Date: Tuesday 22 May 2007
Subj: Pakistan in crisis: situation critical
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal
In Pakistan sectarian tensions are soaring, persecution of Christians is intensifying, lawlessness is increasing, security and liberty are failing fast, Islamisation and Talibanisation are taking root in Islamabad, and in the midst of Musharraf's political crisis a stand-off at the Lal Masjid approaches boiling point.
PAKISTAN IN CRISIS: SITUATION CRITICAL
- the inevitable consequence of systematic Islamisation.
Pakistan's present state of crisis is not going to be a quick violent spasm because it is not an anomaly. Rather, it is the inevitable consequence of at least two and a half decades of systematic state and Saudi sponsored (Sunni) Islamisation which has continued post 9/11 despite all the rhetoric to the contrary.
Since 9/11 Pakistan's President Musharraf has persistently played two hands at once. Musharraf, a military general who seized power in a military coup, has allied Pakistan with the US in the War on Terror in exchange for military aid. Meanwhile he has allied himself to the pro-Sharia, pro-Taliban, Islamist Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA: an alliance of six Islamist parties) in exchange for votes in the National Assembly.
The MMA, an avowed enemy of secularisation, progress and "enlightened moderation", is a minor party that has become disproportionately powerful because it holds the balance of power in Pakistan's National Assembly. Yet this situation was engineered by Musharraf himself, for as was noted in the WEA RLC News & Analysis posting of 12 December 2006 entitled "Pakistan: Musharraf's Manoeuvring - could see persecution escalate through 2007", the elections were rigged specifically to ensure that Islamists would be present in force in the National Assembly for Musharraf's purposes. (Link 1)
As President Musharraf makes quid pro quo deals with the MMA to advance his agenda, which is to stay in power and in uniform, he empowers the MMA to advance its agenda, the Islamisation of Pakistan.
Further to this, President Musharraf has always relied on evidence of domestic Islamic fundamentalism, agitation and terrorism to legitimise his military dictatorship, especially in Western eyes. For five years Musharraf has preached "enlightened moderation" while at the same time he has abjectly failed to bring about madrassa reform, rein in sectarian violence (Sunni vs Shiite), or prevent Islamisation and Talibanisation from taking root in Islamabad.
The situation may well have passed the point of no return. Pakistani society is fracturing violently along political, sectarian and ethnic lines; even the military is showing signs of political and ethnic fracture. Islamists (Sunni) are exploiting the present lawlessness and political instability to advance their agenda. So we are seeing persecution escalate to the point that Christians are being driven from their homes and extreme Islamist legislation is progressing through the National Assembly without objection.
Whilst this might sound alarmist, it is highly probably that before this year is over Pakistan's Christians (comprising three percent of a population of 160 million) may well be facing catastrophe - just like their Iraqi brethren - as their liberty and security situation rapidly morphs from difficult but hopeful to catastrophic and out of control, thanks to lawlessness, sectarianism, Islamisation and political paralysis. The short and medium term future for the beleaguered Christian minority is looking very bleak indeed.
SECURITY AND LIBERTY FAILING FAST
SECURITY: LAWLESSNESS AND SECTARIANISM SOARING
As a member of a minority community, Pakistan's founding father Muhammed Ali Jinnah, a Shia, was keen to establish religious liberty as a core principle of Pakistan. Likewise the Bhuttos, as minority Shiites, have stood on a platform of religious liberty, equality and secularism.
However over the past two and a half decades Saudi Arabia and the USA have both pumped money into Pakistan to advance their own interests. The Saudis started investing massively in Sunni-majority Pakistan after Iran's 1979 Islamic (Shiite) Revolution to create a Sunni fundamentalist bulwark against Shiism on Iran's eastern border. The USA started investing in Pakistan in 1980, funding the mujahideen's jihad against the Communists.
The combined effect is that Pakistan has been turned into a veritable factory for Sunni fundamentalist Deobani and Wahhabi ideologues and mujahideen. But Pakistan is (like Iraq but to a lesser degree) a Sunni-Shia sectarian fault-line state. Pakistan has the world's second largest Shiite population after Iran. (Pakistan's Shiite population is estimated at up to 20 percent. Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia both have Shiite populations of around 15 percent). Deobandi and Wahhabi Sunni Islam condemns Shiites as apostates. So as Saudi-sponsored, vehemently anti-Shia, Sunni fundamentalism has taken root and grown in Pakistan since the 1980s, Sunni vs Shiite sectarian tension and violence escalated, with Saudi Arabia and Iran funding and training their proxies in the struggle for dominance in the Muslim world.
According to sources as many as 4,000 people are estimated to have died in Sunni vs Shiite sectarian fighting in Pakistan in the last two decades and the conflict is intensifying. Pakistani Shiites have historically been linked to Najaf (Iraq), not Iran. But the explosion of Sunni-sponsored, anti-Shiite Wahhabism led many Pakistani Shiites to seek training in Qom (Iran). Sectarian violence has further escalated since the war in Iraq took on sectarian tones. And as is common, when Sunni vs Shiite sectarian violence escalates, so does violence against Christians.
On Friday 6 April, Sunni militants shot at Shiites as they were gathered at their mosque in Parachinar, about 150 miles southwest of Peshawar, the capital of the highly Islamised and Talibanised North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Normally Pakistan's minority Shiite communities absorb the violence against them, which includes targeted killings and mosque bombings. But Parachinar is a majority Shiite town and this time the Shiites retaliated violently, burning down some 400 Sunni-owned shops and homes. At least 40 people were killed and more than 40 were wounded. (Link 2) (This may well have been a deliberate attempt to provoke a Shiite response that would elicit an even more violent and wider Sunni "response".)
Christians in Charsadda district on the north-eastern outskirts of Peshawar have since been threatened with severe consequences if they fail to either flee or convert to Islam. Over recent months local market stalls trading in the "un-Islamic" (such as music, videos, fashion, and haircuts) have been bombed and threatened. Likewise, girls in Charsadda and neighbouring Mardan districts have been threatened with "consequence" if they don't stop attending school. Girls Higher Secondary School at Gumbat, Mardan district, was bombed in the early morning of Friday 4 May. The region is being systematically cleansed, purged of all that is un-Islamic; Islamised by force and threat of death. The situation for Christians in Charsadda and throughout NWFP is intolerable. (Link 3)
But Islamisation and Talibanisation are no longer problems confined to NWFP or western Pakistan in general. Islamisation and Talibanisation are spreading eastwards across Pakistan like an air-borne virus. Pakistan's national capital and nerve-centre, Islamabad, and the National Assembly are both succumbing.
LIBERTY: APOSTASY ACT 2006
On 9 May, the MMA tabled its Apostasy Act 2006 in Pakistan's National Assembly. According to this Act, a male apostate (one who leaves Islam) would receive the death penalty and a female apostate would be imprisoned for life or until she 'repents'. Apostates would also forfeit their property and lose legal custody of their children. The testimony of just two adult witnesses would be sufficient grounds for conviction in apostasy cases.
Pakistan's Daily Times reports: "The government did not oppose the bill and sent it to the standing committee concerned. If passed, the bill will over-ride all other laws in force at present. The bills' section 4 states that apostasy can be proved if the accused confesses to the 'offence' in court or at least two adult witnesses appear in court against the accused.
"Section 5 states that the court should give a proven apostate at least three days or a month at the maximum to return to Islam. If he refuses, he should be awarded the death sentence.
"Section 6 states that a pardoned apostate can face rigorous or simple imprisonment, extendible to two years, if he commits the offence for the second or third time. In case of the fourth commission he will be liable to death sentence, it adds.
"Section 8 proposes suspending all rights of the accused over property. If the accused is awarded death, the part of the property, which he owned before committing the offence, will be transferred to his Muslim heirs. It states that the property rights of a female apostate will remain suspended till her death or penitence. In case of her penitence, the rights will be restored and after death, her property will be treated the same way as adopted for male apostates." (Link 4)
Shockingly, the National Assembly "did not oppose the bill". Furthermore during the same session the Assembly rejected a draft bill moved by NA minority member Mr BP Bhandara which sought to amend the existing blasphemy law.
ISLAMISATION AND TALIBANISATION OF ISLAMABAD
Government inaction (or complicity) has enabled Sunni fundamentalists to establish themselves in the heart of Islamabad. Only about a mile away from the Prime Minister's Secretariat, the Supreme Court and the Parliament is a mosque-madrassa complex run by two hard-line, Sunni fundamentalist brothers. The complex comprises the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) which is run by Maulana Abdul Aziz, and two madrassas: the Jamia Hafsa (for burqa-clad girls) and Jamia Faridia (for bearded male students), which are run by his brother Abdur Rashid Ghazi.
The madrassas, which are believed to be linked to domestic and international terrorism, have some 7,000 students. The brothers have established a Sharia Court, issued fatwas and launched a city-wide campaign against "vice".
According to Kanchan Lakshman, writing for Asia Times, Pakistan's Capital Development Authority has reportedly declared 87 mosques in Islamabad to be illegal, some of them built on public land. After the authorities demolished several illegally built mosques the warriors of the Lal Masjid complex (which was built illegally on public land) sprang into action.
After a brigade of armed Jamia Hafsa burqa-clad females kidnapped "prostitutes", held them hostage, forcibly and illegally occupied a children's library and threatened wide-scale suicide bombings and terror, the President of the ruling Muslim League (PML-Q), Chaudhry Shujat, entered into negotiations with Abdul Aziz and Ghazi Abdul Rasheed in search of a "peaceful settlement". (Link 5)
According to Pervez Hoodbhoy's comment in the Guardian, "Chaudhray described the burka brigade kidnappers as 'our daughters', with whom negotiations would continue and against whom 'no operation could be contemplated'.
"Clerics realise that the government wants to play ball. Their initial demand - the rebuilding of eight illegally constructed mosques that had been knocked down by Islamabad's civic administration - became a call for enforcement of Sharia law across Pakistan. In a radio broadcast on April 12, the clerics issued a threat: 'There will be suicide blasts in the nook and cranny of the country. We have weapons, grenades, and we are expert in manufacturing bombs. We are not afraid of death.' " (Link 6)
Kanchan Lakshman (Asia Times) reports the cleric's demands include, "the rebuilding of demolished mosques in Islamabad; immediate declaration of sharia (Islamic) law in Pakistan; immediate promulgation of the Koran and Sunnah in the courts of law; and 'immediate discontinuation to declaring jihad as terrorism by the government, as it is the great sacred religious duty of Muslims' ".
According to G Parthasarathy, a columnist with the Daily Pioneer, "The Government has agreed to reconstruct the seven illegal mosques it had pulled down. It has also agreed to act against alleged centres of prostitution. The clerics have refused to close down their shari'ah court and remain firm on their demands for the introduction of shari'ah." (Link 7)
Kanchan Lakshman (Asia Times) reports: "The Wafaq-ul-Madaris, Pakistan's main and influential confederacy of seminaries, which runs about 8,200 institutions, has supported the extremist program of the Lal Masjid brigade. The confederacy's secretary general, Qari Mohammad Hanif Jhalandari, announced on April 15: 'We are in complete support of their four demands - to enforce the sharia in Pakistan, have the government rebuild all the mosques it destroyed, close down all dens of vice across the country, and change the Women's Protection Act in line with the Koran and Sunnah.' "
The government is now in the process of providing land for the demolished mosques. As Parthasarathy notes (Daily Pioneer), Islamists around the nation will be watching and learning from the La Masjid and are likely to follow suit. "The process of Talibanisation moving eastwards from the NWFP appears to have commenced. In Lahore, the student wing of the Jamat-e-Islami, the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, has beaten up 'un-Islamic' students and proclaimed 'Islamisation' of the campus."
And the stand-off with the Lal Masjid is far from over. In fact the situation is approaching boiling point. On 18 May students abducted four police officers (two have since been released). Students have barricaded the streets, declaring that if the authorities make any moves against the complex, then Islamabad will face jihad. According to the Pakistan Tribune the mosque's loudspeakers are playing jihadi songs, and pamphlets have been distributed claiming that some 500 members of the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Jahngvi have entered Islamabad in preparation for jihad against the government forces who they falsely claim are largely Shiite. (Link 8)
Pervez Hoodbhoy (Guardian) writes, "In a sense, the inevitable is coming to pass. Until a few years ago, Islamabad was a quiet, orderly, modern city no different from any other in Pakistan. Still earlier, it was largely the abode of Pakistan's elite and foreign diplomats. But the rapid transformation of its demography brought with it hundreds of mosques with multi-barrelled audio cannons mounted on minarets, as well as scores of madrasas, illegally constructed in what used to be public parks and green areas. Now, tens of thousands of their students with prayer caps dutifully chant the Qu'ran all day. In the evenings, they roam in packs through the city's streets and bazaars, gaping at store windows and lustfully ogling bare-faced women.
"The stage is being set for transforming Islamabad into a Taliban stronghold. When Musharraf exits - which may be sooner rather than later - he will leave a bitter legacy that will last for generations, all for a little more taste of power."
MUSHARRAF'S EXIT ?
Musharraf is facing a major political crisis caused by his 9 March suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. (Link 9)
This is not a trivial hiccup or passing spasm either. Stratfor Intelligence comments: ". . . with each passing day Musharraf appears to be losing his hold on power. Musharraf's own constituency, the military, is beginning to show signs of concern -- even his close generals are now privately admitting things have gotten out of hand." (Geopolitical Diary, 16 May)
Pakistan's descent into chaos is now virtually guaranteed, as Sunnis provoke and clash with Shiites, Islamists provoke and clash with "enlightened moderates" and secularists, and Islamisation and Talibanisation become entrenched in the very heart of the nation.
Once again, it looks like Pakistanis will be left in need of military "rescue". No doubt there will be plenty of sponsors keen to hand Musharraf (or whichever general is in charge) yet more financial aid for the sake of "stability". It is not surprising that some commentators are wondering if the entire Lal Masjid affair is "a government ruse". (Link 10)
1) "PAKISTAN: MUSHARRAF'S MANOEUVRING
- could see persecution escalate through 2007"
By Elizabeth Kendal, WEA RLC News & Analysis, 12 December 2006
2) 40 Killed in Pakistan in Sectarian Clashes. 7 April 2007
Gun battles flare between Sunni, Shiite Muslims, homes burned in Northwestern Pakistan. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/04/07/world/main2660296.shtml
40 Killed, 70 Hurt in NWFP
Azhar Masood & Agencies
PESHAWAR, 8 April 2007
3) Pakistan Christians demand help. BBC 16 May 2007
WEA Religious Liberty Prayer (RLP) 429, 16 May 2007
Pakistan: Christians Defying Purge in the NW Frontier Province
4) — fails to oppose death for apostasy draft. 9 May 2007
LAL MASJID and the ISLAMISATION OF ISLAMABAD
Profile: Islamabad's red madrassa
By Syed Shoaib Hasan. 28 March 2007
Anti-madrassa protest in Pakistan. 5 April 2007
'Their business is jihad' 20 March 2007
Declan Walsh visits Islamabad's Red Mosque, a hotbed of Islamic militancy at the heart of Pakistan's capital.
Three excellent pieces on the Islamisation and Talibanisation of Islamabad.
5) More muscle to Pakistan's madrassas
By Kanchan Lakshman 25 April 2007
This report includes details of US financial aid to Pakistan, "US$4.75 billion to date".)
6) Islamabad succumbs
Pakistan's president is doing nothing to prevent the country's capital from becoming a Taliban stronghold. By Pervez Hoodbhoy. 17 May 2007
7) Talibanisation of Islamabad. By G Parthasarathy
8) 500 members of banned outfit enter Federal Capital
20 May 2007. http://www.paktribune.com/news/index.shtml?178762
Lal Masjid students held positions at mosque, Jamia Hafsa
20 May 2007. http://www.paktribune.com/news/index.shtml?178763
9) Pakistan judge: Fight for rule of law. 5 May 2007
How Pakistan's Sacked Judge Became a National Hero
By Ghulam Hasnain in Karachi for TIME. 8 May 2007
10) 'Lal Masjid standoff a government ruse'
By Khalid Hasan. 22 May 2007