The Musharraf regime, cornered by the Islamists

By Alberto Priego (for Safe Democracy)

The situation in Pakistan is complex and the margin for the Musharraf government to manoeuvre is becoming more limited each time opposite of the generalized talibanization. Will the Islamists obtain control to become a country with nuclear arms in the future?

Alberto Priego Moreno is an expert on issues of the Caucasus and Central Asia and a researcher in the Department of International Studies at Complutense University in Madrid. He is the author of “The Evolution of conflict in Chechnya”, “The Creation of the Azerbaijani identity and its influence in foreign policy”, and “Georgia: Another Velvet Revolution?” among other publications. He has worked as a guest researcher at the East-West Institute and the Center for Euro-Asian Studies.

THE CONTINUING STRUGGLE between the Pakistani Islamists and Pervez Musharraf’s government puts the stability of their own country at risk. For some time, the leaders of the (known as) Red Mosque, in Islamabad, challenges the authority of President Musharraf, since this temple has urged the rebellions in other city’s like Lahore or Quetta.

Furthermore, the rebellions resume the meetings, which the opposition has been celebrating these past days in London and to the attempted attack suffered by President Musharraf in the city Rawalpindi where, curiously, he is the Fourth General of the Army. All these successes complicate Musharraf’s political situation and make him think that an Islamic revolution can be prepared in Pakistan.

Everything began when a group of radicals belonging to the complex Jamia Hafsa amp: Lal Majid (Red Mosque) burst into a local massage parlour run by nine Chinese citizens that were kidnapped for the excuse of re-educating them in Islamic values. Previously, the group had occupied a bookstore and attacked various video clubs that offered morally reprehensible videotapes. Although the Chinese citizens were released, the tension did not subside.

The Red Mosque is a temple financed by public money where students from tribal regions attend, principally Pashtun students in contact with the Taliban ideology. On the 2nd of July confrontations began between the radicals and the Pakistani forces that tried to liberate the group of hostages (between 200 and 500) that were kept in the interior of the complex. The rebels demand the end to the degradation of women, which the Musharraf regimen is exercising.

There are two principle leaders of the revolt; on one side, Malauna Abdul Aziz and his brother Abdul Rashid Ghazi. The first was captured while he was exiting with a group of women from the Red Mosque. Abdul Aziz was expecting to escape disguised with a burka although the Pakistani forces captured him; leaving the leadership of the rebellion to his brother.

Following governmental sources, between the rebels are members of the group Harkat ul Yihad al Islam, a branch of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, prohibited for a few months by Musharraf’s Government. Furthermore, it seems that in the interior of the Lal Majad Mosque Chechen soldiers and Uzbeks could be situated as belonging to the net of the terrorist leader, Osama Bin Laden.

The past 5th of July the Pakistani Army began an operation of harassment against the Red Mosque. The confrontations between Islamic radicals and Pakistani forces have already gained 20 deaths, including the commander-in-chief of the special assault forces, Lieutenant Colonel Haroon Islam. However, this figure rises to 200 if we look at the sources close to those revolting.

If we look at the past, the fact is that nothing of the current Pakistan, or very little, has seen what inspired Jinnah. The Nationalist leader expressed his idea of Pakistan three days before the independence of the British; you all are free to go to your temples, to your mosques or to your places of worship. Whatever is your religious creed or race has nothing to do with the State’s dealings. (11 of August, 1947).

The father of the current Pakistan idea was a secularized state, as announced few months after the independence of Pakistan will not be a theocratic governed State by a religious order with a divine mission. However, his sudden death and the pressure exercised by the Ulema submerged Pakistan into a dynamic of alternations between military authoritarian governments and highly Popular Party civil governments.

The current president Parvez Musharraf puts both characteristics together. On one hand, he behaves like a strong soldier that governs the country not from Islamabad, but as the Fourth Army General in Rawalpindi. On the other hand, Musharaf is a leader of the Popular Party that although has not been seen with Shalwar Kamees of Zulfikar Bhutto, who is capable of utilizing the Urdu to announce to the nation the unconditional cooperation with the United States after 9-11.

During the last few months rumours began about the survival of Pervez Musharraf. These rumours would not have been a novelty if not for his origin, but that the president of Pakistan has survived many attacks. The problems seem to be in the told rumours that now come from his source of power, to be said, from the Army.

In the last months soldiers have repeatedly complained about the lack of resources that the Army suffers in the Provence of the Northeast Frontier, the traditional confrontation zone between the Taliban and Pakistan military. Furthermore, in Karachi, is common to find manifestations of Islamic radicals protesting against the Army. Considering this degree of dissatisfaction, General Musharraf recently met with the staff of his army, who issued a communiqué of support to Musharraf, who is at the same time President and Chief of the Armed Forces.

The communiqué has many interpretations, but already there are people who dare to think that the President Musharraf would be able to end Ayub Khan, that is, replacing it for another military. Even some people go further and declare that the hand that possibly killed Zia ul-Hag in his presidential plane would be able to return to act, this time, against Musharraf.

This situation generates many questions. The first is: in the case that Musharraf is overthrown; will the army be prepared to locate another Kemalist military and pro-western like the current president? A second question is, if it’s not a soldier, would the village be ready to readmit Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto? Then lastly, and most importantly; can the Islamists take advantage of the confusion and take control of a country that already posses nuclear arms?

For their part, the group of opposing parties gathers in London to try to make the most of the occasion in order to debilitate General Musharraf. The APC (Anti Pervez Conference) is leading for the ex-Prime Minister Nawaf Sharif who has openly criticized the government’s actions and has remained silent about the actions of the Islamic radicals. The other great oppositional leader, Benzair Bhutto, does not directly participate in the conference even if she has sent one of her collaborators there.

The situation is complicated enough and although it seems that the government of Musharraf will not give truce to the rebels; his margin of manoeuvre every time is very limited. In whatever case, Al-Qaeda seems to be the one who controls the bed in which Pakistan lays.

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