Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Pakistan: An Ally's Crisis Deepens, Part 1

In April I described the mounting crisis that was then starting to engulf Pakistan (parts one, two and three). At that time there were problems with Islamist radicals in Islamabad, the capital, protests across the country from lawyers against Predisent Musharraf, and in North-West Frontier Province the Pakistani Taliban were flexing their muscles and intimidating those not deemed "Islamic" enough. In all these areas the problems remain, but they have become worse.
 The Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad has a compound containing two madrassas (Islamic seminaries), called the Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Fareedia. Students from these seminaries had occupied the only children's library in the capital since January. The head imam at the Lal Masjid, Abdul Aziz, had threatened that any interference with his students would be met with a campaign of suicide attacks across Pakistan. Many of his students came from the troubled North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) which borders Afghanistan, and while the Lal Masjid students attacked stores selling Western DVDs and CDs in the capital, similar actions were being taken in NWFP.
 On March 26, students had kidnapped three women and a six month old child, and held them hostage, tied up with rope. The kidnap victims were accused of running a brothel and were only released three days later when they publicly recanted their "immoral behavior". On March 27, when police tried to arrest two female madrassa teachers as they went to work, armed students kidnapped two policemen. The policemen were released the following day. In April, the Lal Masjid established a "sharia court" in the complex.
On April 9, the first fatwa of the Lal Masjid sharia court was issued - targeting a woman member of the government. Tourism minister Nilofar Bakhtiar was accused of "lewd conduct", after she had been photographed being hugged by a paragliding instructor in Paris. Ms Bakhtiar had been raising money for victims of the earthquake of October 8, 2005, which had killed thousands. On May 20 Bakhtiar succumbed to pressure and resigned as tourism minister. She had been forced to resign from her post as head of the women's league within her party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), earlier in the month and had also received death threats.
 Negotiations were made with the Lal Masjid leaders by politician Chaudry Shujaat Hussain, at the behest of President Musharraf, but the mosque leaders refused to tone down their public demands for nationwide sharia law. Threats of suicide attacks continue to be made. The Lal Masjid has 2,500 students at two madrassas - the Jamia Hafsa and the Jamia Fareedia. In 2005, after the London 7/7 bombings, there was a crackdown on extreme madrassas. The Lal Masjid showed then that it would react violently to interference from the authorities. When police tried to enter the mosque complex (without removing their shoes) there were violent clashes, in which 35 girl students were injured.
On Friday, May 18, four policemen were kidnapped by students from the mosque complex as an act of retaliation for the arrests of 27 students. Two policemen were released the following day, but the other two were kept inside the complex. On Thursday May 24, the remaining officers were escorted from the building (pictured) by Abdul Rashid Ghazi, one of the two cleric brothers who run the complex. Ghazi said: "We have released the two policemen on Islamic and humanitarian grounds because their relatives came to us with requests to free them. We are not cruel people like the government. None of them contacted us for negotiations, nor did they release our remaining students."
 All four kidnapped officers claimed that weapons were being held inside the mosque complex. The authorities had been planning an operation to storm the complex, and to this end had drafted in 10,000 police constables from Punjab province. This action was conducted in a haphazard manner, with some officers sent to Islamabad on only an hour's notice. When they arrived at the capital, no accommodation had been made for them, and many were forced to sleep rough. Some had been housed at local mosques, but had been ejected when clerics learned that they were to be involved in a storming of the Lal Masjid complex.
 On the night of Saturday May 26, half of the Punjabi police left the capital. A group of 2,200 Punjabi police had taken up residence in the Pakistan Sports Complex last week, against the wishes of the center's administrators, who accused the police of vandalism. Doors of some rooms and toilets had been broken down, and water pumps and chairs at the main Jinnah Stadium had been vandalized. 5,000 police reservists remain in the capital, and police chiefs claim that the storming of the Lal Masjid has only been postponed, not cancelled.
 On Friday, May 25, Maulana Abdul Aziz, the senior cleric at the Lal Masjid announced that his students would attack shops selling audio CDs and videos unless these stores were closed. He said: "Our students can attack these outlets anytime because the deadline given to their owners had already passed."
 The deputy secretary of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), the coalition of Islamist parties with 66 members sitting in the parliament, accused Musharraf of deliberately manipulating the Lal Masjid situation. Liaquat Baloch claimed that the issue was being exploited to draw attention away from the other problems in the country.
 The Pakistan People's Party (PPP), headed by exiled former rime minister Benazir Butto, has made similar claims. The PPM spokesman said: "The situation in Islamabad is all contrived. The government wants to tell the west that Pakistan is in danger of being taken over by Islamists."
 The MMA has been involved in demonstrations by members of the judiciary against the government, but its aims are ultimately the same as those of the Lal Masjid - to enforce Sharia law throughout the country. Both the MMA and the Lal Masjid members support the Taliban. Earlier in May, the MMA had introduced a proposed bill to the National Assembly, called the Apostasy Act. Under the terms of this bill, any person who left Islam for another faith would be subjected to draconian punishments - death for a man, and life imprisonment for a woman. In addition, anyone convicted under this proposed law would lose legal custody of their children, and have their land and property confiscated. The draft bill was approved by the Assembly. Additionally, a law to water down Pakistan's blasphemy laws was rejected by the parliament.
 Pakistan's blasphemy laws are deliberately exploited to discriminate against minority groups. These rules were introduced in 1986 by the Islamist military dictator General Zia ul-Haq. Article 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) stipulates that anyone who insults prophet Mohammed can receive the death penalty. Originally, judges had the option to impose a death sentence or life imprisonment, but in the early 1990s, the law was altered so that the death penalty was mandatory for breaches of Article 295-C.
 Article 295-B of the blasphemy laws maintains that anyone who "defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom" shall receive life imprisonment. Once accused of blasphemy, there is no possibility of bail - the person is automatically held in custody until the trial is concluded. False accusations, particularly against minorities such as the Ahmadi sect of Islam and Christians, proliferate. In April an 11-year old boy was among five Christians detained under Article 295-B.
 In Lahore in Punjab province, a 79-year old Christian is currently facing the death penalty, after his neighbors who run the Jamil Mosque accused him of insulting Mohammed and burning the Koran. The mosque members took over Walter Fazal Khan's property and turned it into a madrassa. Mr Khan's 84-year old wife Gladys has been forcibly converted to Islam. She has been so traumatized by the experience that she is in hospital, unable to talk. Such abuses of the blasphemy laws and attacks upon Christians have recently escalated. On May 10 Christians living in Charsadda in North-West Frontier Province received letters, giving them a one-week deadline to convert to Islam.
 The demonstrations by lawyers began in March after Musharraf suspended Chief Justice Iftikar M Chaudhry from his post in the Supreme Court, accusing him of misuse of power. These have continued, assisted by the MMA and other opposition parties. On May 24, effigies of Musharraf were burned in Dera Ghazi Khan in North-West Frontier Province. The leaders of the Lal Masjid also support the suspended Chief Justice. Abdul Rashid Ghazi said: "We have sympathy for the chief justice's plight, which is because of the system that has allowed Musharraf to do this kind of thing. The man who is meant to give justice to the people is begging for justice himself."
 Chaudhry responded on Saturday May 26 to Musharraf's accusations in a speech that was broadcast on television. He did not mention the president by name, but said: "Abuse of power often occurs in a system of governance where there is centralisation of all power in one person." He claimed that the judiciary was a "bulwark against abuse of power". When the judiciary upholds laws that blatantly discriminate against citizens, Chaudhry's defense of the legal process in Pakistan sounds hollow.
There are two large parties in Pakistan's National Assembly which support President Musharraf - the PML-Q which was established by the president in 2001, and the MQM - the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. MQM has 48 seats in the National Assembly. The MQM was established in 1978 in Karachi, largest city in Pakistan, in Sindh province in the southeast of the country. Though avowedly secular, and an advocate of equal rights for women, the party has been linked to acts of terrorism and violence in Karachi. The party's leader, 53-year old Altaf Hussain, has been based in Edgeware in northwest London since 1992. He claims to live in Britain because of fears of assassination in Pakistan. He has been granted British citizenship.
 On May 12, there were riots in Karachi, in which up to 40 people were said to have been killed. The riots happened after Hussain ordered his supporters in the city to support Musharraf's decision to suspend Chief Justice Iftikar M Chaudhry. Supporters of Benazir Bhutto's PPP, clashed with MQM members, and shots were fired. The rioting lasted for an hour. MQM was condemned by the PPP and also the Islamist parties of the MMA for instigating the rioting. Mohammed Anwar, the London-based senior coordinator of MQM stated: "We were the only party in the city that had permission from the authorities to hold a rally in the city on Saturday, so why would we shoot out own supporters?" He blamed the MMA and PPP for starting the violence, saying: "It is the death squads of these parties who were responsible for the carnage, and nothing to do with MQM."
 The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), a party founded by cricketer and former playboy Imran Khan, announced its intention to sue the British government for "harboring" the leader of the MQM. A coalition of opposition parties, including the PTI, PPP and MMa announced that they would be making a legal challenge against Blair's decision to grant Altaf Hussain citizenship. The head of the MMA, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, has demanded that Altaf Hussain be extradited to Pakistan. It should be noted that Qazi Hussain Ahmad is a suporter of the Taliban and has frequently praised Osama bin Laden. The MQM released a video last week, apparently showing PPP guards opening fire on demonstrators.
 Altaf Hussain stands by his support of the President. He said: "Because of activities next door in Afghanistan as well as our own country, the Taliban is growing very strong. He is doing his level best to fight these groups. Musharraf is a very brave man. Only he can prevent the Talibanization of Pakistan."
 The internal intrigues of the squabbling factions within the National Assembly are insignificant compared to the very real threat of the country descending into the clutches of a Taliban-style regime. The march of Islamization is quickening its step, assisted by a general dissatisfaction with Musharraf.
 On Wednesday May 23, a report by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity announced that of all the countries in the "war on terror" alliance, Pakistan was the largest recipient of funds, gaining about $200 million per quarter. The Coalition Support Fund donated more than $3 billion to Pakistan between 2002 and 2006.
 There may be reasons to question the size of these sums, but as Pakistan is a nuclear power, the need to keep the nation out of the clutches of Islamofascists is paramount. As I will describe in Part Two, even though Musharraf has made moves to counteract the threat of both Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the threat of large parts of the nation being taken over by the current movements for Talibanization is becoming increasingly real.

Adrian Morgan is a British based writer and artist who regularly contributes in Family Security Matters. His essays also appear in Western Resistance, Spero News and He has previously contributed to various publications, including the Guardian and New Scientist and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society.

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