UPDATE: Reports in the Pakistan media suggest that the Lal Masjid leader has finally been arrested while trying to escape wearing a burqa. According to a BBC update:
The leader of a radical mosque besieged by Pakistani security forces in Islamabad has been caught trying to escape wearing a woman’s burqa. Security forces seized Abdul Aziz as he tried to leave the Red Mosque amid a crowd of women… He was wearing a burqa that also covered his eyes,” a security official told the AFP news agency about the cleric’s escape bid. “Our men spotted his unusual demeanour. The rest of the girls looked like girls, but he was taller and had a pot belly.“
ORIGINAL POST: Things are moving fast and the showdown at Lal Masjid, Islamabad that began this morning is now ready to turn into an even more real battle. The day took the lives of at least 10 people, possibly more. These included policemen, soldiers, by-standers, a journalist, and a number of Madrassah students. (For details see our earlier post and update comments on it, here).
The latest – and this keeps changing by the minute – is that in a mid-night press conference the government has given an ultimatum to the management of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) to surrender. There is no indication that they will. In the past things have always ended with ‘negotiated settlements.’ This time the likelihood of this happening is much less. A curfew has been imposed in the area. Tanks have been called in. So have special forces.
Metroblog Islamabad is doing a wonderful job of keeping abreast with breaking news. It reports, through Dawn TV, that 111 Brigade (Army) from Rawalpindi has already assembled around the mosque. Ambulances have been fully stocked. Hospitals are on alert. An ultimatum for time has been given (3.30 PST… NOW!). The entire area has been cordoned off.
Here is a news clip from ARYOne, broadcast earlier.
In an article written last week for The News, I had argued that inaction was not a solution and because of so many delays and policies of apeasement some confrontation was now becoming inevitable.
This episode [i.e., the Chinese massage parlor case] will further embolden the already violence-prone brigands at the two madressahs and we are likely to see an escalation in their demands as well as their tactics. Meanwhile, the government has once again demonstrated an inability and/or unwillingness to act decisively. The much-cherished ‘writ of the state’ continues to rot in tatters.
This, it seems, is what happened when earlier the Lal Masjid management incited this escalation in response to the government’s build-up of force around the mosque. In that article, I had gone on to argue that:
Just like standing still in the middle of the road at the sight of the blinding lights of a truck speeding towards it does not save the life of the stunned deer, doing nothing about this escalating crisis out of fear that doing anything will only make things worse is not going to help the government, or Pakistan. Something needs to be done, and done fast.
I had called in the article for the government to “act to judiciously dismantle militancy at Lal Masjid.” This situation has to be responded to. But the key word remains “act judiciously.” What is really important is how that action is taken. Further bloodshed should be avoided. At least minimized. One hopes that any action is intelligent action and all steps are taken to minimize loss of life. Not just because one does not wish to create needless ‘martyrs.’ Much more so because all life – and everyone’s life – is precious.
The technologies to undertake low casualty offensives are available. The will and sagacity to do so is needed. The test for the government – acting with force in the very center of the Federal Capital – is not only what it does, but how it does it.
Photo credit: Associated Press, B.K. Bangash.