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...


At 6:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I still can not think of a good reason for why the whole incident was staged. Let me continue with my lazy speculation.

If the reason was to effect a redistribution of Army units and force structure in order to take advantage of gaps that may arise (as I have speculated in one of your previous posts), then the window of opportunity to do something will be small before the new force structure settles down and the Army gets a grip on things. It has been nearly a week now and if this was the case we would have heard something untoward by now. This does not appear to have happened.

It can also be the case that this incident was staged in order to attract as many anti-Musharaff elements as possible into a single place and wipe them out with one fell swoop. The two brothers gather all these people together with their anti-Musharaff rhetoric and vigilante actions and then just before the trap springs shut, the two of them slip out of the compound. However, this seems way too messy and risky a way to achieve something like this.

Also, it is being reported on the disreputable forum that the commander of the SSG forces involved in the raid has been killed in the fighting. Perhaps it is time to revisit your hypothesis about certain people wanting to draw out SSG units loyal to Musharaff.

As an aside, kya din aa gaye hain! SSG officers having to die in order to keep Jahapana in power. Remember the SSG was rumoured to have lost quite a few officers while killing Akbar Bugti.

It is also possible this was staged to serve as an excuse to declare an emergency and postpone the December elections.

After everything is said and done, I still feel the simplest explanation remains that this was never intended to happen and that this mess has resulted due to certain actors in the play going off script.

At 7:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Murgey ka kheema banne chale, apna hee keema ban gaya! One needs to be in a reasonable control of the elements to actually start the drama and take it to the climax. Here the intension was definitely to keep the kettle boiling without allowing the water to boil over. Unfortunately, now we have some third degree burns in the politico-military setup.

One important thing this episode highlights is absolute unimportance of average abdul. The abdul unfortunately has only one recourse to force some change, the islamists. But all the political dispensions including islamists are cushioning the pressure generated by awam without addressing their real reasons. Like in a pressure cooker, once some steam is released, there is peace for some moment, but then again the pressure builds up. Are the RAPE betting on sapping every iota of self-respect from average abdul, i.e. no water in the kettle no pressure build up? Maybe they are forgetting that, though water is a nuisance, the problem is the fire under the kettle. If there is no water, what is there to prevent the melting of the kettle?

This episode also highlights to the mid to senior level officers is the ineffectiveness of top leadership. Pakistani army explicitly fluants its "disciplined" structure, that is not present in any other section of society. What effect this last demonstation of incompetence will have on the Fauj is open to speculation. At least in the short term the price required to buy "discipline" will be jacked up multiple times.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Anonymous 1,

I think the drama was a very high risk gamble to begin with.

If played properly the drama would have achieved a direct engagement with all major Islamist actors inside the military establishement. Played badly the drama will result in attrition to Musharraf's SSG loyalists. These Mullahs inside Lal Masjid were the traditional contact points for a majority of Islamist sentiment inside the Army and that is why they were publicly angry with Musharraf. The Maulanas were doing their job - they were radiating information on Islamist feelings inside the military. All that was scripted.

The students - that is what in my opinion most likely pushed the whole thing off-script.

I think the polarisation inside Pakistani society has reached such levels that engaging Pakistani youth in a conversation has become very troublesome and given the easy availability of guns in the Pakistani market any conflict can rapidly escalate into bloodshed. This is where the real battle ground of the Jihad is - in the minds of the urban youth. This makes all notions of scripting impossible.

I think Syed Shehzad's reports speak about this. There are number of disaffected gunslingers and psychos formerly on the ISI's payroll. They are all young and all really angry with the policy shift that Musharraf carried out post 9-11. They have good reason to be angry, Musharraf offered them as human sacrifices to appease the American military. These out-of-work Jihadis can communicate effectively with the urban youth in Pakistan because they are of the same age. Most of the urban youth in Pakistan are upset about the way the Pakistani economy is and they are looking to the Jihadis as natural leaders for a way out of this mess.

Thus every Jihadi that escapes death at American hands in Afghanistan becomes a thorn in the Pakistan Army's side. What we are seeing in Lal Masjid is an example of this.

And that in my humble opinion is why the Prime Minister said what he did in reaction to the events of last week.

I suspect some Uighers are returning the favours that the Pakistan Army bestowed upon them.

Waise just to keep things absolutely crystal clear any Pakistanis reading this post should understand that that mere gaon ki tradition hain ki bhaiyon ke beech koi nahi aata hain.

Par mein toh hindustaniyon ki baat kar raha hoon, bahar gaon waale kya karenge iska mere paas koi hisab nahi hain.

At 12:31 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Anonymous 2,

You are right about the price of "discipline" going up.

Forgive me but I have a more immediate concern.

The water is boiling and there are number of idiots who don't grasp this.

I don't care if they get burned but whatever they do, the boiling water should not splash on us.

At 1:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Tell me if I read you correctly:

The Lal Masjid served as a comprehensive broadcast communications channel for all the Islamists within the military. The pronouncements of the Lal Masjid mullahs served to publicly air the private sentiments expressed by these Islamists. That was the Lal Masjid's role in the scripted drama: to anonymously convey the feelings of the Islamists in the military to the powers that be. And as long as the mullahs stuck to making pronouncements, they stuck to their role and their script in the drama.

But the students wanted to do more than just that. As the Americans would put it, they wanted to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. They were the ones who forced the mullahs to initiate the vigilante activities that have precipitated the current confrontation.

Do I read you correctly so far? If so, then I have a few questions:

The rhetoric coming from the Lal Masjid has escalated sharply over the last six months or so. Previously, they were relatively low key and off the radar and then over a relatively short period of time they escalated to preaching fire and brimstone and damnation very very loudly. What was it that triggered such a sharp escalation in rhetoric and in reflection of that what was it that triggered such anger among the Islamists in the military over the last six months? Did something specific trigger the outbursts or did the inexorable accumulation of Islamist anger in the military over Musharaff's policies during the last five to six years just reach a tipping point?

At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


One more thing. You will find Hamid Gul's comments in the following to be very interesting:

His comments support your contention that the students/jihadis were the ones who forced the drama to go off script.

At 6:36 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Anonymous 3,

Yes, you are reading me correctly.

In my opinion, Musharraf deliberately invested in a risky strategy of engaging the Islamists in dialogue using an old communication channel. However the entire process appears to have backfired with the students and their zeal.

The mullahs in Lal Masjid attracted the military islamists and the Jihadis angry with Musharraf's rule, but in their madrassa (as in other places) these disaffected Jihadis interacted with the highly impressionable students. The students saw the Jihadis as people they should look up to.

My guess is that the anger inside the Pakistani military establishment and among the Jihadis reached tipping point some six months ago. It is difficult to say what provoked it, but I suspect one of these idiotic shows of cooperation with America finally proved too much for the Jihadis to bear. They felt themselves being marginalised in a country they had helped build.

That is the point where the Jihadis began to call for war, and the students responded with an unexpected zeal. The situation bled out of Aabpara's ability to control and for reasons beyond my comprehension, the script writers of Aabpara let the situation escalate to a point where the students publicly humiliated Musharraf.

Was this a deliberate ploy on their part? Or was it some misguided attempt by Musharraf's people to create a show the displayed his indispensibility as so many Pakistanis suspect... but somehow the Pakistanis managed to play with fire in a wooden house.

I do not know.

Anonymous 4,

Yes I am aware that General Gul is saying a number of things I have said here. Note his "Lal Qila - Lal Masjid" comment... it echoes what I said about the defining moment in the Pakistan Army's history.


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