Posts Tagged ‘ Red Mosque ’

Pakistan’s 10 Years of Chaos

As Reported by Jennie Matthew for AFP

The 9/11 attacks that thrust Pakistan into the war on terror have brought the nuclear-armed state to its knees, fighting Islamist radicals at home and risking pariah status abroad.

It was already evening in Pakistan when television channels, recently deregulated by then president General Pervez Musharraf, began broadcasting the terrifying scenes from the twin towers in New York.

Few slept that night, realising immediately that the world had changed forever and that Pakistan was in the eye of the storm after spending years fostering extremist movements for its own ends.

“My immediate thought was ‘oh my God, more trouble coming onto Pakistan’,” said author Imtiaz Gul, who has written extensively about the subsequent war and its fallout at home.

“My fears have been borne out… The 9/11 events shocked Pakistan into an unprecedented crisis of insecurity,” he said.
It didn’t take long for Musharraf to weigh up conditions imposed by Washington and announce on September 19 that Pakistan would offer its airspace, territory and capabilities to help the United States defeat terrorism.

But as America put the finishing touches to its war plans, Pakistan desperately tried to persuade its Taliban allies in Afghanistan to give up Osama bin Laden and avert catastrophic military action, to no avail.

Within weeks, bin Laden, his future successor Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban leaders had fled the American invasion into Pakistan.

And there in the northwestern tribal belt, which no government has been able to subjugate, they found refuge among an extremist support network dating back to the 1990s jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

They regrouped, forming bases used by the Taliban to direct the insurgency in Afghanistan and training camps for Al-Qaeda to brainwash young extremists from all over the world into carrying out terror attacks.

As a result, the last decade has made the only Muslim nuclear power more unstable than ever before in its bloody and chaotic 64-year existence.

The watershed came in July 2007 when government troops cleared out extremists preaching hate from the Red mosque in the heart of the capital Islamabad.

The militants declared war and in the past four years, around 500 bomb attacks have killed 4,600 people, according to an AFP tally.
Just when it appeared things couldn’t get worse, this year the US discovered bin Laden living close to Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, sending in Navy SEALs to kill him and sinking already fractured US-Pakistani relations.

“No doubt that this is absolutely the worst time for the country,” said Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, whose book “Taliban” became an international bestseller after 9/11.

Rashid describes Pakistan as “completely isolated” by a war that “brought terrorism, sectarianism, a weakening of the state (and) much greater ethnic insurgencies” within the country.

But the blame — he says — is Pakistan’s for frittering away American aid money and refusing to realign its national security priorities.
“Politically, the most far-reaching mistake was the hosting and relaunching of the Afghan Taliban by the military and the intelligence agencies. That was enormously detrimental and led to the growth of the Pakistani Taliban.” Pakistan routinely proclaims to have sacrificed the most of any country fighting terror.

The government claims that 35,000 people have been killed. The army confirms the deaths of 3,019 soldiers since 2001 — more than the 2,684 Western soldiers to have died in Afghanistan.

More than three million people have been displaced by violence and counter-terrorism activities in Pakistan since 9/11, according to International Crisis Group figures released in 2010.

The army says 147,000 troops are deployed in the northwest compared to 35,000 in October 2001, a drastic reversal from the previous concentration along the Indian border in the east.

Yet extremism has increased. An average of one US drone strike every four days against militants in the tribal belt is raising fears that the campaign is recruiting a new generation of insurgents and suicide bombers.

Jihadist groups — fostered by Pakistan’s security establishment to fight India in Kashmir and maintain Afghanistan as a strategic asset — have splintered, and increasingly turned the guns on their old allies in the state.

“Pakistan is a lot less secure country now than 10 years ago, because it has become a battleground, an extension of the Afghan war. Pakistan is now facing a serious threat for its stability,” said journalist Zahid Hussain.

Yet the public discourse concentrates less on how to defeat militancy than debating the merits of the hugely unpopular US alliance.
Trust between Islamabad and Washington is at an all-time low. Cooperation between the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI spy agency is poor. Blame games on both sides are played out in the media.

Compounding the sense of crisis is the country’s economic meltdown. Pakistan says losses related to the war are $68 billion. Critics say the country has squandered up to $20 billion in aid given by the United States. “The biggest mistake was the failure to really address strategic issues in the economy. Pakistan could have changed its very weak economic structure at that point in time,” said Rashid.

Instead crippling inflation, rampant unemployment and an energy crisis with power cuts of up to 16 hours a day have left millions wondering how to fill the void.

Sufi Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Spirituality

By Fahad Faruqui for The Huffington Post

After two bombs recently claimed dozens of innocent lives at the shrine of esteemed Sufi Ali Hajviri, fingers were pointed at the al-Qaeda-linked militants who see Sufism as the work of heretics. The New York Sufi Music Festival was brought to U.S. to showcase the spiritual dimension of Islam and the rich heritage of Pakistan, counteracting a view that Pakistan is predominantly a country known for its terror factories. Sadly, the image of militants waging war is overwhelming and hard to supersede.

Hearing Abida Parveen sing Bulleh Shah’s ecstatic poetry, which enriched the centuries-old Sufi tradition of the Indus valley, made me realize how the Islamists have stripped away spirituality from the religion and left believers with rituals, sketchy interpretations of the divine laws and fear of God’s wrath. Sufi Muslims of the subcontinent, who converted to Islam in the pre-partition era, were drawn to the Sufi path of knowledge that has been hijacked by the al-Qaeda ideology of violence.

The rapturous quality of Sufi poetry continues to fascinate me, but the very idea of loving and seeking God while listening to radical mullahs (like the clerics of Red Mosque) is deeply troubling. Prostration to God devoid of spirituality is no different from doing sit-ups. Surely, the label Sufi is not necessary. What’s important is the sentiment. It helps the cause of clarity to call those on the path “Sufis” rather than “mystics,” which will more likely conjure images of Aladdin on his flying carpet.

Islam is the fastest-growing religion but has too few religious scholars with requisite understanding to link rituals and divine laws to creative spiritual ascension. I reached a level of comfort with my faith through good guidance from prominent Muslim thinkers such as Hamza Yusuf, Faraz Rabbani and Zaid Shakir, who drink deeply of the Quran’s spring of wisdom.

Faith is ineffable; so is our search for God. Ecstatic poetry and Sufi treatises speaking of “annihilation of self” and “Oneness with the Creator” are merely tools to evoke the Sufi sentiment, which is not peculiar to Islam. Teresa of Avila’s “Libro de la Vida,” Bulleh Shah’s ecstatic poetry, Allama Iqbal’s intimate conversation with God in “Shikwa” (complaint) and Mansoor Al-Hallaj’s proclamation “Anal-Haq” (I am the Truth) are all expressions of the acquired wisdom gleaned from deep introspection.

Though unsuccessful, Iqbal tried to revive the true spirit of Islam. He was quick in identifying that the hardline mullah was a hopeless case. But the Sufis were either consumed in “other worldliness” or digressing from the core of Sufism. For Iqbal, a profound religious experience is one that benefits humanity, which is most unlikely if the seeker retreats to constant seclusion.

Saudi Arabia’s government is often accused of demolishing tombs of the companions of the prophet, fearing veneration of graves, and of discouraging Muslims from praying at prominent sites like the Cave of Hira (where Muhammed received his first revelation). Why they discourage is another column, but one thing is certain: visiting graves and sites mentioned in the Quran will not miraculously lead to divine illumination. The essence of Sufism is to dig into the depths of your soul to seek the One. In the shrines of Sufi masters in the subcontinent, one can expect to find numerous vagabonds pretending to be Sufis, who earn a living by giving false hopes to troubled wives, jobless men and childless couples. This defeats the premise of Sufism — absolute reliance on Almighty.

In a phone conversation, a prominent Sufi scholar, William Chittick, said, “The core of Sufism is to strive for nearness to God.” Even though God is absolutely Other, he presupposes a direct relationship with the seeker. No doubt. Allah says in the Quran (50:16): “I am closer to you than your jugular vein.”

It is our egos that have created boundaries between sects within Islam and ensuring rivalries with non-Muslims. Reviving the spiritual dimension of Islam may be the only way to fight intolerant radical elements internally.

Vengeful New Militant Group Emerges in Pakistan

By Kathy Gannon for The Associated Press

Pakistani authorities now believe a dangerous new militant group, out to avenge a deadly army assault on a mosque in Islamabad three years ago, has carried out several major bombings in the capital previously blamed on the Taliban.

The emergence of the Ghazi Force was part of the outrage among many deeply religious Pakistani Muslims over the July 2007 attack by security forces against the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, a stronghold of Islamic militants.

The fierce attack, in which scores of young, heavily armed religious students died, inspired a new generation of militants. These Pakistanis have turned against a government they felt has betrayed them and, to their dismay, backed the U.S. role in neighboring Afghanistan.

The brief but bloody history of the Ghazi Force illustrates the unintended results of Pakistan’s policy of promoting Islamic extremists to fight India in the disputed area of Kashmir. That policy — which Pakistan denies it pursues — now threatens regional stability as the U.S. and Pakistan’s other Western partners pour billions of dollars into the country to stop the rise of Islamic militancy.

The new group is made up of relatives of students who died in the Red Mosque assault. It is named after the students’ leader, Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who was also killed. The mosque’s religious school, or madrassa, had been a sanctuary for militants opposed to Pakistan’s support of the U.S.-run war in Afghanistan.

Private television stations broadcast vivid scenes of the assault — commandos in black fatigues rapelling down ropes, the crackle of gunfire, bodies of black-shrouded girls carried out through the smoldering gates. Those images stunned the nation, especially families of the students and Pakistanis with deep religious feelings.

“Before the Lal Masjid, militants hadn’t yet declared war on the state of Pakistan. That changed with Lal Masjid,” said Zahid Hussain, author and terrorism expert who has written extensively about Pakistan.

Islamabad’s inspector general of police, Kalim Imam, told The Associated Press that the Ghazi Force was behind most of the deadliest attacks in the capital during the last three years. The attacks targeted the military, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency or ISI — which had ties to a number of militants — and a five-star hotel frequented by foreigners and the Pakistani elite.

The Ghazi Force helped recruit a security official who blew himself up inside the office of the World Food Program last October, killing five people, according to Imam. The force also sent a suicide bomber in September 2007 into the mess hall of the commando unit that attacked the Red Mosque, killing 22 people, he said.

Ghazi Force members may also have been involved in the audacious June 9 attack north of the capital that killed seven people and destroyed 60 vehicles ferrying supplies to NATO and U.S. soldiers next door in Afghanistan, Imam said.

Many of those attacks had been attributed to the Pakistani Taliban, which operates in the remote tribal areas of the northwest along the border with Afghanistan. There is evidence of close ties between the Ghazi Force and the Pakistani Taliban, which the government has vowed to crush.

The Ghazi Force is believed to be headquartered in the Orakzai region of the border area, where the leader of the Pakistan Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, held sway for years. The leader of the Ghazi Force is believed to be Maulana Niaz Raheem, a former student at the Red Mosque.

Anger over the bloodshed at the mosque was all the greater because many of the militants and their supporters felt betrayed by a government that had once supported them. Both Ghazi and his brother Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who was freed on bail this year after two years in jail, were widely believed to have been on the payrolls of both the government and the ISI intelligence service.

Their father, Maulana Mohammed Abdullah, enjoyed a close relationship with the late President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, and the mosque was a center for recruiting volunteers to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

As opposition grew to Pakistan’s support of the U.S. role in Afghanistan, the mosque became a center of religious agitation against the government, with armed students taking over the complex and police laying siege.

A former senior official in the Interior Ministry told The Associated Press that the police wanted to storm the mosque and end the siege at its outset, send the students home and shut down the religious school and a neighboring library until tempers cooled.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf refused, the official said, even though police knew that members of al-Qaida’s affiliate organization Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is banned in Pakistan, were bringing in weapons for the students.

Musharraf relented and ordered the assault after militants kidnapped several Chinese nationals running a massage parlor in Islamabad, accusing them of prostitution. The death toll remains in dispute. Red Mosque officials say hundreds died. The government says fewer than 100 were killed.

In a rare interview, Abdul Aziz Ghazi told AP he warned the government that an assault on the mosque would unleash forces that no one could control.

“I have been in jail. I did not form this force and I don’t condone the violence but they are angry at the injustices done,” he said this week.

Although the assault turned many Islamic hard-liners against the government, Pakistan remains unwilling to break all ties to the militants, instead following a high-risk strategy of coddling “good militants” while fighting those deemed “bad militants,” analysts say.

“The military and the ISI have given importance to these militants as assets. But those who have openly declared war, and there is no chance of them returning back to the state, the army is going after them,” said Manzar Jameel, a terrorism expert and researcher on the growth of extremism in Pakistan. “Yet they still believe that some are still assets and that they can keep control of the assets. It’s a failure of strategy.”

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas denies any assistance to militant groups, saying past ties have long since been severed. He says the Ghazi Force is among the groups the 120,000 Pakistani soldiers waging war in the tribal regions are fighting.

Yet Anatol Lieven, a terrorism expert with the Department of War Studies at London’s King College, said it’s clear that the ISI continues to protect some militant groups, even if it has broken with others.

In a June report, the Rand Corporation think tank also alleged that Pakistan’s military and intelligence still support some militant groups “as a tool of its foreign and domestic policy.”

“A key objective of U.S. policy must be to alter Pakistan’s strategic calculus and end its support to militant groups,” the report said.

Christine Fair, a co-author of that report and an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies, said the battle against extremists in Pakistan is mired in layers of subterfuge by Pakistani intelligence and a “mystifying” acceptance by the CIA of Pakistan’s “good-militant, bad-militant” policy.

She said U.S. intelligence knows Pakistan protects one group — Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India blames for the 2008 Mumbai assault and Afghanistan accuses of masterminding deadly attacks against the Indian Embassy in Kabul.

“Lashkar-e-Taiba remains intact. I have had conversations with … officials in Washington. It is not their priority. Lashkar-e-Taiba is not an issue,” she said in an interview. “Yet Lashkar-e-Taiba has been attacking us in Afghanistan since 2004.”

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