Tuesday, July 10, 2007

U.S. Reportedly Behind Musharraf Crackdown on Red Mosque

Unsurprisingly, it is being reported that the U.S. embassy pressured Musharraf to give no quarter to the holdouts at the extremist mosque/madrassa complex in Islamabad.

A little appreciated factoid is that the Red Mosque happens to be the house of worship for many top Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officials.

Musharraf -- who overnights in military barracks for security purposes -- will now have to be even more wary of reprisals following the violent end to the mosque siege.

A last-minute intervention by Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf ended nine hours of negotiations seeking a peaceful end to the siege of the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad.

Apparently saying he was "heavily under duress from his allies", the president in the early hours of Tuesday instead ordered in the military to end the seven-day saga. Unconfirmed reports even say that Musharraf personally led the assault, along with Corps Commander Rawalpindi Lieutenant-General Tariq Majid. The media were barred from the mosque's immediate vicinity.

Asia Times Online contacts believe that Musharraf was referring to Washington, which has in the past few months stepped up pressure on its partner in the "war on terror" to take action against al-Qaeda, the Taliban and foreign militants inside Pakistan.

When the siege of Lal Masjid began a week ago, the administration of US President George W Bush was fulsome in its praise that something was being done, as the mosque is a known supporter of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and even a safe haven for militants.

According to the contacts, Musharraf said, "They want targets in Operation Silence," referring to the code name for Tuesday's final assault on the mosque. That is, the militants should be arrested or killed. ...

Although the offensive in Pakistan's federal capital - which has captured international headlines - is finally playing out, one question remains. Who is the real director of the drama? Observers and analysts believe there might be several - one running the show separately in Lal Masjid, and others pulling strings from the outside. If so, there can be no clean, simple end to the saga.

The next episode has already begun in Batkhaila, North West Frontier Province, where the pro-Taliban Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Moham has clashed with the military and seized all highways in the area, including on the Silk Road leading to China.

It is only a matter of time before the US-led "war on terror" formally crosses the Pakistani border. ...

Lengthy talks before the military assault led to an agreement - at about 2am - on a safe passage for Ghazi. This was couched in terms of an "honorable arrest" - brief protective custody.

The high-profile negotiating team included the Grand Mufti of Pakistan, Mufti Rafi Usmani; Minister of Religious Affairs Ejaz ul-Haq; and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, a former premier and president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League.

At this point, Ghazi said he would consult with his colleagues, and Hussain went off to confer with Musharraf for final approval of the agreement. Musharraf had earlier approved safe passage as an option. ...

Asia Times Online contacts claim that the situation was complicated by the sudden appearance of a delegation of members of Parliament belonging to the government's coalition partners, the Muttahida Quami Movement. They are believed to have met with a US official at his official residence, after which the situation changed within an hour.


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