out and grabbed the Lal Masjid from Musharraf's people.

The MMA has requested for assistance from the people to rebuild the Jamia Hafsa itself. In ceremonies held there on Friday, MMA leader Maulana Siraj ul Haq led the prayers and prior to the prayers a large group of people collected debris from site of the Jamia Hafsa as some sort of spiritual memior of the events there. A group of people passed around a mound of dust from the site and many faithful dipped their fingers in it and ate some it as a mark of respect for the dead Jihadis.

The mood turned ugly when the government appointed Khateeb of the masjid entered the premises. The crowd chased him away and the atmosphere continued to deteriorate causing the Police to use standard riot control measures to contain the situation. The police continued to be active until a blast occured killing a dozen or so policemen. Currently news coverage emanating from the "authorities" in Pakistan suggests this was the work of a suicide bomber. The Masjid has now been closed indefinetely.

The Pakistanis "authorities" appear to have failed to grasp the significance of debris from the mosque. This debris is currently being transformed into relics of martyrdom - relics to which only the MMA's friends have access.

The battle for the minds of the simple men of the Potohar plateau has begun in earnest.

We have agreed to agree.

We are now subject to a barrage of positive media pressure on the Indo-US nuclear deal. There is the sound of the Champagne corks popping... etc... even on the disreputable forum, the disreputable are celebrating a sense of victory.

And yes I do agree that we have... a.. well.... a sense of victory.

Yes... as the wiser sages amongst you have surmised from the guarded tone of Sri. Narayanan's comments and the absence of acts of self-immolation among the NPA... a great many questions remain unanswered.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of our negotiating team, and the efforts of the Bush Administration's lawyers, we have we now have a piece of paper that says "we have agreed to agree".

Please understand I mean no disrespect to those in India who fought hard to get it to this level. After the utter fiasco that followed the NPA's breast-beating and irresponsible behaviour in the media, there was a lot of pressure on both sides to make it look like we still had an agreement. The cumulative prestige and trust accrued by interlocuters on both sides over decades was nearly destroyed by the NPA antics. The "Agreement to Agree" has saved us from utter catastrophe, but we still stand periliously close to the edge.

For reference now let us look at the balance sheet:

India needs this agreement because it seeks an energy solution. India's scientists have laboured hard for half-a-century to find an evironmentally safe, proliferation proof system of utilising nuclear fuels to generate energy. The current desire - given rising concerns about global warming - is about making it sustainable in the Indian context. That is where the entire effort of DAE has been concentrated. To make this sustainable, India needs to do two things, first it needs to interact with the global market in nuclear fuels and technologies to buy what it needs, and secondly it needs to create the necessary information control structure to preserve its intellectual property.

The United States (and the western world) is not mentally prepared to see India implement an energy solution based on nuclear technology. Nuclear energy technology in the US is very primitive and the fact that India - a country of 200 million starving people - could make such high technology - makes the US feel very insecure. At the heart of America's insecurity is a pervasive fear, that someone will do to the US what the US did to Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but this is simply an peculiarity of the US. Over the past 300 years, the Western world in general has gotten used to being on top of the global technological order.

300 years ago, India and China used to be the dominant economies of Asia. All records of history in these places suggest that was the "natural state" of the world. However the burst of industrial activity in Europe that followed the exploitation of resources on the American landmass changed all that. Europe was able to pull itself out of the Dark Ages and build a foundation of technological progress that allowed it to surpass India and China as the global center for innovation. The populations of Europe proved unable to handle such rapid change, and horrible wars occured with sickening frequency. These wars debiliated the European economy and over time Europe lost its top position to the United States of America.

We can endlessly debate the causes, but for the last 300 years, the economies of China and India were depressed. In this state they could not support innovation and as a result they heamorraged intellectual property to the more developed Western economies. This is no longer the case, after half a century of guided economic growth, Indian and Chinese economies are nearing a full recovery and capital reserves are reaching a stage where large amounts of technology innovation can be sustained. This is the "natural state" of things, the economies of India and China cannot remain reliant on imported technologies if they are to grow.

Unfortunately the manner in which Western grand narratives have been structured, Asia is seen as a very passive terms. The Western narrative rejects the notion of an active Asia. Perhaps this has the benifit of filling Westerners with a sense of confidence or even possibly a positive enthusiasm to do something, but it also leaves the average Western mind unprepared for any form of activity in Asia.

The West is completely unprepared for an Asia that no longer simply passively accepts Western dominance over high technology. In the absence of any real thinking on the issue a deep seated hostility is taking hold. While the US has rather peculiar concerns, other countries especially those that are not too far from the bottom of the global technology ladder, the "middle countries" if I can call them that, are sensing an imminent loss of status. This kind of feeling is more likely to make them do ... well... unreasonable things. With luck however we may be able to contain this matter in the NSG, but I am not holding my breath here.

The NPA for their part have assidiously courted these "middle countries", wherever possible they have offered up the suggestion that these countries would become disaffected with the US and its sudden change in posture. They have implicitly held out the possibility that these countries might become unreceptive to US goals on nuclear proliferation if India is given a special pass.

I am unsure of the merits of such an approach by the NPA. Courting this kind of behaviour could easily be misinterpreted as encouraging it. At the very least being supportive of this kind of thinking could artificially prolong the endurance of negative views about the technological rise of Asia.

I sincerely doubt if any of the current NPA savants actually grasp things as I have just laid them out. A reformation of the NPA clergy is long overdue. In Indo-US ties, this is the next real milestone.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lal Masjid: An "honourable exit"?

The Supreme Court's decision on the CJP's reinstatement is being seen by some as a possible road block to Gen. Musharraf's re-election. There are now rumours floating around that General Musharraf had a meeting with his top military aides. This is most likely a euphemism for the CJCSC Gen. Ehsan ul Haq and VCOAS Gen. Hayat. There are others, but these two have the most to gain immediately from his departure. This kind of talk is code for the army saying that it will not support "martial law".

I feel the Army is being realistic, it simply does not have the ability to sustain both a strong campaign against the now-disaffected Islamists while enforcing "martial law". It is difficult to ignore that this level of maturity has emerged only after the reports of fatal attacks on Pakistan Army officers who were travelling civilian clothes, but then "this is Pakistan"... so it really shouldn't be that surprising.

There has been a suicide bombing at the Lal Masjid complex and the newly appointed khatib of the facility has fled after crowds of "students" surged into the complex and seize it again. This strongly suggests that there are people at Aabpara that are not happy with the way things have proceeded so far or the direction which this is taking. They attempting to recreate the elements of a drama that scared the country and put so much pressure on Musharraf.

The trip to UAE is allegedly to meet Benazir Bhutto who hopes to gain re-entry into Pakistan. To that end she is being very supportive of President Musharraf even if it means alienating her own party which wants to lead the charge against the General. This act of courting Benazir has effectively checked the possibility of action by the PPP to counter Musharraf.

The trip to Saudi Arabia is interesting, if Musharraf is refused in Saudi Arabia, then perhaps I will say it may be time to think afresh about the "honourable exit" issue, until then.. where is the rush?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lal Masjid: Providing the "Operations" legitimacy in a deniable fashion

When you want to do something, but don't want to be seen actually doing it, you have to resort to some complicated contortions.

The Islamists in the MMA are now jammed up against a wall. The Pakistan Army wants them to legitimise the operations in NWFP. The line being taken is that the MMA "owes" its seats to the Pakistan Army i.e. if the Pakistan Army decided otherwise, the MMA would "lose" its seats. You understand what I am saying? the Pakistan Army controls the ballot box, so the MMA must dance to its tune. However if the MMA dances to its tune and supports the NWFP operation, then it ends up losing political space in the rest of the country and in NWFP as well.

So what choice does it have? ultimately the NWFP is under a MMA Chief Minister, Durrani. Technically he has to sign off on it, otherwise the absence of his approval becomes a legal issue. Musharraf's name is not so good these days in the courts. If Durrani tries any stunts the Pakistan Army probably has a coffin with his name printed on it. Durrani has to say yes... but also he has to be seen saying no.

That is a lot of jugglery.

That is what was going on when somewhere something went wrong, and Qazi Hussein Ahmad of the Jamaat-e-Islami was "not consulted"... so he put up a token protest. The MMA chair has taken note of the token protest and asked him to "show cause". Wonderful isn't it? now the Qazi can tell the world how the MMA leadership is being coerced by the Army.

In the meanwhile there is a parliamentary drama under way, some musical chairs with the PM's seat in the middle. Some rubbish like appointing Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain as Temporary Prime Minister.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lal Masjid: The US attempts to support itself

I am getting a lot of emails about the US talk of attacking Pakistan.

I feel the US is trying to tell everyone in Pakistan that they have to be mindful of US interests in their internal drama that will soon be staged.

To demonstrate its endorsement for Musharraf, the US has offered the use of air and artillery support in FATA. There is an unwritten unspoken quid pro here..."we will back you up when you need it in there, but you let us walk in and kill whoever we want".

And therein lies the rub, allowing the Americans killing rights in the FATA area is precisely what Musharraf cannot allow. Sure there are people in the Pentagon who are tired of being killed by Pakistani infiltrators in Eastern Afghanistan, and quite frankly having them occasionally jump across the border for a little fun and games of their own isn't such a bad way to keep them off your back. No.. I mean it... seriously by the time they realise that their hot pursuit is a waste of time, they will be dead anyway. But... if something they do in the zeal undermines the entire fabric of cooperation with Musharraf... then it is going to be all Pakistani fun and games in Afghanistan.

Do you all understand this? there is a big difference between when an Indian military officer talks of "hot pursuit" and when the American military officer talks about it.

Quite simply the Indian military officer is intelligent enough to know that all his critical supply LOC/MSRs don't lie inside Pakistani held territory. An American military officer who sits in Kabul sipping American coffee that has been transported all the way from Karachi by Pakistani trucks, is not being terribly smart if he insists on cross border strikes to "avenge" the odd patrol being erased.

I would not care to stop someone who insists on biting off more than they can chew but given how this Afghanistan-Pakistan-India system is actually coupled, I am compelled to speak.

There must be a more sensible way of doing the US bolstering its own posture in Pakistan. Given that I think it has to prepare the Pakistani audience for an eventual American invasion of Iran, I think something this aggressive - i.e. cross border strikes into FATA... may be ... shall I say.. overkill? Shirin has already taken to hammering out the line that the entire ummah is under attack. Now if you find that surprising I ask you.. wtf were you expecting her to say? what do you think that the "silent majority" Pakistanis are going to say?

We all know that force has to be applied to solve problems of such a nature... but there is such a thing as overdoing it and I think the need of the hour to avoid overdoing it.

US and Iran: Alea Jacta Est

The political fortunes of President Bush are in a decline. Anger over the inability to pursue a "winnable war" in Iraq is finding a focus on the President himself. Across the board there are signs of widespread disapproval of his leadership. The numbers have never been this bad, not even when Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky had their little cigar party.

The Iranians are in a major internal fuel crunch after their refineries shut down for lack of adequate spares. The US unwillingness to sell the spares provoked the Iranians to push the envelope. The Iranians are now attempting to break the Bretton Woods Agreement. There is more than just talk of trading oil in Yen instead of the Dollar. The choice of the Yen is remarkable, of all the countries that they could have chosen, the Iranians picked the one country that the US nuked. No prizes for guessing what the Iranians are counting on...

In response to this, the US has moved by arresting arms merchants that are supplying Iran with US spares. It requires only the slightest bit of imagination to ask how it is that anyone, especially a Pakistani in the post 9-11 world, can purchase US made F-14 parts and sell them to Iran without anyone noticing before now. When you consider that Iran is the only country other than the US to use the F-14, one would think that the private export of any F-14 parts outside the US would attract attention automatically. Please read between the lines to get the rest.

US based pension funds, managing the retirement monies for some five major US states have decided to dump their investments in Iranian companies. By dumping their stock, the US based pension funds are merely falling into line with Congressional guidelines on trade with Iran, but the market analysis suggests that this move wil cause the value of key Iranian companies to drop and a run on the Iranian markets is not out of the realm of possibility. And all this while various Bush Admin. mouthpieces are going to great lengths to say Iran is the cause of the violence in Iraq and that a stay in Iraq is absolutely essential to keep Iran in check.

Escalations like this are not uncommon between nations that have strained relations. It is also possible to use an escalation to create an atmosphere of fear that perpetuates your brand of leadership. However this is a very very very slipperly slope and escalations of this nature are very hard to control.

A direct attack on US currency by Iran is an invitation to others like President Chavez of Venezuela to try the same thing. If President Chavez does this, other major players in South America like the Cocaine Lords or Meth Kings will be tempted to seek out avenues for similar opportunities. There is no way the US financial sector will ignore the implications of the Iranian action.

It is now a race to see if President Bush can put Iran out of action before the US financial leaders - the real bosses of the American economy - start calling in his own loans.

So as the great Emperor once said on the shores of the Rubicon, "Alea Jacta Est"

There is however a few technical problems to which I find no easy answers.

The US armed services have traditionally required a decade or so to recover from a particularly bloody engagement. The 2001-2007 period has seen something in the range of 15-20,000 American casualties (if you include servicemen, "private" contractors, special forces etc...) This is a high number per year, comparable to the numbers from the Vietnam War. That war left the US out of high-casualty combat operations for a decade after the end of hostilities.

The current level of troop commitments do not permit the deployment of an additional 300,000 troops needed to secure Iran after the Islamic revolutionary regime has been deposed. It is possible that such troops could be raised from Hispanic immigrants, but that would require dealing with the highly complicated immigration issue which frankly no one has the political capital to really craft manageable conflicts out of. Hispanic speakers are a sizable minority in the US but less than 1% of the political class in the US even speaks spanish, many of these people actually cling to the notion that somehow speaking English is the key to maintaining their social status. Unlike the blacks who were brought as slaves, the Hispanics are free migrants, they have no history of communication with their American "owners" nor are they willing to sacrifice their culture to accept that of their "masters". The communication gap is severe, this makes managing conflicts very troublesome.

Alternatively, troops from Iraq could be sent to pacification operations in Iran, but then pacification of Iraq itself would have to rely solely on private armies. It may be possible to recruit such armies out of US prison populations or even perhaps Iraqi ones, however their effectiveness in pacification operations remains open to debate. Lacking even rudimentary discipline, it is quite likely they will create more problems then they solve and questions will remain over their controllability. The US will be very thinly spread on the ground and I really doubt that the military in its current state of mind will want any more of that.

Even if we assume that the Iraqi oil reserves are "donated" the US military effort on Iran. It will still create pricing pressures on oil. There is no way that any major oil company will not want to use that kind of environment for indulging in price speculation and it is difficult to see India or China or Japan or even Europe reacting positively to higher oil prices. There are any number of things that these nations can do to make life difficult for Americans, but even if they simply accept the rising oil prices as a fact of life, the Americans still have to deal with a global inflation in oil pricing. That degrades the effectiveness of the US strategic fuel reserves to act as an anti-inflationary bulwark. The run on the dollar will begin shortly afterwards.

Please remember all this has to be done while ensuring that General Musharraf is propped up, an increasingly difficult proposition in the present times. Sure I know many Americans do not understand the importance of Musharraf, or perhaps do not appreciate what will happen if they try to stop caring about Musharraf's survival... but surely the Adminstration does not share this lack of awareness. Surely they above all else know what sorrow the slightest shift in General Musharraf's loyalties can bring.

All these are fairly sensible seeming reasons for anyone not attempt stunts with Iran. However people, or nations do not always act sensibly. What remains in such a situation, apart from the mountains of dead, is the indelible implication of sensless behaviour, imprinted on the minds of billions, something no propaganda campaign can truly erase. In short it will cost the earth and then some to whitewash this even in the US controlled media.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Lal Masjid: The Judiciary carefully positions itself

Another desperate attempt has begun to save Pakistan from a descent into complete chaos.

The Judiciary has carefully positioned itself on the Lal Masjid issue.

This shift in posture is visible on what appears to most eyes to be an unrelated affair, the reinstatement of the Chief Justice.

By over ruling Musharraf's decision to remove the Chief Justice Iftekhar Mohammad Chowdhary, the Supreme Court is attempting to place itself astride of the public resentment against Pervez Musharraf.

This will allow the court to pretend to be neutral in a drama that will soon be staged in Pakistan. In this drama that will propel itself to the top of the national agenda in Pakistan, the Islamists will attempt to confront the America backed Musharraf regime. Sure a legal proceeding of this nature will provide yet another platform for anti-Musharraf discontent to spray itself into the air but by ensuring the appearance of neutrality, the Judiciary will attempt to ensure that the fight between the Army and the Jihadis remains confined to the narrowly defined legal terms. Enmeshing both sides in a legalistic framework might shift the battle off the streets.

Frankly I think this is a long shot, we are all beggars for options right now and beggars can't be chosers. That may be what prompted Musharraf to accept the verdict, despite the appearance it gives of providing an alternative power center in the country.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lal Masjid: Some questions about the violence in Pakistan

As I said in a response to one of the readers;

"The over-reliance (of Pakistani leaders) on choreographed violence to promote their brand of social leadership steadily destroys the very society they want to dominate. In a misguided effort to display their power to light a controlled fire, they manage to burn the house down. "

As we all gather to watch this choreographed fight between the Jihadis and the Pakistan Army, for those of us who keep track of violence and its use as a language of communication, a few questions naturally come to mind.

If a brigade size Pakistani Army formation finds itself overwhelmed (due to attrition or infiltration) by Jihadi groups on Pakistani soil what if anything can be said about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapon caches? Surely even someone as smart as Alex Stolar knows that if the formation protecting the cache is compromised then there is cause for concern?

Alternatively if a flag officer is murdered or defects to the Jihadi side, then what if anything can be said about the loyalties of those critical in the chain of nuclear security?

Ofcourse so far General Musharraf has survived many assasination attempts, thanks in no small measure to the loyalty of his personal staff. General Musharraf has the capacity to fix almost anything or so we are repeatedly told, but what if he is shall I say "incapacitated" in some way? what can be said about his effectiveness in controlling the overall situation?

Generally the Islamists ofcourse have been given to rhetoric. I for one felt that this was deliberate on their part, perhaps even done at the behest of their allies in the Pakistan Army. Will the Islamists now eschew escalatory rhetoric in favour of a more rational and reasoned voice?

There is censorship in place in Pakistan today. Without a free flow of information, how will anyone make decisions about the state of things? This is the paradox of information control, the more you try to hide, the less you can predict.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Lal Masjid: Misguided Behaviour

In a bid to discredit the Lal Masjid leadership, a number of court cases are being registered against the Khatib. To craft a deterrent against possible attacks on the families of Pakistan's finest, the family of the Khatib is also being targetted with criminal proceedings.

These court cases are poorly constructed without due thought to the lack of evidence or the even the slightest thought to sustainability of a prosecution. In the case of Omar Saeed Sheikh in the Pearl murder case, something similar was done to save the "image of Pakistan". Now the that same miguided legal drama is being staged with a more pressing aim .. i.e. to demonstrate the legal credibility of the regime. All this is being done by Musharraf's men under the belief that the Pakistani supreme court will rule in Musharraf's favour.

That anyone can believe that the very court that this regime brutally humiliated will not pass up an opportunity to stick it to Atapak is possibly the Eight Wonder of the World.

The attacks after last friday have left well over a hundred Pakistani Armymen dead. The openly acknowledged casualty tallies are lower but that is understandable given the circumstances. The truce in FATA is dead and many Pakistani Armymen are going to follow. There is an exodus from government pasand tribal belts, because already a sustained campaign of violence has already begun against them. If there are repraisal attacks against other tribes for any assaults on the Pakistan Army, the cities of Pakistan will host a new wave of violence.

A number of the children killed in Lal Masjid operation hailed from the Pakistan Army's recruiting grounds, their relatives are in the Army, it is unclear how soon it will be before their anger over these events manifests. Qazi Hussain of the JeI has already asked that Musharraf personally be punished for the fiasco at the Masjid, even if the court of Pakistan does not take him up on that, others will. There is no way that this claim that only 10 odd children died in the seige is going to hold water for very long. Once news of this gets around, which should be a week or so from now, I suspect that there will be defections in the Pakistan Army, Punjabi speaking soldiers will simply desert their units with their arms and ammunition.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Lal Masjid: The Politics of Confrontation

In politics a confrontation is useful.

For example, the present state of affairs with the Lal Masjid and the Islamist anger is not entirely without its uses.

The war on terror now has a new and visible front line, the streets of Pakistan. What was originally on the periphery of the American global vision is now center stage. Even if the US "withdraws" from Iraq, as long as Pakistan keeps boiling, no American President can ever call off the War on Terror. Do you see where I am going?

Musharraf is even more indispensible now. Having fired the first shot in the war against Islam in Pakistan, he is now in the thick of the fight. The Americans cannot abandon him now even if it is a huge pain in the ... to actually support him. The more Pakistan boils, the more Musharraf gets whatever he wants, F-16s, UAVs, you name it, he gets it... after all if the US doesn't support him, someone else might cause him to lose his war on Islam in Pakistan.

The Mullahs are even more indispensible to Musharraf now than they were in the past. In this confrontation he needs someone to keep repeating that he is a good muslim. If some high ranking Mullah can be "induced" to do that, he will be able to show everyone else that they are wrong. From the Mullahs perspective, indispensibility in this age of modern irreligiousness is a good thing.

When one talks like this it becomes easy to lose sight of one thing. The ability to choreograph violence is limited. No state, not even a highly militarised, jihadized state like Pakistan can be maintained at this level of conflict. Beyond a point society cannot support the weight of so many contradictions and even the slightest provocation boils over into bloodletting on a serious scale. This is the flaw in all conflict economic models, they work only as long as the conflict remains controllable, if the conflict becomes uncontrollable, the economic activities associated with the conflict become unsustainable.

The problem with dictatorships is that everything looks great until it catastrophically collapses. So yes Musharraf's "Pakistan" looks like it will "make it through" this confrontation in one piece until that is.. it doesn't.

Lal Masjid: The Friday After

The demonstrations have started and they simply will not stop.

In late october 2001 the Pakistani Army "ambushed" Jihadis on the run from Afghanistan at a small town in NWFP... err.. more correctly, at a check point on the border, Pakistani Armymen loaded a bunch of Jihadis leaving Afghanistan in the wake of the American bombing campaign in a bus and drove the bus to this town. Near the edge of the town, they stopped the bus and attacked it, killing every Jihadi inside. The town of Hangu burned for months as clerics ordered retaliation for the carnage. The Pakistani Army men who did this were Shia, and the Shias of Hangu ... well they paid a price.

Hangu is ablaze again.

People cannot believe that there were only 73 dead - that lie simply has no takers. The MMA is saying what is on every cleric's mind, "it could be your mosque next" ... you all know the next part of that sentence... "Islam khatre mein hain..."

Friends of Musharraf in the Western press are filling the pages with positive editorials in a half-hearted effort to sound supportive but I don't think it really helps. This kind of talk only strengthens the perception that Musharraf has killed the Jihadis in Lal Masjid to appease America. Why are these idiots expressing surprise about the "large arms haul" found in the "basement" of Lal Masjid? WTF is hard to grasp about that? Someone entered a part of the Aabpara stockroom.

At the funeral of Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi, his brother speaks openly of an Islamic revolution. It seems the Supreme Court did not accede to a request to see the face of the body, because at the funeral protesters smashed through the cordon and tore off the lid and removed the shroud to see the face... They wanted to be sure it was really him... this shot was taken at that time.

A "madrassa", Jamia Khadija Tul Kubra, run by the Ghazi family at Janokhel village (Dher Umaid Ali Shah, Mianwali Lat/Lon 32.83/71.57) was raided by the Pakistan Army yesterday. The "madrassa" is most likely an ammunition dump.

By the way, a positively stunning interview by the Javed Ahmad Ghamidi , member of the Council of Islamic Ideology, Ministry of Religious Affairs, Haj, Zakat and Ushr.

Quotable quotes:

"The country is facing this bitter reality as a result of the government’s past mistakes. These [clerics and militants] are the same people the state prepared and used in the name of Islam for many years."

"The Pakistani establishment thought these human beings could be turned into robots. That never happens....In Pakistan, militants like the ones in the Lal Masjid were funded and sponsored by the establishment through external sources. The politics of jihad is the real reason for the bitter crisis Pakistan is facing today."

"Everyone knows that the Lal Masjid and related madrassas are located on illegal land. The mosque’s administration admitted as much. The question is, who provided this space to these clerics in the first place? Everyone knows that the father of the Ghazi brothers, Maulana Abdullah, was funded and given perks during General Ziaul Haq’s regime to foster the concept of jihad as conceived by the establishment. The establishment has brought us to where we now stand."

This gentleman is talking like a member of the disreputable forum.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lal Masjid: A Parting Of Ways

The Pakistani Deobandi religious leadership comprising the Mufti-e-Azam Pakistan, the heads of the Wifaq Board, the heads of the key Islamic universities (the Dar ul Uloom Akora Khattak, the Dar ul Uloom Karachi, the Jamia Binoria and the Jamia Ashrafia) and the Deobandis in the MMA top brass are in a difficult position.

The madrassas they teach at are filled with angry students. In the old days this righteous anger was turned into acts of violence on the direction of the Pakistan state. However now the Pakistani state itself is the cause and the target of the anger. This is not a furtive assasination that could be papered over as factional infighting. This is a full blown assault on the face of Pakistani Islam itself. The very men who legitimized military rule as divinely justified in the past are now being publicly humiliated by it.

The messge here is obvious, if the Maulanas attempt to break with the military overtly, the Pakistan Army will simply kill them.

But the flip side is less obvious, if the Maulanas attempt to stick with the Pakistan military, the students will revolt and the Maulanas will lose their authority and not just them personally, but entire institutions built over decades will lose their standing. This is the consequence of a common error made in analysing Pakistani Deobandis, their softpower is underestimated.

This latter cost in my opinion outweighs the former.

By authorising the attack on Lal Masjid, an unwritten unspoken compact (that I suspect was) drawn up in the early years of Pakistan, around the time of the passing of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi has been broken.

The Deobandi Ulema and the Pakistani Army have reached a parting of ways.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Lal Masjid: Bodies Bodies Bodies everywhere

How does one make hundreds of bodies disappear before dawn?

Lal Masjid: That Troublesome Credibility Issue

In Pakistan, the traditional sense of respect that accompanies age and apparent scholarship in Asian societies was conflated with various Islamic traditions to create an authority structure.

Per the workings of this authority structure, whenever someone who was old and steeped in Islamic scholarship asked someone who was young in Pakistan to do something in the name of Islam, the younger person would automatically assume that the elder was speaking in the best interests of Islam and do their bidding.

Crucial to maintaining this illusion of credibility, was a public display of piety and Islamic values. Without a believable display of this nature, it was impossible to exercise any such authority.

All the Mullahs are now sitting on the sharpest part of the divide here. They have to make an overt show of piety otherwise they will lose their authority among the faithful.

That is where Musharraf has taken a big hit. By acting publicly against the proponents of Islamic piety, he has degraded his claim to being a good muslim. People may have been keen to look the other way on his other minor indiscretions (for example, in his autobiography, he published a photo of himself that seems to have been taken seconds after he came out of the black blanket that wraps the Kaaba Sharif, etc... normally you would be hanged for that... but I guess if you are the only nuclear armed Islamic state, you get privileges? I suppose...). People might even buy into the idea that it is okay to sell out a bunch of Arabs/Chechens/Uigher/Afghans... (after all, who cares, Pakistan can't be sacrificed for a bunch of refugees). People can be understanding in ways we can seldom appreciate.

However this Lal Masjid thing has no way of sitting well, a fight between the Jihadis and the Pakistan Army will erupt and even if the Jihadis don't seize control of the government or the nuclear weapons, they are going to give the Army such an intense thrashing that the Army is going to turn on Musharraf and tell him "You don't pay us enough to take this kind of crap!".

Please understand the difference here, the Indian Army is a fighting army (a retired national security personality once succinctly said "they are paid to die"). But the Pakistan Army (by contrast) is a very finely tuned military machine. Over the past sixty years it has specificially engineered for the purpose of raping, pillaging, land-grabbing, drug smuggling, money laundering and other important things. This fighting and dying reduces the Army's ability to do what it was designed for. No Pakistani Army commander wants to do this, it takes too much out of his "me-time" at the local massage parlour.

It will not be entirely surprising if the Army tells Musharraf that he is "not worth their time".

At that point a sane person would take the hint and leave. Only the fantastically stupid would cling to memories of the glorious days of old.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lal Masjid: The Death of Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi

Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi was found dead in the "basement" of the Mosque. Incidently which residences or mosques in the subcontinent have a "basement"? This is total rubbish.

Ghazi was "found dead" in the tunnel that links the Lal Masjid with that most wonderous and magical underground world that exists beneath the Aabpara office.

Accounts of his death vary, the Pakistani Army claims he died at the hands of militants when he tried to surrender to the Army. Others believe that the Army killed him when he refused to surrender.

What he knew about this crisis, he takes to his grave, but we do know that by current estimates a hundred people are dead in Operation Silence so far and at least a dozen of those are SSG personnel.

There is an attempt being made by US friendly folks in the Pakistani media to turn this utter fiasco into a platform to go after Ghazi's friends in the ISI. These friends of America in the media are pushing the line "what were the (intelligence) agencies doing". They are essentially putting the blame for this mess on the script writers of Aabpara.

I want to ask these friends of America in the Pakistani media, do you really think that the ISI is going to take the blame for this? are you really that naive? Exactly how much heroin do you have to shoot up before you start believing bilge like that?

In an earlier post or perhaps a reply to one of the readers I had said that we will never know if it was a deliberate move by Aabpara to allow things to boil over, or whether it was an accident of history. Regardless of the truth, people will believe what they want to and students in madrassas across Pakistan are conditioned to believe only one version of things. Revenge attacks will soon follow and it will not be entirely surprising if something quite terrible happens in the next few days.

With high-ranking retired Pakistani spymasters openly stating that Musharraf's credibility (as someone who is capable of ruling the country properly) has declined, the obvious stares one in the face.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Lal Masjid: Musharraf makes his last assault

Both sides are now locked down into a fight to the finish.

Musharraf cannot let these men go free after they have defied him publicly. He has to order the assault else he will have to accept that his time as dictator is over. Any visible signs of confidence aside, he has already shown his hand the day he requested the media to "not show the bodies". It is unclear who assured him of the media's loyalties. By giving the Americans permission to hit bases in the NWFP, Musharraf has effectively created a two front war for any that defy him there.

The Jihadis holed up inside the mosque are at looking at death either way they play this. Their best hope is that if they sit inside public pressure on Musharraf will mount to a level where he will have to abdicate instead of launching an attack on the mosque. They know Musharraf will not abdicate and he will order the assault. As long as there are little girls in the mosque, the Jihadis can buy time through negotiations for their release but when the assault comes, the Jihadis will prefer it if the hostages are killed alongside them. The end result will be a carnage Musharraf's publicity machine cannot possibly hide.

A number of the girls in this madrassa are relatives of Pakistani army servicemen or ex-servicemen. There will be no way to keep this resentment out of the services.

Watch the video of the funeral of Col. Haroon, see his brother's expression as he hugs Gen. Musharraf. That says it all.

Lal Masjid: The core issue in Pakistan's current crisis

I had alluded to this in replies to readers elsewhere, but I just want to get this out in the open.

The problem in Pakistan is the youth. In Paksitan the young outnumber the old and the economy is simply not in a position to satiate them and the socio-political environment provides them with no clues about their identity or world view. Over the last 20 odd years a large majority of these young people have been deliberately fed (by the State machinery) a steady diet of intolerance and militarized Islam. This is making them difficult to handle.

Lacking any democratic institutions, young Pakistanis do not have a way of expressing the disaffections through channels that are more readily available elsewhere. Left with no other outlets they are prone to violent self-expression and because of the indoctrination in militaristic Islam, they are easy prey for Islamists.

A number of the foot soldiers of the Jihad were young Pakistani men who gave up everything in the pursuit of an Islamic superstate. They listened to their "elders" in the Pakistan Army and followed the teachings of their religious leaders, as could be expected of them in any civilised part of the Indian Subcontinent.

Unfortunately they have found absolutely no tangible returns on their efforts. Their Islamic dreamland, the Taliban controlled Afghanistan is no more. What is worse is that it was betrayed by their own Pakistan Army "elders" to the very same adversaries the young Jihadis had been taught to hate. They are angry and distrustful of their traditional leadership. This is degrading the effectiveness of the Army-Mullah combine that traditionally kept these sections in check.

Most of the Jihadis are desensitised to violence and will use it in far greater quantities than mainstream political outfits can manage. A number of them have operated in environments where heavy weapons have been used and this makes their mindset completely different. Despite any rubbish you may hear elsewhere, no Pakistani political outfit is capable of meeting them head on.

There are number of Pakistanis in the army who sympathise with the Jihadis and their plight. This confrontation is the Masjid will rapidly spiral to a loyalty crisis in the Army itself.

If the youth cannot be controlled by the Army-Mullah combine, the urban centers of Pakistan will implode in an surge of violence. We will see a Somalia type situation emerge where armed gangs will rule the street randomly assasinating people at will.

That is what hangs in the balance here.

Lal Masjid: A desperate attempt to avoid an utter catastrophe gets underway

Now efforts have begun to avoid a catastrophe. After rejecting offers from Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, to provide safe passage to the militants holed up inside the Mosque, the Musharraf government has back tracked and is re-entering negotiations with him via various intermediaries. Once again we have a ringside view of the machinery of the innards of the Pakistanis state.

Leading Deobandi Maulanas , has entered the fray. The very same Deobandi ulema that hedged their bets by indirectly supporting the Maulanas and directly supporting the Government are stepping up their efforts to appear as if they are resolving the crisis. By intervening in this fashion, they hope to regain some of their lost credibility both in the eyes of the Jihadis who were angered by their betrayal of Maulana Aziz and Ghazi and in the eyes of the Pakistani people who are being subject to Musharraf inspired propaganda about the Mullahs making trouble.

The Pakistani Supreme Court is moving to intervene in the crisis. This kind of public intervention in the functioning of the executive, especially when the executive is already at war with the judiciary will only inflame passions among the legalists opposed to Musharraf. If the situation could have been resolved without such an intervention, Musharraf would have preferred it, but the sense of opportunity here is simply too great. Unless the court involves itself now, it will be irrelevant in all future political discourse in Pakistan.

The Americans have chimed in with a desire to see a peaceful resolution of the crisis. This is a departure from the "domestic issue" posture taken a week earlier. I suspect that the American eavesdropping networks in Pakistan are picking up all sorts of information about possible attacks in the event the seige ends badly. I would not be surprised if the Islamists decide to the stick it to the Americans for foisting Musharraf on them.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is going around begging other political parties to avoid "politicising the Masjid issue". This after all the footage his people cut "negotiating" with the Masjid management. I never understand this about Shaukat, exact who does he think believes him?

In doing so these third parties will end up degrading Musharraf's absolute control over the state.

There has been a suicide attack in Dir. Four troops including a Major and Lieutenant were killed when a suicide bomber allegedly from the TNSM attacked their convoy.

I want you all to take note of a statement by Maulana Rafiuddin Usmani

“It is like one more time that the two brothers should be pardoned as they have unequivocally announced to shun militancy apart from renouncing their control over Lal Masjid. They want to resettle themselves in their native village along with their mother for a peaceful life. Pardoning them is once again in the best interest of the country saving it from further bloodshed and looming danger of civil war and as such pardoning would not be an exceptional and exclusive incident in the history of country,”

I have never seen a leading Deobandi aalim use such words in the context of Pakistan.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Lal Masjid: The Death of Lt. Col Haroon ul Islam (SSG)

Lt. Col. Haroon ul Islam

" Lieutenant Colonel Haroon Islam was commissioned in Sindh Regiment in Pakistan Army in 1988. He joined Special Services Group in 1993. He has splendid military career. He was graduate of Command and Staff College Quetta and also recipient of Chief of Army Staff. Because of his meritorious services he had been awarded Chief of Army Staff Commendation Card. Presently he was commanding a Commando Battalion. The shaheed officer is survived by a widow and two daughters Zainab Haroon, 5 years and Memoona Haroon, 4 Years. "

I am having trouble accepting the story about him being involved in removing the women and children from the mosque. I don't think the Pak Army has been trying to break down walls to get people out, I think it has been more concerned with facilitating access to the mosque and with reducing defensive fortifications inside the complex. That has been the objective of the blasting.

My gut feeling is that his death was the result of a targetted assasination. In India in 90s the Jihadis used to routinely stalk and kill officers. This looks very much like that.

Lt. Col. Haroon comes from a military family and both of his brothers are still in the service of the Pakistani state in some capacity.

Curent estimates put the total death toll in the seige at 200 or so.

Added later:

Whatever positive publicity the government has managed to get in the last few days will vanish when the bodies of these dead victims head for home. I anticipate two rounds of rioting, the first that will occur when the Pakistani Army declares that it has cleared the mosque and a second round of more carefully planned rioting will follow when the funerals of the dead take place. The presence of a large number of non-combatants makes it impossible to hide the human cost of the operations.

In the meanwhile, more entertainment as the Pakistani Fauj attempts to divert the blame for the crisis, the former Khatib of Lal Masjid is apparently talking to the agencies:

"Reliable investigating sources told Online Maulana Abdul Aziz had revealed during interrogation that senator Talha Mehmood, his brother Zahid Bakhtawri, Pir Qaiser of Shaheen Chemist Rawalpindi used to provide funds to Lal Masjid on permanent basis. Regarding supply of ammunition, Maulana Abdul Aziz told one Jannat Gul , resident of Abbottabad had provided 15 kalashnikoves and bullets in large number. Sources told senator Talha Mehmood and his brother always remained on forefront in funding Lal Masjid. Traders community also provided funds amounting to million of rupees Lal Masjid on permanent basis. The investigating team has started collecting data of these people and they can be put to investigation within a few days as they have not determined this amount in their taxes. Maulana Abdul Aziz also revealed that as many as 50 petrol bombs were available in Lal Masjid. Petrol has already been stored in large quantity and the edibles are available in surplus quantity."

Here is a photo of Senator Talha Mahmood Aryan from the Pakistani Senate website.

Senator Mahmood is on the Standing Committee of the Interior

The senator had led a negotiating team to the masjid a few days before the assault began.

The blame game begins.

Incidently the media access to the area is being curtailed even further, presumable to remove the bodies without unnecessary footage. The bodies will probably be taken to the Sports complex.

Ofcourse Ejaz ul Haq has the names of eight terrorists who are holed up in the mosque. This is simply great, after they kill the 500 odd people remaining in the mosque, they will randomly name the 8 bodies there as belonging to these "wanted" terrorists, and presto Pakistan cannot be asked to "do more" to catch these people.

Incidently Maulana Fazlullah (yes the son in law of Soofi Mohammed of the TNSM) has started some entertainment in Malakand.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Lal Masjid: On The Matter Of The Physical Space

I am getting a number of questions about the physical space of the Masjid itself.

Under the current seige, the channels in to the Masjid for water and food have been shut. It is impossible to resist such a pressure. Upwards of ten thousand odd troops are now part of the seige so there is no question of anyone resisting the seige itself, much less of actually breaking out of it.

Musharraf cannot call off the seige. Once started the operation has to finish. He can at best order a pause to allow hostages to leave safely but after that anyone left inside will more or less have to die.

Unlike our SG or SFF or ITBP people that went in to the GT Complex during Bluestar, the Pakistanis will be highly averse to taking casualties. Remember that our troops were specialists in this sort of thing, their troops are not. So I anticipate that Pakistani troops will use heavy weapons (mortars) even if they have enough APCs and bulldozers to provide cover. I anticipate considerable damage to the Masjid itself.

It has become fashionable to call this a show, but show or otherwise, this is going to be a very painful episode in Pakistani Army history. It is impossible to ignore that in order to remove the greatest threat to its own power, the Pakistani Army must now openly and violently act against its own Jihadi brothers. It is impossible to ignore that after organising countless acts of mayhem in other countries, the ISI is forced to stage a drama that spills the blood of its own brothers right outside its own headquarters.

The defining moment in the Pakistan Army's history comes not from a victorious parade through New Delhi, but in a blinding flash of a mortar shell as it shreds the body of a mujahid to bits.

Indeed what days have come...

Lal Masjid: The Moral Fallout

In earlier posts on this matter, I had emphasized that the struggle for the Masjid was not a simply a struggle for physical space.

While it is true that the Masjid was becoming a place for anti-US and anti-Musharraf radicals to collect inside Islamabad, and by extension of this it did pose a severe security risk. However this was not the only risk that it posed.

On a purely moral plane, the Masjid and its management posed a far greater risk. Given their influence in the military and the silent support their names evoke in the bulk of Pakistani religious establishment, there is no way to ignore their larger than life status.

Any military confrontation over the physical space of the Masjid itself was always going to end in the defeat of the Maulanas. There is no way they would be able to resist a sufficiently well organised military force.

The real victory for the radicals will come however with great ease on the moral plane. No one is going to believe that Pakistani psyops story about Maulana Aziz trying "escape" the mosque in a burkha. The story that is going to be heard in whispered conversations in the hundreds and thousands of mosques across Pakistan is that Maulana Aziz was leaving to meet his ISI contact and that after his "capture" from the mosque, Maulana Aziz spoke for peace but Musharraf insisted on a military operation which killed a large number of people.

Look carefully at MMA MNA Shah Abdul Aziz's interview to Syed Saleem Shahzad. In this candid interview before his arrest by Musharraf's people in the Pakistan Army, we see all the elements of the new radical line that will emerge in the months ahead.

Firstly the Lal Masjid leadership are being painted as martyrs. They are shown as people who stood up to the establishment and asked for the simplest of things that any Muslim could want.

Secondly, they are shown as having spoken for peace and reconciliation, as people who risked personal humiliation and death to avoid a clash between the Mujaheddin and the Army, note how Shah Abdul Aziz says

"I am trying my level-best to avoid a clash between the mujahideen and our beloved Pakistan Army. I am in contact with Abdul Rasheed Ghazi every hour of the day, trying to persuade him to show resilience and I talk to the government, asking it to show restraint because if both sides don't show prudence, a fierce storm is heading towards us."

Do you see the tone of inevitability? This kind of talk is startling. It is one thing to protest the occasional excess by the Army, but no Jihadi talks like this about an open ended confrontation with the Army - it is simply not done. In the family of Islam, the Pakistani Army is the eldest brother, and no one talks about an endless war with the eldest brother.

On the surface of it, Musharraf appears to have won, he has the radicals surrounded in their mosque, he has their leaders in custody awaiting trial and he has a media that will only report what he wants it to, but it is this pervasive gripping action that conveys the desperation of his situation. It is impossible to maintain such a tight grip on things over any rational length of time in a country the size of Pakistan.

Remember Musharraf already has severely ticked off the judiciary, he cannot try these people in a real court, the drama they could stage there would publicly undermine his authority. These people will have to be tried in a special court and that will bring with it all manner of miseries.

All that is required now on the part of the radicals is a minimal exertion that converts their caged status into a perfect pulpit to rail against Musharraf.

It is curious that the Pakistan Army forgot what it taught the Jihadis itself: fight on the physical plane only to secure victory on the moral plane...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Lal Masjid: Aabpara Presses The Pause Button

It seems that the Lal Masjid drama was too close to heating up beyond control so it has being wound down.

Musharraf had managed to secure the support of the media and so things were made to look quite a bit better than they are but the situation is being wound down.

It appears my question to the folks of Aabpara has been answered.

Added later:

Just saw this article by Syed Shehzad.

quotable quotes include:

"The Lal Masjid "movement" has steadily fallen into the hands of Islamic militants connected with the radical bases of the Taliban in the two Waziristans. In the past few months, brothers Ghazi and Aziz have lost a lot of their power, becoming more like puppets whose strings are in the hands of the students around them."

"Ghazi admitted to this correspondent two weeks ago that things were not in his hands and that if he ever tried to compromise with the government (as there was considerable pressure from the clergy around the country to do so), he and his brother would be killed by their students. Aziz's attempt to sneak away from the mosque dressed in a veil is evidence of this. Within minutes of his arrest, Aziz was sped away to the nearby headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence, from where he telephoned his brother and told him to lay down his weapons. Similarly, a delegation of Muslim scholars visited the mosque to seek a peaceful solution. The militant students forced Ghazi to issue a statement that they would not surrender. "

"As a whole, though, the establishment and the jihadis have not fought one another."

So there we have it... Aabpara wound the situation down when they found it was too hard to control.

Now that the situation has effectively boiled over, and there are atleast 21 dead already, and we all know how fantastically brilliant the Pakistanis are hostage rescue situations (we all remember what happend to Niraja Bhanot), will the media cooperate with Musharraf in keeping the body counts low? that is the question in my mind.

Reports coming in suggest that mortars are being used, oh the memories this brings forth of Bluestar. There is talk of additional brigades being moved to Waziristan... shades of Woodrose!

Once again, the brothers have outmaneuvered Musharraf, they have withdrawn themselves from the conflict, they are now positioning themselves to put the blame for the casualties on Musharraf himself.

Added Still later..

Another article by Syed Saleem Shehzad, saying exactly what I have been suspected all along:

ATol: Maulana Abdul Aziz has been arrested. Many people believe the way in which he was arrested does not match the actions of a person who preaches to others to sacrifice their lives for the cause.

(Shah Abdul) Aziz: This is all government propaganda. The night Maulana Abdul Aziz was arrested and brought to [state-run television] PTV, I had just finished a talk show and was on the way out with Ejazul Haq [minister for religious affairs] and the anchor of the program. I saw Maulana Aziz along with security officials. He hugged me, but only touched fingers when Ejaz tried to shake hands with him. He immediately told me that he had been deceived. He said he was called by a senior official of an intelligence agency with whom he had been in touch for a long time. Since the official could not enter the mosque to meet him [to save his cover and identity] he asked Maulana Aziz to come to Aabpara police station [in walking distance of the mosque] and asked him to dress in a burqa to avoid being identified. [Aziz admitted that he and his brother Ghazi had done this many times before when they were declared wanted by the government]. But as soon as Maulana Aziz left the mosque he was arrested.

So now we wait for the admission of the presence of a tunnel between Aabpara Chowk and the Masjid.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Lal Masjid Saga: The Calm Before the Storm

Yes, we have all seen the recent public posturing by President Musharraf on the Lal Masjid after its "students" hit a bunch of massage parlours in Islamabad.

What probably hurt Musharraf the most was the fact that the Lal Masjid students harassed a bunch of Chinese people at one of these parlours. Now news items say that the massage parlour was raided by the students because they suspected it was a brothel, and they took some six Chinese women and one man hostage and beat them up. The hostages were later released and the Pakistani clients were allowed to leave unharmed.

It seems that Interior Minister Sherpao got to hear a few choice words from his Chinese counterpart about providing security for Chinese people working in Pakistan. I guess Minister Zhou was probably imagining the day when Chinese customers would be prevented from getting massages in Pakistani parlours by Lal Masjid's self-appointed muttawa. I don't have to tell you that is very very very very ... very bad if a Pakistani military dictator cannot provide his Chinese guests with a good massage in Islamabad.

My dear readers, it appears to me that the Lal Masjid people are being asked by the enlightened residents of Aabpara to exert lateral pressure on the Great Dictator's fantastic relations with China. I am told that these relations are higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the deepest ocean, but I am also told that faith can move mountains and split oceans.

No seriously people, I ask you especially those of you who are from Pakistan, what ails the folks of Aabpara these days? Why do they carry such malice in their hearts?

The question is not rhetorical, I am really listening.