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The Red Mosque saga

By Syed Atiq ul Hassan - posted Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Since the creation of Pakistan, the state has failed to secure a political direction for the country. The country, which was created in the name of protecting the civic and religious rights of (the then) Indian Muslims, has been unable to develop strong governance based on democraty and a justice system with the dominant values of freedom of speech, faith and other civic values.

The nation, which has been mostly ruled by the armed forces during the last 50 years, has now totally disintegrated into religious and ethnic sections. The traditional madarsa system of Islamic education for the underprivileged - who are in the majority and could not afford to go in the public schools - has produced religious extremists.

Former army dictator General Zia ul Haque, 1977-88, supported the US-financed Islamic extremist Taliban in Afghanistan in their resistance against the former Soviet Union occupation of Afghanistan. Over ten years this support to the Taliban in Afghanistan helped to import a gun culture and religious radicalism into Pakistan via the migration of four million Afghan refugees into Pakistan.


The murder of General Zia ul Haq and his companions in a mysterious plan crash brought 10 years of an immature democratic government during the 90s. But before democracy could flourish history repeated itself. Once again, in 1998, another dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, sacked the civil government and brought back army rule.

Although the US and other western governments condemned the General Musharraf’s army regime he was asked to support the post 9-11 US-led operation in Afghanistan. This time it was against the Taliban in the name of the war against terror.

Altogether the two decades of dictatorial rule by General Zia and General Musharraf served US interests in Afghanistan at the cost of importing Afghan-based religious extremism into Pakistan.

Recently there has been an encounter and a seige between Pakistani security forces and militant Islamic students at the Red Mosque in Islamabad. A Taliban-style movement was headquartered in the mosque, supported by thousands of students, which wanted to impose strict Islamic law.

The Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) is built on land awarded to the occupants by General Zia ul Haque. The mosque and associated madarsa have flourished during General Musharraf’s current regime. One of the occupants of Lal Masjid who was killed in the final showdown at the mosque was Ghazi Abdul Rasheed. He had close relations with Mr Eijaz ul Haque - the son of General Zia ul Haque and the current Minister of Religious Affairs of Pakistan.

It can be seen then, that there is a history and obvious reasons for the existence of religious extremism and militancy in Pakistan.


It is quite understandable that when commenting on Lal Masjid operation and religious extremism in Pakistan Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said, “it's quite a deeply embedded problem with a long, long history going, if you like, right back to 1947. It's a deep problem in Pakistan.”

Since 1958 when Field Marshal General Ayub Khan, the first instigator of army rule, seized the emerging democracy of a newly created Pakistan, the people there have never been given an opportunity to establish civil rule. A civil rule that could eventually maintain a strong democratic system where there could be the supremacy of law and order, justice and the security of the people and their properties.

The war of words, threats and exposition of power between the state and the custodian of Lal Masjid and its affiliated premises has been going on for the last six months.

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About the Author

Syed Atiq ul Hassan, is senior journalist, writer, media analyst and foreign correspondent for foreign media agencies in Australia. His email is

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