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VIEW: Pandora II


The last thing I expected on 27 July 2007 was to be blindsided with, what appeared to be a reenactment of events witnessed earlier in the month in Pakistan’s Capitol. The place was the same and so were some of the key players. The Islamabad mosque reopened for Friday prayers amid adequate security measures but its abrupt descent into chaos proved how naïve we all were to think that former anarchists had been tamed or their belligerent mood mellowed with time. The security gates could only check for fissile material and not the threat posed by the former students, ex-detainees and sympathizers associated with the Mosque and seminary.

Like a rerun of a bad film, the radicals demanded that the surviving rebel Maulana conduct Friday prayers and the denial of this demand rapidly led to civil unrest once more. Labeled simply as activists, they are in reality ‘activated’, a legacy of the two brothers. The police, possibly afraid of provoking further disturbance, stayed back initially. Well trained in disruptive behavior, the radicals, however, wasted no time in taking over the mosque once again and repainting it red. Ever resourceful, these people fashioned crude weapons out of whatever they could lay their hand on from the rubble of the seminary perhaps and reprised their role as the rebel force. Had the tragic blast not occurred nearby at the ‘Muzaffargarh Nihari House’ during the developing crisis, another prolonged confrontation with an ultimate siege seemed imminent. The one crucial difference between 3rd July and 27th July was the absence of supplies and ammo stashed within their former stronghold and therefore, had it come to a siege, the besieged only had a limited number of options; starvation and an appointment with the Maker, surrender and serve the long over due sentence.

Confronted by an unruly mob, the security forces began their customary tear gas shelling; the blast later dispersed the rebels from the mosque. Now that such kind of unrests is becoming a regular article, it is a good time to invest in water cannons. One also feels sorry for the media personnel who get the worst in these situations. First manhandled and thrown out of the mosque by radicals, the police also wrongly vented their anger on some media men. Clearly the police personnel require some kind of briefing (or a refresher course) as security and media form a cohesive unit in an ideal world and ordinarily are on the same side. And maybe the media could do with a good suit. Seems to me the police would think twice before roughing up a suited booted cameraman, reporter.

Seen from one angle, this could well have been another premeditated attack on the security forces that have been relentlessly targeted by either sympathetic radicals or independent minded militants since the termination of the mosque operation. Perhaps the small lull in these attacks was merely a preparation for this one and the deployment of a heavy security force was the intended target, smoked out through the strife in the mosque.

As already indicated by the sentiments of surviving students, the movement initiated by their leader was neither dead nor dying. It came out of remission at the first opportunity while periodic bombings could have been sustaining it on the side. I had pointed out earlier that the women and men, especially the innocent! women will lapse back into their former ways unless some one came forward and reconditioned their minds. If they continue to believe in the nobility of their deeds then their future course of action should not come as a surprise.

I naively wondered what would happen if the Maulana was released to lead prayers every Friday to appease the rabble. People were quick to point out that he would be whisked off by his followers who will then form a human chain and dare the State to take him away on pain of death. Previously, if the ‘catch and release’ strategy adopted by the government was motivated by public pressure, then it was a poor decision if an inevitable one. The ones who pleaded for the safe passage of armed radicals holed up within the mosque and cheered at the amnesty given to criminal men and women can now ponder on the mercifulness that bears such a steep price. The empathy some people have shown for those involved in everything base, from kidnappings to murders and now suicide bombings is as disturbing as their reasoning that the brothers had legitimate demands or their outrage at the certain collateral damage. It is a revelation to know that a legitimate demand exonerates criminal activities or that mowing down resistance is an iniquitous act. Such people vindicate the presence of radical elements and could ultimately be the undoing of all that this nation stands for.

The mosque is red and off limits yet again. Now it seems like a suitable color for a place that is somehow always the nexus of bloodshed. Desecrated once by the clerics and then by the followers, it has become painfully clear that something other than paint will be required to cleanse its image and purify the spirit. Who could have thought the analogy of a Pandora’s Box would one day be used in such a context.

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