After his ill-advised dismissal of the chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court ignited a firestorm of violent protests, President General Pervez Musharraf may be banking on Islamic fanatics to create chaos in the nation’s capital, Islamabad. Many suspect that an engineered bloodbath that leads to army intervention, and the declaration of a national emergency, could serve as a pretext to postpone the October 2007 elections. This could make way for Musharraf’s dictatorial rule to continue into its eighth year – and perhaps well beyond.
This perverse strategy sounds almost unbelievable. Musharraf, who President George W. Bush describes as his “buddy” and supports an “enlightened moderate” version of Islam, wears religious extremists’ two close attempts on his life as a badge of honor. But his secret reliance upon the Taliban card – one that he has been accused of playing for years – increases as his authority weakens.
Signs of government-engineered chaos abound. In the heart of Islamabad, vigilante groups from a government-funded mosque, the Lal Masjid, roam the streets and bazaars imposing Islamic morality and terrorizing citizens in full view of the police. Openly sympathetic to the Taliban and tribal militants fighting the Pakistan army, the two cleric brothers who head Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdul Aziz and Maulana Abdur Rashid Ghazi, have attracted a core of banned militant organizations around them. These include the Jaish-e-Muhammad, considered to be the pioneer of suicide bombings in the region.
The clerics openly defy the state. Since January 21, baton-wielding, burqa-clad students of the Jamia Hafsa, the woman’s Islamic university located next to Lal Masjid, have forcibly occupied a government building, the Children’s Library. In one of their many forays outside the seminary, this burqa brigade swooped upon a house, which they claimed was a brothel, and kidnapped three women and a baby.