Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Trouble At The Red Mosque

Pakistani special forces have stormed a mosque in Islamabad, where a radical cleric was holed up with Islamist fighters and a large number of hostages. It's after a week-long siege at the complex, and the operation began following the failure of surrender talks. Although eight soldiers are among those killed so far, the mission seems to be going relatively well, especially when compared with how the Russians handled the Moscow theatre siege five years ago.

This is the latest round in the battle for control for Pakistan, between the pro-western President Musharraf, and the Islamists who help the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the north-west of the country, where it borders Afghanistan. Musharraf is proving to his western allies he's not afraid to use force, even in a mosque - an action which certainly runs the risk of further angering members of the public who might already be sympathetic to the extremists.

Although it's a welcome signal, it's not enough to win the battle against the Islamists, who among other things are probably continuing to shelter Osama bin Laden somewhere in northern Pakistan. That's as much a battle of ideas and ideologies as it is one of guns and military force, and a much harder one to win. This sort of well-handled operation at least proves the Pakistani government is taking the problem seriously, and wants the right outcome. But it's now even more important for the Pakistanis to make sure they win the propaganda battle following this incident, so it doesn't simply lead to more angry recruits for the Islamists.

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