President Musharraf must have by now realised that it is easier to create a Frankenstein but so much harder to face it. He was left with little option but to act against mullahs and jehadis that had converted Lal Masjid, in the heart of Islamabad, into a fortress that posed a serious challenge to state authority. He did try through interlocutors to convince Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the Islamist cleric, who led the Masjid'sconfrontation with Government to arrive at a negotiated settlement but the cleric apparently supported and guided by Al-Qaeda refused to relent. The Government rejected out of hand Ghazi'sdemand that all jehadis, including foreigners who had joined him some time back, be given a free passage. Musharraf insisted that all those who surrender, barring women and children, would be arrested. He showed courage in ordering the storming of the mosque and, for once, demonstrated that he was in control since his infamous encounter with the suspended Chief Justice Chaudury who had converted his confrontation with the President into a mass movement for democracy and constitutionalism. Since most of the students belonging to two madrasas inside the campus were allowed to move out, loss of life was much less than what was apprehended when the standoff began.
Although, there has been suicide attacks in NWFP and Waziristan claiming lives of soldiers and civilians, the backlash of the attack on Masjid is rather muted. There is no way to say what shape the situation will take in weeks and months ahead. ?Operation Silence? has all the parallels of ?Operation Blue Star? against militants holed up in Golden Temple complex way back in 1984. Military action against places of worship is fraught with grave danger of inviting the wrath of religious fundamentalists. It is unbelievable that New Delhi was unaware of arms and ammunition smuggled into the Golden temple and training of terrorists under the guidance of a former Major General.
The Frankenstein she had created to serve her party'snarrow partisan interests consumed Mrs Indira Gandhi. She too had limited options after the situation in Punjab went out of hand and there was a massive public outcry against Government inaction against terror. She sent in the army to flush out pro-Khalistani elements. Initially there was peace in Punjab but soon fierce terror struck Punjab for about a decade after the painful storming of the temple followed by Mrs Gandhi'sassassination and anti-Sikh riots.
Pakistani media has reported that Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, founder of the banned Harkut-ul-Mujahideen and one time associate of Mullah Omar and a notorious jehadi with close ties to Al-Qaeda, was part of the team President Musharraf set up to negotiate with Gazi. In fact, he was seen inside the car of the leader of the team, Chaudhary Shujjat Hussein, president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League.
Khalil is one of five signatories to the ?fatwa? issued in 1998 by Osama bin Laden against the ?enemies of Islam?. He and others of his ilk are still around inciting Muslims to take to jehad. Khalil is on India's?most wanted? list supplied to Pakistan several years ago.
Islamabad'sstand has been that the Government was unaware of the terrorist'swhereabouts. How come, he was made a member of the negotiating team? Is Washington unaware of Musharraf'sdouble-faced policy? Of course, US too played a big role in encouraging jehad during the cold war. What is more painful is that despite wide publicity given to the presence of Khalil, there is no information of what the Government of India proposes to do in this matter. UPA Government'sinaction on the issue is yet another proof that it is soft towards Islamic terrorism.
Defending his decision to storm Lal Masjid, President Musharraf declared that he was determined to root out terrorism. This announcement sounds shallow in the context of Maulana Khalil'sinvolvement in the negotiations with clerics turned jehadis. Fighting terrorism in Pakistan while encouraging it against India and Afghanistan will not do. Musharraf may have already discovered that the evil forces he unleashed against India will create problems for him back home. The peace treaty he signed with pro-Taliban elements in Waziristan was severely criticised as an attempt to buy peace with jehadis. The agreement is now under strain as a reaction against action in Lal Masjid. There were several suicide attacks on military convoys killing two dozen troops in Waziristan. Taliban Shoora is reported to have distributed pamphlets announcing their decision to end the agreement. Islamabad too is said to be concerned about the worsening security scenario in the troubled area and is contemplating sending more troops to Waziristan.
Although the Pakistani middle class'sresponse to the ?Operation Silence? is not very hostile, many Pakistanis believe that the prolonged drama preceding the storming of the masjid was aimed at diverting public attention from the multiple crises Musharraf faces.
However the episode has served to bring in sharper focus the Government'stroubles rather than make them go away. Apprehensions that Pakistan will soon be littered with many invisible ?Lal Masjids? and ?Hafsa Brigades? are not totally unfounded. The emergence of the concept of ?female fidayeen? is a key innovation of the jehadis.
Another devastating aspect of the masjid episode is the elevation of clerics to ?fidayeen?. Ghazi who was killed in the ?Operation Silence? is being hailed as a hero and ?Embrace martyrdom like Ghazi? is the favourite slogan of the fundamentalists. Musharaff has miserably failed to integrate clerics into the mainstream. Mullahs have now the audacity to challenge the writ of the state. Is military-mullah alliance on the verge of collapse? Will Pakistan distance itself from jehad?
The massive response to Chief Justice Chaudury'svisits to Lahore and other places has shown that masses are fed with military rule and want revival of democracy. They want constitutionalism and rule of law, free and fair elections. They ask Musharraf to shed his uniform before seeking re-election as President. There is also a strong demand for holding parliamentary elections before the presidential polls. These issues may not have directly anything to do with Lal Masjid but are in sharper focus now than before. What turn Pakistan'spolitics will take is hard to tell. It will largely depend on the decision of the Supreme Court in the Chief Justice of Pakistan'scase. Will the court bend with the popular anti-Government mood or will it bail out the President?