The news is developing by the moment. But the bottom-line is clear. The security forces have taken control of the Lal Masjid from militants after a severe gun-battle. But the story is far from over.
It will continue to unfold. There are too many unanswered questions. They will certainly be asked and discussed threadbare; here at ATP and elsewhere. But the real story of tomorrow remains the same as the real story of yesterday. Can a society that is so deeply divided against itself learn the lessons of tolerance? This question will continue to haunt us well into the future, in multiple shapes, in multiple forms, in multiple contexts.
This is a question that we at ATP have confronted from our very beginning and will continue to confront. But now is not the time to ponder on this. Even though what has happened had become inevitable over the last many days, I am too heartbroken to be able to do so.
Right now I can think only of Muzammil Shah (photo, from Associated Press, above). This photo was taken as he waited for his son who was inside the Lal Masjid. I do not know whether his son was there voluntarily, or as hostage. But I do know what the look of Muzammil Shah’s face means. The more important question is whether his son came out alive or not. I pray that he did.
Analysts – me included – will discuss what happened at length. They will try to understand the meaning of all this. What does this mean for Pakistan politics? What does this mean for Gen. Musharraf’s future? What does this mean for Islam? For Democracy? Does the fault lie with Abdul Rashid Ghazi and his militant supporters for creating a situation that could only end this way? Why did he not surrender? Is the blood of everyone who died not on his head for his stubboness and arrogance? Or, maybe, it is the government that is to blame because it did not act earlier? Act differently? Waited just a few days more for a negotiated solution?
Right now all these questions seem really petty and small. This is not the time for scoring cheap political points. This is not the time for spin.
Moreover, there are too many questions to ask. To answer. The head hurts as you think of them. But the heart hurts even more as you look at the face of Muzammil Shah.
Maybe the only really important question is the one that you can read between his wrinkles: “Why? Oh God, why? Why must things happen this way?”