The Red Mosque

Last night the best source I found for regular updates of the breaking story of the Pakistani military’s attack on the Red Mosque was Metroblogging Pakistan. I followed a link from independent blogger Bill Roggio’s article on the beginning of the military attack. Leading MSM sources were reporitng the same facts about the initial assault as Roggio, but Metroblogging’s observer ‘backpacker’ was putting out regular updates that were – as far as I could judge – more informative and entirely professional. For example, initial reports that leader Ghazi Abdur Rasheed had been captured were properly labeled so that the news that he had not been captured did not come as a surprise. Later reports of his death were again correctly worded but expanded as confirming information came to hand. Here is the critical post:

According to the latest information, Abdur Rasheed Ghazi, who was leading the militant resistance from within the Lal Masjid after the capture of his brother Abdul Aziz, has been killed in cross fire. He was asked to surrender out of his bunker after being hit in the leg, but he could not come out after 4 hours of siege of his bunker. Later he was killed in exchange of fire.

As to the identity of ‘backpacker’ there is only sketchy information about the authors of this group blog and nothing to imply that ‘backpacker’ could handle this story with the aplomb he demonstrates.

Primarily an adventure enthusiast he has considerable experience regarding the city life and the great Islooite outback. He would be posting about various social and cultural activities going on in the city.

But that is how the Internet works – those with the talent rise to the top. I didn’t realize it at the time but I stayed with the site because there was nothing wrong with the coverage. If ‘backpacker’ had started showing signs of imbalance or straying from the facts I would have broadened my search and checked out the wire services. I also knew from ‘backpacker’ a couple of details that made it unlikely that the MSM were in any better position to follow events – specifically that the press had been banned from the immediate area of the mosque and the from the hospitals where the wounded were being taken.

As regular readers of Roggio’s Fourth Rail will know he regularly reports on Pakistan and the problems the Musharraf government faces with Islamic militants both within Pakistan proper and in the tribal areas adjacent to Afghanistan where the Taliban and al Qaeda dominate. The Red Mosque is provocative because it is a radical outpost within a few blocks of the Pakistani seat of government. At the same time it is also an educational institution where many of Pakistan’s military families send their children. In short, the siege and gun battle are deeply connected to deep divisions within Pakistani society. Bill Roggio recently participated with the former head of Indian external intelligence B Ramen in a Global Crisis Watch podcast on the internal politics surrounding the Red Mosque seige. It is well worth a listen for those interested in the topic. I came away with clear impressions. The first was that Musharraf’s military options were limited to using troops personally loyal to himself. The regular military had simply refused to follow his orders several times which had naturally exacerbated the current crisis. Second the Pakistani government was under pressure from the Chinese to curb the radicals from the Red Mosque attacking Chinese nationals – claiming they were prostitutes. It became clear that Musharraf was in trouble with the secular segment of Pakistani society for his dismissal of a high court judge, with much of the military for his resistance to the radical Islamists, and with the Chinese (as well as the Americans) for allowing the Islamists to flourish. Plus the Islamists nearly succeeded in shooting down his plane last week demonstrating that his security is compromised. Not a good time for Musharraf.

In wondering how this will all play out I couldn’t help but be reminded of the siege at Waco Texas of the Branch Dravidian cult in 1993 in that I think in both cases the leader used ‘mayrterdom’ to make the troops look heavy handed and create sympathy. I think that this incident may prove to be a decisive moment for the Musharraf regime in Pakistan and the larger war against the jihadis. Pessimistically, it could end in a coup by the pro Islamist factions in the military and intelligence services which would put Islamists directly in charge of nuclear weapons for the first time. ( B. Ramen thinks this unlikely – which is fine with me.) Optimistically, it could strengthen Musharraf’s popularity with his secular opponents and lead to a rapprochement that in turn results in elections and a return to democracy. (I’m not holding my breath.) This incident may or may not prove decisive, but I think it must increase the polarization within Pakistan.

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