ISLAMABAD – A Pakistani mullah whose mosque is holding two policemen hostage has warned President Pervez Musharraf that a Taleban-style opposition movement is emerging to challenge his already crisis-hit regime.
Baton-waving students from Islamabad’s pro-Taleban Red Mosque seized the police six days ago, adding to the pressure on Musharraf amid a groundswell of violent anger at his suspension of the country”s top judge.
Abdul Rashid Ghazi, one of two brothers heading the mosque, said his followers backed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and predicted the political upheaval would further the students” goal of a pure Islamic state.
“˜If the government tries to suppress the change that our movement is demanding, then there is a likelihood of Talebanisation,” the 43-year-old Ghazi said. “˜I can see it happening.”
The Red Mosque’s hardline male and female students have resisted efforts to negotiate the policemen’s freedom and have vowed to fight to the death if the government launches an assault on the mosque.
“˜We are not only challenging Musharraf, we are challenging the system,” Ghazi told AFP on Wednesday, speaking inside the Jamia Hafsa seminary next to the mosque.
Bearded men with Kalashnikov rifles stood guard during the interview.
“˜The country”s system has totally failed and needs to be changed because it is not giving any relief to 99 percent of the people,” he added.
“˜We know that if Musharraf goes away, another Musharraf would come instead. The system we want is an Islamic system.”
Ghazi said the Red Mosque students mostly come from the tribal areas of Pakistan, the lawless regions bordering with Afghanistan where the Taleban and Al Qaeda have taken refuge since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
He said that the 6,000 male students and 4,000 females belonging to the radical mosque’s two seminaries in Islamabad have received messages of support from Muslims around the world.
“˜Suicide bombers are being prepared with the help of CDs and instruction manuals as well as inspirational films showing Iraqi insurgents fighting against UN forces,” he told AFP.
One policeman who was earlier freed from the mosque was shown videos of suicide bombers operating in Iraq, he said.
Ghazi, who worked for a short time for the UN in Islamabad and says he is widely travelled, said he saw no easy resolution to the hostage drama, which has undermined the government’s claims to control the leafy capital.
“˜Pakistan has become more secular since when my father was a cleric at the Red Mosque,” he said. “˜This is our reaction. We want to go back.”