Face-off at Islamabad Mosque

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Since last Tuesday, following violent confrontations with Pakistan's army, up to 1800 clerics and students are still holed up in Islamabad's Red Mosque. Clashes began last week following mounting antagonism between the mosques hard-line leaders and the government lead by President Pervez Musharraf.

The mosque has been accused of enforcing its own Islamic law in the capital, notably the illegal detention of Chinese foreign nationals working in massage parlors.

20 people have been reported killed over the past six days, which have seen multiple gun battles and demolition of the mosques exterior walls. Currently, there seems little chance of a negotiated resolution. A delegation of Islamic leaders were refused access, and the mosques leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi has declared suicide a favourable option to surrender.

The mosques leaders follow the Hanafi school of thought, believing that the Koran is the authority by which justice should be metered. Historically the mosque has had close links with the Pakistan leadership, and members of the current administration have resisted calls for a crackdown on the mosques provocative behaviour.

The stand-off represents a decisive ideological challenge to the president who is walking a fine-line between Islamic extremists at home and foreign pressure to crack-down on militancy in the lawless tribal regions.