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Friday, 4 September 2009

Attack on Hamid Saeed Kazmi and the Taliban inside Islamabad

Feeling insecure in Islamabad

The federal religious affairs minister, Mr Hamid Saeed Kazmi, escaped death at the hands of terrorists on Wednesday at Islamabad’s GPO chowk. He was driving out of his office without much security. His driver has been killed and his guard has sustained wounds. Mr Kazmi has received a bullet in his leg. What is shocking is that everyone knew that he was the target of the terrorists; he had told the government that he might be next in line after the assassination of Allama Naeemi of Lahore earlier in the year.

Let’s first look at why he was in the crosshairs, something which the government thought it could ignore. Despite his last name, Mr Kazmi is not a Shia; he is in fact more vulnerable than a Shia: he belongs to the majority Ahle Sunnat school of thought, also called Barelvi, whom the Taliban think culpable because the Barelvis don’t favour the apostatisation of Shias. More relevantly, he was targeted by the Taliban because he had organised a Pakistan-wide clerical consensus against suicide-bombings.

Mr Kazmi had asked for his security to be beefed-up after he received threats from quarters that he clearly identified with elements that work for the Taliban. He may even have known that these elements were located inside Islamabad. (SSP Islamabad has confirmed that the terrorists who attacked him with Kalashnikovs from their 125cc motorbike were from inside Islamabad and had not entered the capital city from outside.) The truth is that anyone located in Islamabad is a sitting duck because the Taliban are better represented here than any other city in Pakistan.

Pakistan first felt how it was besieged in the capital when the Lal Masjid crisis broke in 2007. The army was called out to evacuate the inmates of the madrassa after it was reported that terrorists were lodged inside it. What came as a shock was the support the Lal Masjid clerics received from the lower middle class and poor community living in its vicinity even after it had become clear to them that they would be defying the Pakistan Army. Once the government got bogged down, Lal Masjid clerics called out their mediators: Fazlur Rehman Khaleel of the banned Harkatul Mujahideen headquartered in Islamabad; Shah Abdul Aziz, recently on trial for beheading a Polish engineer; and Javed Ibrahim Paracha, known as the “Al Qaeda lawyer”.

General Musharraf and his regime were defeated on the issue of Lal Masjid by an errant media. Despite the fact that its clerics clearly betrayed their sectarian identity and declared their allegiance to the Taliban, the surviving head of the Masjid was let off by the Supreme Court. In 2008, the popular view manufactured by the media swung in favour of Lal Masjid even as the world identified it as the high-water mark of the dominance of Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan. For instance, in Holland when the Dutch protested against the building of a mosque, their placards read: “No more Lal Masjids!”

A year after the Lal Masjid incident, Islamabad had still not become fully alert to the “extra-territoriality” of the mosques in the city. One popular Karachi daily editorialised in September 2008: “We are forced to refer to the Lal Masjid affair because 70 new illegal mosques have come up in Islamabad, and the local administration and the Capital Development Authority have done nothing about it. Lal Masjid did not turn into a bastion for militants overnight. The Ghazi brothers gradually expanded the mosque under their control and built new structures, including living quarters for their families”.

Islamabad is not a secure city. Foreign diplomats who live here feel endangered. Many Pakistanis who seek honour in isolationism draw comfort from the fact that “foreigners” are uneasy coming to Islamabad. The truth is that the city has become “Talibanised” among the lower classes that outnumber the rest of its population. Anyone who has held a discussion among the lower middle class student community there would bear witness to this fact. Yet, those Pakistani circles that are endangered would rather focus on how the Americans and other foreigners have made Islamabad unsafe by beefing up their own security arrangements!

Sadly, the TV reporter is querulous in tone when he reports on the “hundreds of barriers” erected by Islamabad police to minimise incidents of terrorism in the city. The media message is: Islamabad is suffering because of the security barriers and the Americans. But this message goes in favour of the Taliban and Al Qaeda who would like nothing more than the removal of all obstacles in Islamabad.

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