The illegal seizure of Red Mosque in Islamabad by frustrated clerics, its prolonging by Musharraf and final assault which resulted in more than 100 deaths has attracted worldwide attention. It has raised disturbing questions and issues which require detailed examination.
One aspect is the games which Musharraf, the Pakistani President, has been playing to serve his own objectives. He is facing difficult times because of the challenge his ouster of Chief Justice has created. He delayed the storming of the mosque to divert the attention of Pakistani people from his own predicament. Besides this he had to refurbish his image in the eyes of the West and the distant controller George Bush as a strong bulwark against hardliners and extremists. This was a God-given opportunity which he used fully. This also enabled him to endear himself to the secularists and the so-called liberals, who were sometime back baying for his blood because of his denying genuine democracy to his country. Now they appear to be a mollified lot on his tough posture against hardliners.
Another aspect which deserves cool consideration of thinking Muslims everywhere is the definite trend of rising extremism in Pakistan. For the last two decades the world has been witnessing religious discord, sectarian fightings, merciless killings and a lot of unsavoury things in the name of religion, which does not have anything to do with the letter and spirit of Islam. Mosques have been holy places to bring together all believers, where they worship Allah with a spirit of devotion, humility and unity. Alas they were being used to sow the seeds of hatred and to separate brother from brother. Some of them sow even bloodshed. There was a time in recent past when conduct of daily prayers also was not possible without police protection. The level of hatred was so heightened that groups killed each other even in graveyards. This was the most unfortunate, shameful and considerable misuse of Islam for stoking hatred and achieving personal ends.
Now we have seen, may it be the last scene, the sordid bloody drama in Red Mosque. Was it proper for Maulana Abdul Aziz, Chief of Lal Masjid and his fiery younger brother Abdur Rashid Ghazi to take law in their hands? No doubt fighting the increasing waves of vices and immorality is the duty of every good Muslim. But the methods which they adopted, the coercion they resorted to, and the interference they made in the working of law and order machinery is certainly intolerable. They even went to the extent of abducting Chinese expatriates and Pakistani policemen. Islam does not allow adoption of such methods. This is not fighting vices but inviting trouble and losing the sympathy of the common man. Islamists everywhere, who have a bad press and no dearth of denigrators, should take stock of things deeply, decide the correct strategies they should adopt, analyse their strengths and weaknesses and chart out a roadmap for avoiding pitfalls and seeking people’s support for achieving their objectives. It is a must that they should adopt only transparent, legal, moral and democratic methods for bringing out the desired changes in the society. It was on quite expected lines that Musharraf suddenly terminated the ongoing negotiations for a peaceful settlement and ordered the storming of Red Mosque and Jamia Hafsa. If he wanted he could have certainly ended the standoff peacefully and without bloodshed.
The general apathy of the civil society and its institutions and opinion makers in this unfortunate conflict is highly deplorable. We would be correct in suspecting that long periods of suppression of democratic institutions in Pakistan have rendered them ineffective. Perhaps no one is left there with courage to call a spade a spade. The Red Mosque bloodshed confirms this suspicion.
Lal Mosque bloodshed has done irreparable damage to the image of Islam, and a section of religious minded Muslims and the Pakistani regime. The sooner the corrective measures are taken the better.