ThreatsWatch.Org: PrincipalAnalysis

Musharraf Caves to Red Mosque Demands

Islamists' 'Death By A Thousand Cuts' Strategy Gains Another Slice

By Steve Schippert

Pakistan Muslim League president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain visited Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) and conveyed to its two leaders that the Pakistani government has accepted all of Lal Masjid's demands, including the implementation of Sharia Law in Pakistan. It is another example of the Musharraf government's inability to contain the pro-Taliban and pro-al-Qaeda Islamist movement inside Pakistan. While ceding real estate to the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance through the various 'peace accords' that handed terrorists South Waziristan, North Waziristan and Bajour agencies is troubling in its own right, this latest set of concessions is more troubling still.

First, it occurs not in the wild tribal areas that the Pakistani government exerts little control over. Rather, this latest concession takes place right in downtown Islamabad, Pakistan's capital city.

Second, it cedes not territory but ideological ideals to violent Islamists aligned with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Ideological ground is exponentially more difficult to regain once ceded than real estate.

In the Asia Times, More muscle to Pakistan's madrassas by Kanchan Lakshman is reprinted with permission from the South Asia Terrorism Portal. In it, Lakshman provides and important glimpse at the depth of Pakistan's radical madrassa problem.

Pakistan's "officially estimated 13,000 seminaries (unofficial estimates range between 15,000 and 25,000, and in some cases go as high as 40,000) in Pakistan, with an approximate enrollment of 1.5 million students," has continually rejected any reforms attempted by the Pakistani government. The United States has pressured Musharraf to address the Pakistani madrassas, which have long been producing ideologically steeped graduates who often find their way into Taliban and al-Qaeda ranks.

Before being captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan, American John Walker Lindh had attended a Pakistani madrassa. The same resume reference exists for Adam Gadahn (aka Azzam al-Amriki), the commonly used American mouthpiece for al-Qaeda's propaganda operation.

The madrassa problem is not new, but it may be coming to a head in Pakistan. In recent analysis, we have referred to the situation as The Madrassa Match and the Pakistani Tinderbox, and the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) is at the epicenter, if only by virtue of its proximity: The Pakistani capital city of Islamabad.

As Kanchan Lakshman notes, the the International Crisis Group (ICG) calculates that fully two thirds of Pakistan's thousands of madrassas are under the direct control of the Taliban's two primary backers.

A majority of the extremist seminaries that preach and support militant violence follow the Deobandi sect and are associated with the Wafaq-ul-Madaris, the main confederacy of seminaries. According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), "The two factions of the Deobandi political parties, JUI-Fazlur Rehman [Jamaat-e-Ulema-Islam faction headed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman] and JUI-Samiul Haq, run over 65% of all madrassas in Pakistan." Rehman and Haq are widely considered to be the primary backers of the Taliban. [Emphasis added.]

With regard to the Musharraf governments new concessions to the pro-Taliban Islamists of Lal Masjid Tuesday, there was at least some potential nuance or ambiguity in PML president Shujaat's words when he said, “No Muslim rejects the enforcement of the Islamic system in the country.” There perhaps may be at least some room there to suggest a potential difference between the government's interpretation and application of Sharia Law and that expected by the Islamists. Still, however, even this would only forestall the conflict that the Islamists appear to be itching for. It would not avert it.

More telling regardless, DAWN reported that Shujaat toured Lal Masjid's female madrassa, Jamia Hafsa, where 3,000 female 'students' have barricaded themselves, and "denied the presence of activists of banned outfits and illegal arms in the mosque." (Click the 'Watch the report' link at the UK's Channel 4 News for an excellent look at the Jamia Hafsa female madrassa.) The MNL president also "said that female students were studying in a good atmosphere." These are the same 3,000 girls and women (and mosque leaders) who proclaimed they were prepared for martyrdom through suicide bombings against the Musharraf government and "un-Islamic" vendors in Pakistan.

And the thousands of madrassas in Pakistan continue daily to pump out 'graduates' steeped in radical militant Islamist teachings and jihad. The Musharraf government does not attempt to paint a rosier picture of the madrassa situation, unlike its false proclamations of the Taliban driving foreign al-Qaeda fighters from Pakistani tribal areas.

The government's madrassa approach has been one of silence borne of a perceived inability to address it directly. This perceived helplessness in the face of pervasive indigenous radicalism drove the decision to cave to the Lal Masjid Islamists' demands, including the application of Sharia Law throughout Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Hamid Gul and Usama bin Laden bide their time patiently. Musharraf's caving to the pro-Taliban and pro-al-Qaeda Lal Masjid Islamists is but another cut in their 'Death By a Thousand Cuts' strategy. And patiently they will wait until the time is right for the final cut, which will almost certainly be a swift and violent insurgency initiated by a Madrassa Match in the Pakistani Tinderbox.