Editorial: Elections and the terrorist threat
The police arrested a young suicide-bomber from Dera Ismail Khan on Sunday who confessed to having been “sent” to kill the chief of the JUIF, Maulana Fazlur Rehman. According to the police, the boy was caught with a vest and explosives, the tell-tale signs of attacks mounted by the masters of the new wave of terrorism motivated by religion. The reason given for the planned attack is that the Maulana angered militants by opposing the clerics of Lal Masjid in Islamabad last year. How credible is the police claim?
Maulana Fazlur Rehman has at least once publicly denied that he is a target of the terrorists. He may do so again, but some facts that must persuade him to be cautious cannot be ignored. There is no doubt that he had opposed a large section of his Deobandi religious leaders on the issue of the Lal Masjid clerics and their objectives. He kept the JUI out of the crisis and was critical of the behaviour of the Ghazi brothers who controlled the mosque. Clearly, there was an effort on his part to eschew association with the terrorist elements in Pakistan.
But the significant Deobandi hinterland of his party thought otherwise. He faced a revolt in Multan some months ago when the most powerful federation of the Deobandi madrassas congregated to discuss the Lal Masjid affair after the terrible denouement of the standoff in Islamabad. The session was stormy as reported in the national press. It was abusive and almost became violent because of the disagreement over the religious federation’s stance against the Ghazi Brothers. But Maulana Fazlur Rehman stood his ground and insisted that he would not let his party be linked with terrorism.
His effort to remain untouched by the terrorist challenge was linked to the questions of elections. This became apparent later when he broke with the opposition alliance APDM on the question of boycotting the 2008 elections. One must, however, point out here that the Maulana was not hostile to the Taliban and adhered to the belief prevalent in the areas of his party’s influence that terrorism had been caused by Pakistan’s wrong decision to be a part of the American war against terrorism after 2001. But his party, after saying goodbye to the MMA’s other partner Jamaat-e-Islami, was internally under pressure.
In Balochistan the party has split two ways. A part of it is offended at the Maulana’s decision to take part in the elections when the general trend in the province favours a boycott. The Baloch and Pushtun parties have all rejected the polls. Out of the rejectionists, the boycott announced by the Pushtun-dominated Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party resonates with the JUI rank and file because both parties are Pushtun-dominated despite the religious label boasted by the JUIF. Then there is the pro-Taliban factor within the party. The Maulana wanted his party to stay away from the Taliban because of their association with Al Qaeda, but some party members have decided to stand in the elections on the pro-Taliban ticket, and now the Maulana is under challenge to oust them from the party.
There is no doubt that Al Qaeda was greatly offended by the way the Musharraf regime dealt with the Lal Masjid rebels. Osama bin Laden broke a long silence on his website to issue a condemnation of the Musharraf establishment and swore revenge against it. Unfortunately, because of the way the operation against the mosque was handled, most Pakistanis too turned against it. But Al Qaeda’s stance was clearly ideological. And the events that unfolded after the event showed that vast energy was devoted to implement the challenge thrown by Osama bin Laden. Thus, at a time when he was expected to stand up and be counted among those who sided by the Ghazi Brothers, Maulana Fazlur Rehman was found missing.
Understandably, it would be bad electoral politics to admit that the JUI leadership is being targeted by the terrorists. Voters once convinced that their party has been singled out will stay away from the polling stations. The Maulana may therefore once again deny that he is under threat. One hopes that he is not, and that the latest arrest of a suicide-bomber is only a red herring. At any rate, he must be provided the highest level of security if the 2008 elections have to be saved. *
Second Editorial: More revelations from BB
A London newspaper has published excerpts from Ms Benazir Bhutto’s posthumous book “Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West” in which she has revealed that Al Qaeda agents and some people from the Musharraf establishment were involved in the plot to kill her. She was warned about Al Qaeda by President Musharraf but she believed the details only when they were substantiated by another source from “a friendly Muslim government”. The elements named included “squads sent by the Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud; Hamza Bin Laden, a son of Osama Bin Laden, Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) militants; and a Karachi-based militant group”.
What muddied the water for Ms Bhutto was the pattern of behaviour of President Pervez Musharraf who appeared supportive and reserved at the same time. He negotiated her return but balked when she announced the date. He wanted her to delay her arrival in Pakistan and when he fed her information about the terrorists it looked fake to her. Ms Bhutto wrote that her sources had told her that “a meeting had taken place in Lahore where the bomb blasts were planned. According to this report, three men belonging to a rival political faction were hired for half a million dollars. They were according to my [Bhutto’s] sources, named Ejaz, Sajjad and another whose name I forget”.
President Musharraf suffers from a crisis of credibility all over the world because of his habit of becoming ambivalent at the critical juncture. Today the main objection from the PPP to his conduct is that he did not provide enough security to Ms Bhutto who had already written to him about the threat to her life. *