Lal Masjid operation may improve Musharraf image: media


Islamabad : While there is near-unanimity that the Lal Masjid operation was badly delayed by the government, sections of media Friday said that its successful outcome could refurbish President Pervez Musharraf's image as a fighter against terrorism in the eyes of the world.

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Opinion seemed divided on whether it would help his prospects on the domestic front, with the polls – his own re-election to the presidency and the general elections – scheduled later this year.

"It can be safely assumed that the government will milk this 'triumph' for all it is worth, portraying it as another victory against 'extremism'. Gen Musharraf receives a shot in the arm. The image he has cultivated in the West of being the last bulwark in Pakistan against the rising tide of Talibanisation will be strengthened," noted columnist Ayaz Amir said in Dawn newspaper.

Carrying news agency reports from Washington and Beijing, the media noted that the operation had the backing of the US and China.

The Chinese reaction has been noted particularly because the last major fracas involving Lal Masjid radicals was abduction of six Chinese women and a man running a massage parlour.

The militants had held the Chinese hostage for 36 hours, straining Sino-Pak relations.

"As a friendly neighbour of Pakistan, China backs Pakistan's measures to safeguard social stability and economic development," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, while replying to a question on the Lal Masjid situation by the local media at a press briefing in Beijing Thursday.

China has refused to comment on the prostitution allegations against the Chinese, saying only that the seven were "operating a business that had all the necessary legal licences."

"The massive show of state force" might renew the West's confidence in Musharraf to check the growth of Talibanisation in Pakistan, "helping the general further extend his rule", The News said in a report from London.

On the domestic political front, it might gain Musharraf "considerable political benefits" when his adversaries are meeting in London to form an alliance against him ahead of the polls, it said.

"Many believe that the success of this operation might also send a strong message to the defiant political workers and lawyers protesting in favour of suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry," The News report speculated.

In a hard-hitting editorial, Dawn said that the Lal Masjid "drama is a symptom of a deeper malaise. It is a disease that has been with us since Pakistan played host to the anti-Soviet mujahideen and turned the entire country into a tribal area.

"The religious militancy, funded by the CIA and backed by sections of the army, has now become a Frankenstein monster. The leaders of this militancy are indifferent to Pakistan's interests, as seen in the attacks on Pakistan's security forces and suicide-bombings in public places," the editorial said.

"Unfortunately, such elements enjoy the backing of some mainstream religious parties. That, however, should not deter the government. The war against religious militancy and terrorism is in Pakistan's interest, and the nation expects the government to pursue the terrorists until they cease to be a force."

Commenting on the operation that is still underway, The Nation advised the mosque's clerics "to recognise the ground reality, advise followers to lay down arms and face the cases in the courts instead of putting forward conditions".

It warned the government that success would be judged "from the results rather than the intentions of its planners. Any perception of overkill would tarnish the image of the government and those who conduct it".

The News in its editorial advocated a hard line and cautioned against politicians undertaking talks to broker deals.

"This strategy should now be put to effective use in other trouble spots in the country, where extremists and obscurantists have tried to enforce their own twisted version of faith on ordinary Pakistanis," the editorial said.