Once again (here, here and here) the situation is tense around the Lal Masjid in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. More tense than it has been before. So tense, in fact, that it seems like a real battle this time. Fire has been exchanged, one soldier of the Pakistan Rangers has been killed and a number of madrassah students wounded.
According to The News:
A Rangers man was killed and two wounded in shootout between Lal Masjid students and Rangers. The incident caused tension in the locality in Islamabad resulting in closure of shopping centres and shops. The incident also caused traffic jam in the area. Federal Minister of Interior Aftab Sherpao has demanded the mosque administration to hand over persons involved in the firing over the law enforcement agencies to authorities. A girl and several security men have been wounded in the firing incident, which were transferred to hospital. Emergency has been declared and alert announced at all hospitals in the federal capital. An official of Rangers talking to the media has said that the students of Lal Masjid started the firing. Talking to Geo News Federal Minister of Interior Aftab Sherpao has said the government doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want bloodshed but it would not tolerate such incidents of lawlessness. He demanded hand over of the people involved in the incident to the authorities.
Dawn’s breaking news adds:
A soldier was killed and at least a dozen people were injured in clashes between security forces and students from IslamabadÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Laal Masjid Tuesday, officials said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“One Ranger is dead,Ã¢â‚¬? Colonel Mashallah from the paramilitary Rangers force told AFP outside the Laal Masjid in Islamabad. Two policemen were also wounded. An AFP correspondent saw eight injured girls at a local hospital who were brought in from the seminary attached to the mosque, four of whom were unconscious. Officials said more were coming in.
An AP story published in USA Today adds more:
Shooting broke out at a radical mosque in Pakistan’s capital Tuesday after militant students clashed with security forces deployed to contain their activities. One paramilitary soldier shot in the clash died later in hospital, doctors said. Reporters also saw several female students being taken to a hospital, apparently suffering from the effects of tear gas fired by police. The battle broke out after male and female students from the mosque, some of them armed with guns or wooden poles, rushed toward a police checkpoint near the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad. Police fired tear gas to hold them back and, as the students retreated, an Associated Press photographer saw at least four male students, some of them masked, fire shots toward the checkpoint some 200 yards away. Gunfire was also heard from the police position.
A man used the mosque’s loudspeakers to order suicide bombers to get into position. “They have attacked our mosque, the time for sacrifice has come,” the man said. An hour later, dozens of students were patrolling the area around the mosque, and sporadic shots were still heard. There was no sign of police moving in on the mosque… Hundreds of police and paramilitary rangers have taken up position near the mosque in recent days. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said last week that he was ready to raid the mosque, but warned that suicide bombers from a militant group linked to al-Qaeda had slipped into the building.
By way of context, note this from today’s Dawn (written before this current incident):
In a bid to tighten noose around the Lal Masjid administration, the government on Monday reinforced the Rangers force deployed near the mosque with another two wings, each with 500 personnel and lodged them in apartments recently vacated by the Punjab Constabulary near Aabpara. A senior security official, however, told Dawn that the government had no intention of conducting any raid on the mosque and its seminaries. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But the forces deployed near the mosque will take stern action against Lal Masjid students if they take law in their own hands or attack any massage centre or CDs shop,Ã¢â‚¬? he added. The official said the number of Rangers deployed near the mosque had now gone up to 1,500 and they were being supported by 500 police commandos.
…Sources said that Lal Masjid also had reinforced its brigade by calling more activists from other areas and seminaries. The sources said they had reports that the Lal Masjid brigade had advanced weapons, wireless systems and special masks to be used in the event of a gas attack… Meanwhile, the local administration has directed government offices and other people to vacate all buildings close to Lal Masjid and the building of the environment ministry has already been vacated for the safety of its employees. Both the security forces and the Lal Masjid brigade have taken positions and made bunkers. The mosqueÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s students have also blocked a road with electricity poles.
All of this protends that the ‘battle for Lal Masjid’ may already have begun. The folks in the mosque seem more eager to fight than the government. The government also has much more to loose, especially with its domestic and international popularity being as shaky as it is today. The folks at Lal Masjid and its two affiliate madrassahs – Hafsa and Faridia – will declare victory no matter what happens.
One hopes that whatever happens will happen with no more bloodshed than has already happened. One hopes, of course. But oneis not really hopeful. Khuda khair karey!