By Tariq Ali
New Clashes in Islamabad
Yet another crisis erupts in Pakistan. The first was dominated
by civil society with lawyers and judges demanding a separation
of powers and an independent judiciary. Simultaneously a group
of preachers in an Islamabad mosque began to take direct action
of a violent sort and demand the full implementation of the sharia
(religious laws to further increase the social control of women)
and a special religious police to ensure their implementation.
A mosque under extremist control in the heart of Islamabad has
been the spearhead of these demands. It is situated not too far
from government buildings.
How could they have got the valuable urban land and built the
mosque and madrassahs over two blocks without government support
at some stage? They didn't. The father of the two preachers who
have led the action worked for military intelligence long before
Musharraf appeared on the scene. Having been once helped and funded
by the State they were later declared illegal and are hence short
of funds. Even a year ago they might have been bought off, but
no offers were on the table. Now it was too late. Armed jihadis
began to shoot at police and soldiers. Musharraf sent in his favourite
fixer to broker a deal, but neither side could accept the demands
of the other. The militants challenged the regime and it hit back
early yesterday morning.
It is worth noting that there has been no mass mobilisation to
support either the Judges or the jihadis. The multitudes remain
silent and passive, seeing neither struggle as being fought in
their interests. The alliance of religious parties that has provincial
power in the North-West Frontier province has not defended the
group that transformed the mosque and its adjoining madrassah
into an armed encampment apart from requesting that the lives
of innocent women and children are protected.
The whole issue raises an old question: what is the degree of
Islamist penetration of the military? It can only be fear of exacerbating
divisions in the military and its agencies that resulted in the
extraordinary caution displayed by the regime several months ago
when it was obvious that the jihadis were plotting mayhem. And,
ask the cynics inside the country, whose brilliant idea was it
to organise the jihadi kidnapping of Chinese nationals thus making
it impossibly for the regime to hold back any longer? Since the
country's national interests were now at stake firm action could
no longer be postponed.
Musharraf came to power in 1999 pledging a set of reforms that
would transform the country. He failed to implement any of them,
did deals with
corrupt cliques of discredited politicians and was further weakened
when he agreed to become a local point-man for the United States.
The country at large continued to rot leaving a vacuum for jihadis
While all this was happening inside the country the 36 opposition
political parties, big and small, were meeting in London to map
a common strategy to restore civilian rule. The conclave ended
without reaching an agreement, symbolising its political impotence.
There were reports of a new attempt on General Musharraf's life
last week. He survived.
His regime, too, is safe for the moment. Pakistan, alas, remains
a complete mess.
Only an eruption of a mass movement from below could change the
landscape, but tghe people are war. They have been betrayed once
too often by General and politician alike.
Why should they sacrifice their lives in vain?