Pakistan: the Storming of the Red Mosque - When Chickens come home to Roost

The recent dramatic events at the Red Mosque in Islamabad cannot be understood unless one looks below the surface at the real situation in Pakistan. The state in its various forms has fostered Islamic fundamentalism over a long period. That explains the slow and bungled reaction of Musharraf. It also reveals the deep crisis afflicting the whole of Pakistani society.

The bloody carnage in Islamabad on 10th July is another episode in the drama of Pakistan. A state weakened by internal crisis and economic collapse is fighting a fierce but futile battle with its own Frankenstein monster, Islamic fundamentalism. The mullahs - also a weakened force - are attempting to divert the attention of the masses away from their miseries, sorrows and sufferings into the blind ally of religious fanaticism.

The deepening internal crisis of the Pakistan state spilled onto streets when the lawyers vowed to fight against the military dictator for dismissing the Chief Justice. While the pillars of state were fighting with each other, the clerics in Lal Masjid (the Red Mosque) Islamabad challenged the regime, indicating that they would not let their perks and prestige go easily and will fight to reassert their lost authority.

Operation Silence

The confrontation started in January this year when the Capital Development Authority started demolishing mosques and madrassahs (Islamic schools) illegally built on public land. In 2006 more than 60 madrassahs were built in Islamabad alone. This mushrooming growth of religious institutions alarmed the government which is now a key ally of US imperialism in its "War on Terror". The same Pakistani State and Pakistan Army was once a key Ally of the US and its Taliban stooges in their Jihad against the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

When the authorities started demolishing mosques the clerics resisted in the whole country and used religious fervour to challenge the writ of the state. The Lal Masjid, which was built in the General Ayub era (1958-68), launched a campaign against these demolitions and the female students of adjoining Jamia Hafsa wearing the burqa (veil) came out with batons in their hands and captured a nearby children's Library.

All this was happening only a few minutes' walk from the President's residence and the National Assembly. Also the Lal Masjid is next door to the Headquarters of the ISI (Pakistan Intelligence Agency), many officers of which used to say their prayers at Lal Masjid.

This mosque was the centre of the Afghan Jihad in the 1980s and most of the militants who went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet army were trained there. This place was also at the hub of all economic transactions made during this period.

The government, weakened by its sharpening internal contradictions, hesitated for a long time. They feared that any attempt to silence the mullahs in the Red Mosque would lead to the revealing of secrets behind the state sponsorship of fundamentalism. The cowardice shown by the state in this business was an expression of its desire to conceal its role and the role of its secret services in encouraging the fundamentalists. These vacillations allowed the clerics to take an aggressive stance. Abdul Aziz Ghazi, the head of Lal Masjid, his wife Ume Hassan and his brother Abdul Rashid Ghazi took full advantage of the state's impotence and came out to impose their reactionary agenda on the common people of Islamabad.

In their first attack female students completely covered by the veil and carrying batons kidnapped "Auntie" Shamim, a woman who supplied prostitutes to the gentlemen in the higher echelons of power. These sexually frustrated veiled women kept "Auntie" Shamim for three days and interrogated her about sexual experiences. This reveals the sickness of the fundamentalist and reactionary people who are living inside the madrassahs throughout the country.

In the face of these blatant provocations the government displayed a total inability to check these hooligans who viciously intimidated the local population, closing down shops selling videos and music. They were even allowed to kidnap police personnel and then set all music and video CDs on fire in the nearby shops in order to impose their reactionary agenda.

Displaying their total impotence and lack of political authority to the entire country, the government tried everything in its power to calm down the Ghazi brothers at Lal Masjid by negotiation, but the latter remained adamant. They replied defiantly that Lal Masjid could only be demolished over their dead bodies.

The situation reached its climax when the veiled hoodlums of Islamabad kidnapped three Chinese working in a nearby saloon. Musharraf, now pressurized by the Chinese Government, had no other option but to put an end to this hypocritical drama and set the military operation in movement. The operation ended with the death of the younger Ghazi (Abdul Rashid) along with 300 other male and female students. The elder Ghazi, Abdul Aziz, was caught escaping in a Burqa (veil). A further eight members of the armed forces, including a Lt. colonel and a Captain of the Pakistan Army, lost their lives, which shows the weakness of the Pakistan Army and State.

The Red Mosque

The Islamic fundamentalists, once a darling of the state and imperialism, were used to protect their vested interests throughout the region. Abdullah, the father of the Ghazi brothers, was one of those people who were the main source in promoting Jihad in exchange for dollars. He was famous for his speeches advocating Jihad (Holy War). Born in Rojhan, a backward town in South Punjab, he came to Islamabad in the sixties and became the follower of the Pir Dewal Sharif (A local Saint) whose followers included the then president General Ayub Khan, the dictator of Pakistan who built the capital city and named it Islamabad. These connections helped him to get a big piece of land in Islamabad to build a grand mosque where he lived together with his family.

The Pakistan revolution of 1968-69 posed the question of workers' power. This would have completely cut the ground from under the feet of the fundamentalist reactionaries. But the PPP leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto failed to complete the revolution and the opportunity was lost. On a capitalist basis it was impossible to solve the terrible social and economic problems of the people and therefore the reactionary forces in the country recovered and became strengthened, especially under the dictatorship of Zia. Bhutto was too soft on Islamists which strengthened them. He paid for this with his life.

The Zia era began with US imperialism encouraging Jihad and organizing and financing the reactionary fundamentalist forces to fight the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. During this period millions of US dollars were given to reactionary mullahs through Pakistan's secret services (ISI) to establish madrassahs, where young people from poor families were given training to fight. In this period advanced weapons were provided to all seminaries and madrassahs for military training.

After the end of the Afghan war a civil war broke out in Afghanistan among various factions in which again some were supported by the ISI and the American CIA. Multinational companies also sided with various factions in this Civil War to get control of the natural resources of Afghanistan and the neighbouring Central Asian countries. One big US company alone, Unocal, gave 30 million dollars to the Taliban to capture Kabul in 1996. All this fighting and bloodshed allowed mullahs to become richer and richer. More and more mullahs established their own madrassahs to have their share of the pie.

Another major aspect of all this fighting has been the drug trade. In the 1980s the American CIA encouraged poppy growing drug trading in Afghanistan to compensate for its expenses during the war. All these mullahs were involved in this drug trade and were working in close collaboration with drug barons who used Pakistan as a gateway to the outside world (Afghanistan is a landlocked country). The ISI and Pakistan Army were major players in the Afghan war and were also heavily involved in this drug trade, from which the army generals made fortunes.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Samuel P. Huntington created the false theory of the "clash of civilizations" to conceal the class contradictions and prevent class unity of the workers. Religion once again came to the service of imperialism. But the mullahs who were once utilized as friends of imperialism now appeared as its apparent foes. Bin Laden who faithfully served the American forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s now turned against his masters. But he remained an enemy of the downtrodden oppressed and exploited who were being forced to think along religious lines instead of class lines.

The drug trade flourished after the American invasion in Afghanistan. In 2006 alone the opium harvested in Afghanistan was 6000 tones, which is a record yield. The areas controlled by the American and British forces have the highest yields. Helmand Province in Afghanistan, which is controlled by British forces, is leading all others in poppy growing.

Mullahs, From Rags to Riches

All this bloodshed, dollar Jihad and drug trade helped the Maulvis (priests) to transform themselves from lower class people to aggressive city hoodlums. In the days prior to the Afghan Jihad, these Maulvis lived a very humble life, living off the donations of the people. The daily food of the maulvi and his family was the leftovers of neighbours. At most a maulvi had a bicycle at his disposal on which he collected donations from well-off people. These people had no productive role in society.

The dollars coming from the West transformed these deprived people into aggressive mullahs who could kill anyone using the cover of religion. The maulvi who used to ride on a bicycle now had tens of Land cruisers at his disposal worth millions of rupees with armed men guarding him day and night.

Who are the Students in Madrassas?

According to the figures released by the Pakistani government last month 24 percent of Pakistanis live below the poverty line and this has increased by 74 percent in one year.  And most of the people living on or above the poverty line are also not so well off. These figures show the depth of deprivation, dispossession, suffering, distress and misery among the masses. People suffering in this exploitative capitalist system are forced to sell their kidneys and sometimes their unborn children to survive.

In such circumstances the madrassas offer a shelter to these deprived people where boarding, lodging, food and clothes are provided, free of cost. In return, students have to learn to recite and memorise the holy Quran. Along with this they are indoctrinated with selected education to foster the interests of their benefactors. The madrassas, supported by the intelligence agencies, use all manner of means to collect money for themselves. With the aid of drug money and dollars from the imperialists, they stoke the religious fervour of the petit bourgeoisie. Traders and merchants who use all kinds of methods to fleece their customers give a part of their profits to these mullahs to pardon their sins and to get a ticket to heaven. Famous traders of Islamabad were among the donors of Lal Masjid.

Students drawn from the downtrodden and backward layers of society are instilled with hatred and bigotry against all those people living a better life than them. The class differences and inequalities of this brutal system are used as a tool to protect the interests of the ruling class and divert the hatred of this system along religious lines. Religious sermons and fiery speeches are used to prepare the students to do anything at the direction of their teachers, including suicide bomb attacks.

Fundamentalism and the weakness of the bourgeoisie

The bourgeoisie of the "third world" countries entered the stage of history too late to carry out the tasks of the national democratic revolution, one of which was the separation of religion from the state. Under the yoke of global capitalism the bourgeois of these countries could not develop the basic infrastructure of society. The small towns and villages far from the main cities are deprived of the basic necessities of life. The difference between the cities and the remote rural areas is huge. There are no roads, hospitals and schools. In Pakistan 80 percent of the population has no access to clean drinking water.

When people from the remote areas come to the main cities they develop hatred against the people of the ruling class who live a life of luxury based on the exploitation of the working class. This hatred leads them to commit crimes and they are involved in killings, lootings and robberies. Religious institutions and religious parties give protection to these criminals and use the anger of these young people for their vested interests.

Most of the trainees in the Jihadi camps in Kashmir have committed heinous crimes in their areas and have taken shelter in these camps. The Taliban who are fighting in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan and in Afghanistan are also drawn from the lumpen elements of society who are given huge sums of money and weapons by the intelligence agencies in order to start imposing their reactionary agenda on society.

The weakness of the bourgeoisie allowed the army and religious groups to creep into politics and use this domain to strengthen their economic hold in the country. The involvement of the generals in politics and economic activities made them billionaires and now they use all means to protect their economic interests. All the generals of the Pakistan Army are involved in real-estate businesses, stock exchanges and industries from mineral water to sugar and textile mills.

This, along with the imperialist backing of some factions and the interest of multinationals in the region, fostered a rift inside the Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies. The main cause of this rift is the billions of dollars of the drug trade, which everyone wants to get their hands on. This crisis, along with the crisis of capitalism, has weakened the state, which is fighting with various groups in the Tribal Areas and in Baluchistan.

The incident at Lal Masjid is a part of this internal rift in which some sections of the state were supporting the Ghazi brothers. Musharraf wanted to save and sabotage the Ghazi brothers at the same time - which led to confusion and delay in the operation. This confusion is due to the weakness of the state in pursuing its objectives.

The alternate given by Musharraf of enlightened moderation is a demagogic and superficial idea which doesn't correspond to the miseries of the suffering masses. Fashion shows, cat walks, festivals and carnivals cannot give medicine to a patient or wipe the tears of a child weeping from the pains of hunger. This farce of "enlightenment" cannot solve the basic problems of society, which are caused by the decay of the capitalist system. The so-called liberalism offered by this system alienates the deprived people even more and throws them into the arms of reaction and backwardness.


This incident not only shows the utter impotence of the state to counter these problems. It also shows how fundamentalism has no basis in society. The western media is propagating the false idea that fundamentalism is a big force in Pakistan and trying to prove the false theory of "clash of civilizations". This incident shows that the fundamentalists have no mass basis and now the chickens are coming home to roost, threatening the state that produced them. This incident is not the start of the decline of fundamentalism but the expression of the rapid decline of fundamentalism over the last few years.

The masses are enraged by problems like rising inflation and unemployment, but they don't give a damn about the killings of the pampered protégés of the state. Only the mullahs whose interests are threatened will panic and come onto the streets with their students from the madrassas in some areas. To protect their economic and political interests, the mullahs might use suicide bombings and target killings in some areas. But since they have no mass base and their romance with the state is over they will not be able to do much.

The state might use this incident to strengthen itself and attack the workers more brutally. Since the economic crisis is deepening by the hour with record trade and current account deficits, the crisis inside the state will grow, leading to more such incidents with more bloodshed and killings. This state has used this issue to obscure the devastation caused by recent floods and cyclones in Baluchistan and Sindh where hundreds of people have been killed and nearly two million have become homeless.

These disasters expose the rottenness of the state and decline of the capitalist system, where the state is incapable of providing any kind of relief to the victims of these natural calamities. Amid the claims of progress by the government the basic infrastructure is collapsing. All this means more instability and volatility.

Is there an alternative?

The leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party, the traditional party of the workers of Pakistan, is giving no alternative at this critical juncture. The partial victory of the mullah's alliance in the elections of 2002 was also due to the support of the PPP leadership for the American invasion in Afghanistan (while the mullahs openly condemned it). This helped them to form governments in Pakhtoonkhwa (formerly known as the North West Frontier) and Baluchistan. Also they played an exaggerated role in the National Assembly. Since then, the Mullahs have been exposed before the masses. They have no alternative but are following the policies of the IMF and World Bank. They are carrying out the same dirty politics as all the others.

The PPP leadership have learnt nothing. They are still depending on American support to return to power. In this operation Benazir has openly supported Musharraf and condemned the clerics in Lal Masjid. The same line is taken by the American State Department. Ironically, the Taliban were organized under Benazir's government in 1996 on the directions of the American oil multinational Unocal.

The complete failure of the leadership has left the workers in the lurch. They are suffering from the exploitation of capitalism. The policy of privatisation and downsizing has not only increased unemployment and misery for the working class; it has exposed the weakness of the capitalists and their inability to run the system. After all the privatisations, the rotten infrastructure is declining fast. People have no clean drinking water, no electricity, no sewage system, no roads, no hospitals and no schools and colleges. They are suffering torment under the repression of a disintegrating capitalist system. This rottenness and oppression breeds reactionary forces like fundamentalism, terrorism and fascism.

Only a socialist planned economy under workers' control can lift society out of all this misery and wretchedness, when all the resources available will be used for the improvement in the living conditions of all. This will not only put an end to the reactionary elements in society but also end the exploitation of man by man. A revolutionary party with a socialist revolution on its agenda can lead the masses out of this dark abyss of darkness and despair into a new world of happiness and freedom.

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