The government attack on the mosque-school complex, which occupies two city blocks in the heart of the capital, Islamabad, was ostensibly designed to rescue the noncombatants inside, who reportedly numbered in the hundreds and who were allegedly being used as human shields.
Pakistani security forces are moving slowly, they say, in an attempt to avoid any unnecessary casualties. But they do mean to control the complex, as these two short reports from the Pakistani news service Dawn indicate:
Commandos attempt to wipe out remaining resistance at Lal Masjid
ISLAMABAD, July 11 (AP) Explosions and gunfire continued early Wednesday as Pakistani commandos tried to root out remaining militants inside Islamabad's Lal Masjid.Troops battle last Lal Masjid militants
Relatives of young women, men and children still inside waited behind army barricades around the mosque or inquired at morgues in a search for their missing loved ones as the government's siege of the complex entered its second week.
The army said more than 50 militants and eight soldiers died in the fighting Tuesday, including the mosque's cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi. The cleric's body was found in the basement of a Jamia Hafsa after a fierce gunbattle involving militants, senior Interior Ministry official Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema said.
ISLAMABAD, July 11 (AFP) Troops Wednesday battled to flush out militants making a last stand inside Islamabad's Lal Masjid after fighting that left at least 62 people dead.Some reports have mentioned people having been rescued from inside the mosque, but their sources may be unreliable. In any event, they cannot all be true, since the number rescued has variously been reported as 26, 87, and 134.
Heavy blasts and gunfire rocked the sprawling complex in central Islamabad as soldiers moved to clear the residence of Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who was shot dead Tuesday night.
The army said the operation was in its final phase.
Soldiers killed three more militants overnight.
The rebels, some allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, are using rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns against the security forces and even firing from the minarets.
“The final stage is underway in which the residential complex of Ghazi and his associates was to be cleared,” chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said.
The final death toll would not be available until the complex, which includes a warren of rooms inside a multi-storey madrassa, had been cleared, he said.
“There are still bodies lying there,” Arshad said. Arshad said at least 53 militants were killed while a soldier died overnight from injuries, taking the army toll to nine.
Perhaps we will find out more when the fighting stops and the smoke finally clears.
In the meantime, reports published in India claimed the actual death toll may be closer to 350, that the Pakistani government may have been responsible for the failure of the negotiations, and that whatever happens, President General Musharraf can expect a pat on the back from president commander-guy George W. Bush.
They may be speculating about everything but then again they are not entirely wrong.
For instance, several reports have claimed that the Army has requested 400 white funeral shrouds from a humanitarian aid organization. And then there's this:
Bush reaffirms support for Pervez Musharraf
CLEVELAND, July 11 (AP) President George W. Bush reaffirmed his confidence Tuesday in Pervez Musharraf as a strong ally in the war against extremists.Once again the irony is rich. The American commander-guy has recently sent his Deputy Secretary of State and King of the Death Squads, John Negroponte, along with a power-packed entourage, on a mission to Pakistan for a meeting with Musharraf, where Negroponte declared his position on Pakistan's key domestic issue.
"I like him and I appreciate him," Bush said in Cleveland.
Bush also called Musharraf a partner in promoting democracy and gave his unqualified support to Musharraf as "a strong ally in the war against these extremists."
"I am, of course, constantly working with him to make sure that democracy continues to advance in Pakistan," Bush said. (Posted @ 09:15 PST)
The question is whether Musharraf can run for re-election as President while retaining his position as General and Army Chief of Staff. The Pakistani Constitution says "no". It's in the process of being shredded. The chief justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was about to say "no" when Musharraf suspended him. Or tried to. And that's when things started to get really unstable.
The Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry story will rise to the top again soon, as the Lal Masjid situation clears, and even more instability appears to be in the cards. So, as a wise man once said, everything seems to be up in the air at this time.
But not for Negroponte, who announced that in his (and implicitly the American government's) opinion, this vital question -- which amounts to whether Pakistan is to become a democracy or remain a military dictatorship -- is a question General Musharraf should settle on his own!
So much for making sure that "democracy continues to advance in Pakistan"!
If you're interested in some serious deep background, here's a piece to pay attention to:
Fawzia Afzal-Khan @ Counterpunch : Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Burqa Brigade
When I arrived in Lahore in the blistering heat of June and began reading about the escalating public theatrics of this group of women operating as the moral militants of the Lal Masjid clerics, being a performance artist myself, I just could not resist trying to get into their space to see what they were all about.... and much, much more ...
Two days before a journalist friend of mine in Islamabad agreed to try and get me into the premises of the Lal Masjid and adjoining Jamia Hafsa seminary for women, the Burqa Brigade of this school raided what they claimed was a brothel owned and operated by a group of Chinese women and men in the city, and abducted them along with two Pakistani male customers enjoying their "massage" services in the middle of the night.
This abduction, meant to warn and thence curb "sexual depravity" in Pakistani society, naturally created an international incident, putting Chinese-Pakistani relations at risk.
I was more worried about how this turn of events would affect my own entry into the madrassa and the masjid.
Luckily for me -- never mind for the captives and the two governments -- the [women] and their male leaders decided to release the hostages in a gesture of goodwill as long as the warning served its purpose. And so I got in and did not realize that a day later would have been too late, since the Pakistani Army Rangers surrounded the masjid and adjoining Jamia Hafsa the very next day
Out of 13,000 registered madaris (or madrassahs) in Pakistan today, the Jamia Hafsa, according to Ghazi Abdul Rashid, is the only school that provides training in Islamic Studies to females. He claimed that this school was the largest Islamist Seminary for Women in the world, with a current student population of 6,000 students, mostly residential but many also day scholars from surrounding neighborhoods in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Both the male and female seminaries run by the Lal Masjid, with a total current student population of 10,000, are according to him, running only on donations from the Pakistani citizens who support their educational agenda of creating Islamic "ulema" or scholars.
He said it was untrue that these madrassas are funded by the CIA, ISI etc because now, post 9/11, things have taken a U-turn and the madrassas are being harassed by these same outfits and authorities which at one time supported them when it suited their purposes.
He pointed out that the real terrorists were the governments of the US and Britain and our own Pakistani government which supports their anti-Islamic agenda. "Did you know that after the 7/7/06 London bomb blasts, our female students were attacked by the Pakistani police just to please Tony Blair who told Musharraf he was waiting for a crackdown against us? The very next day after Blair made this comment, male police officers entered the premises of Jamia Hafsa and attacked our girls! No one spoke out against it!"
It is both to retaliate against the West's neo-imperialist and anti-Islamic policies, as well as against the corrupt Pakistani government and upper-classes which are all working with one another to promote the anti-poor and anti-Muslim agendas of the West, that outfits like the Jamia Hafsa and Lal Masjid have come into existence as the Voice of the Oppressed. At least, this is how Ghazi Abdul Rashid sees it.
"We are grateful to 9/11 for having shone the spotlight on us," he stated calmly. "We have been operating much prior to that event, but no one heeded us, although we were still labeled as extremist and intolerant. And then, all hell broke loose. The US attacked our innocent brothers and sisters next door, and later in Iraq" -- still continuing in an even tone, a half-smile playing about his face, softly now, "America has come so far to attack Afghanistan, killing thousands of innocent people, and when people react, you start labeling them as terrorists!"
Swiftly, he made the connections between his own brand of militancy and that of the Al-Qaeda types, "The media focuses only on the reaction, of people like us, which is visible. But these are reactions to some Very Big Actions. Brutal action is in the background."
Paradoxically, Umm Kulsoom seemed a stauncher women's libber, free of the yoke of husband and family, than any "westernized" Pakistani woman I'd ever met. "I would care not a whit if my husband left me tomorrow-he and all my other relatives don't want me in here, away from 'womanly' duties, they say they are so worried about me being in here; my sisters tell me they can't sleep at night worrying for my safety, thinking we'll be attacked by the police or army any day."
Looking back, her remarks were uncannily prescient. She smiled sardonically, "I tell them I am not worried. I have no trouble sleeping. Because I know I am on the right side. I fight for the victory of truth and justice. So I sleep like a baby."
Meanwhile, for family and friends of those still unaccounted-for, the waiting continues.
[ selected links ]
Guardian : Fears of heavier death toll as mosque siege 'nears end'
NYT : Scores Dead in Battle at Pakistani Mosque
WaPo : Raid at Islamabad Mosque Turns Long and Deadly
ABC News (Australia) : Pakistan mosque operation in final stage: army
Globe and Mail : Troops comb mosque for holdouts
Canada dot com : Pakistan counts costs of bloody end to mosque siege
VOA : Pakistani Military in Last Stages of Anti-Militant Operation at Mosque
eighth in a series