Pakistan military deals a blow to jihadis but not to ideology

ISLAMABAD (TIP): All cellphone coverage was blocked by the government for three hours one recent afternoon in the Pakistani capital, and it did not take people long to discover why: Maulana Abdul Aziz, the radical preacher of the Red Mosque, was sermonizing again.

Banned from giving sermons in the mosque, the scene of an army siege on extremists that killed as many as 75 people in 2007, Aziz had announced that he would relay his latest Friday sermon by cellphone, calling aides at the mosque who would rebroadcast it over the mosque’s loudspeakers.

But instead of arresting the jihadi preacher, as many moderate Pakistanis would like, the authorities simply turned off the city’s cell networks last Friday from 11am to 2pm, the traditional time for Friday Prayer, according to senior Pakistani officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the news media.

Aziz’s relative untouchability is a measure of how enduring the power of militant Islamist ideology has remained in Pakistan. Even as the Pakistani military has driven some jihadi groups out of business or into hiding over the past year, other technically banned jihadi or sectarian groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat are still thriving, with little apparent effort by the government or military to curb them.

The ascendance of such groups and of radical mosques and madrassas was well underway during the years that Tashfeen Malik, half of the husband-wife pair of mass shooters in California, returned to Pakistan for her university education in Punjab province.

Many Pakistani officials have been quick to suggest that Malik must have found her extremist beliefs while she was growing up in Saudi Arabia. But the reality in Pakistan is that hard-line Islamist views in line with some of the most conservative Saudi teachings are more mainstream than ever.

While the Shariah law the hard-liners here tend to espouse calls for their women to be kept in purdah — strictly separated from men at all times — some Pakistani women have been at the fore in pushing the Islamist agenda themselves.

That fact came into view most prominently with the case of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist and member of al-Qaida who was convicted in 2010 of trying to kill American personnel in Afghanistan. She is serving an 86-year prison sentence in the United States.

A recent example popped up here at the Jamia Hafsa school, a girls’ madrassa attached to Aziz’s Red Mosque. About 15 of the older students recently posted a video of themselves in full burqas in front of the flag of the Islamic State, praising the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and asking him to come help them avenge their followers and others who have been killed — especially Osama bin Laden. “May God annihilate America and those who support it,” their spokeswoman said. “We pray for you every night here in the land of Pakistan.” (NYT News Service)