Friday, July 06, 2007

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...

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