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Rediff.com  » News » Musharraf's Bhindranwale

Musharraf's Bhindranwale

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April 09, 2007 14:27 IST
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was a Sikh cleric who became notorious in the 1980s.

Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister, and Giani Zail Singh, her home minister, allegedly tried to use Bhindranwale to create a split in the terrorist movement against the Government of India in 1981, which wanted to create an independent State for Sikhs, to be called Khalistan.

After some months of seeming cooperation with the government of India, Bhindranwale went out of control, joined the terrorists and took over the leadership of their so-called Khalistan movement.

He and his terrorist followers took shelter inside the Golden Temple in Amritsar in Punjab and, from there, spread havoc across Punjab and Delhi.

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence tried to take advantage of the movement to destabilise Punjab.

After showing patience for some months, Indira Gandhi was forced to send the Indian Army inside the Golden Temple in June 1984, in an operation code-named Blue Star, to neutralise Bhindranwale and his supporters.

They put up a fierce fight; many of them, including Bhindranwale, were killed. A part of the Golden Temple was damaged.

This caused widespread anger in the Sikh community, culminating in the assassination of Indira Gandhi by two of her bodyguards on October 31, 1984.

Cut to the present.

Maulana Mohammad Abdul Aziz is a Deobandi cleric who was not very well known in Pakistan. Nobody had heard of him outside Pakistan either. He is the head of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, where many civilian bureaucrats and military officers of the Pakistani capital used to go for prayers.

Since seizing power in October 1999, Musharraf and the ISI were using Aziz to discredit then Pakistan prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and other political opponents.

Since last year, Aziz has gone out of control.

He has assumed the leadership of the pro-Taliban elements in the non-tribal areas of Pakistan and has started a jihad against Musharraf for his cooperation with the United States.

The Lal Masjid has two madrassas attached to it -- one for boys and one for girls.

The madrassa for girls is called the Jamia Hafsa. Many students are children of the pro-Taliban tribals of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan.

The girls of the Jamia Hafsa project themselves as the future wives and mothers of suicide bombers. The daughters of many people of Pakistani origin from the United Kingdom and the US also study there.

Since January, the madrassa students -- boys and girls, the girls more ferociously than the boys -- have been on the warpath against Musharraf

The trouble began initially when the ISI ordered Islamabad municipal authorities to demolish some mosques located on routes generally used by Musharraf while moving between Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

The Pakistan government claimed these mosques were demolished because they were unauthorised constructions. The real reason was that the ISI feared terrorists targeting Musharraf could use these mosques as hideouts.

In protest against the demolition, the girls occupied a nearby library for children. The boys joined the protest. Rattled, the Pakistan government accepted their demand to have the demolished mosques reconstructed at its expense.

The girls have refused to vacate the library till the reconstruction is complete.

Aziz and his brother Abdul Rashid Ghazi, another cleric, have taken over the leadership of the anti-Musharraf agitation by madrassa students.

From inside the sanctuary of the Lal Masjid, they have been issuing statements praising Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the amir (chief) of the Taliban, and calling for a ban on television, demanding destruction of all video shops and arrest of prostitutes.

They attacked police vehicles deployed outside the mosque and took away their communication sets. They are now using these sets to communicate with pro-Al Qaeda and pro-Taliban elements in FATA.

They managed to get hold of FM radio equipment from FATA and started using them to make anti-Musharraf, pro-Laden and pro-Omar broadcasts to the residents of the capital.

They have started a web site for disseminating their propaganda.

There is a torrent of fatwas coming out of the mosque every day. One fatwa calls for Islamic rule in Pakistan in accordance with the Sharia.

Another calls for the release of all those arrested by the government in connection with the current agitation. A third calls for the release of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and other jihadis detained at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba.

A fourth calls upon all tribal madrassas to declare a vacation for their students so they can march to Islamabad and join the anti-Musharraf agitation and overthrow him, just as madrassa students from Pakistan marched to Kabul in April 1992, and helped the Afghan mujahideen overthrow Mohammad Najibullah, the then Afghan president.

Addressing the Friday congregation on April 6, Aziz announced he was setting up a religious court in Islamabad, and threatened suicide attacks if the government did not enact Islamic law and close down brothels and video stores within a month.

Musharraf is hesitant to act against the pro-Taliban and pro-Laden agitators in the capital, who have been flouting his authority for nearly three months.

There is estimated to be a total of 6,000 agitators inside the mosque and its madrassas.

Many students are children of non-commissioned officers of the Pakistani armed forces. Many of the NCOs frequent the Lal Masjid for prayers and are devoted to Aziz and his brother.

Musharraf is, therefore, not certain whether the lower- and middle-level members of his security forces would carry out his orders if he asked them to raid the mosque and the madrassas, end the agitation and arrest the two clerics.

More worrying is what would be the impact on the armed forces personnel if some of these children get killed in any military raid.

Musharraf, the commando who always brags he believes in leading from the front, is reluctant to do so in this case.

He has let his subordinates handle the agitation as best as they can.

Finding his writ increasingly challenged by jihadi terrorists in FATA, the NWFP and the Islamabad capital region and by Baloch nationalists in Balochistan, he has started doing what Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been doing since 2002 -- gallivanting all over the world and projecting himself as an important leader of the Islamic world whose advice is being increasingly sought by the international community.

Musharraf has started spending more time seemingly attending to the problems of other Muslim countries than to the dire problems of his own country.

B Raman
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