Lal Masjid - Pakistan's Blue Star?

July 10, 2007
Shantanu Dutta

Lal Masjid has become Pakistan’s Akal Takht of the 80s, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the Bhindranwale of Pakistan, and the Musharraf campaign to cleanse the mosque, today’s Operation Blue Star. One wonders though, if any one has bothered to learn the lessons of Operation Blue Star. It is eminently macho that army generals should holler out blood curdling howls. So Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf told Islamists besieged at an Islamabad mosque to surrender or face being killed. "They should not prolong. They should surrender and hand over their weapons, otherwise they risk being killed," Musharraf told reporters in his first public comment on the confrontation.

India's leader at the time of the Operation Blue Star, Mrs. Indira Gandhi was often described as the only man in the cabinet, but she was a woman after all, and so she was perhaps more discreet in her challenge to Sant Bhindaranwale and his cohorts holed up inside the Golden Temple but her generals went n and did pretty much what Musharraf’s generals were doing, using copy book military strategies to take on fanatics driven more by passion and vision than by tactics or territory. A few months after the siege, Mrs. Gandhi was dead shot by her body guards who cared more about heir faith than her person. Pakistan’s President Musharraf has already escaped one rocket attack hours after the Lal Masjid siege. Is any one in Pakistan listening at all or is it that it has been a long time since a head of state died in office there?

India has its share of hawks who would say that the jackboot is the solution to every problem that the country has be it floods in Rajasthan, or communal riots in Aligarh, insurgency in Manipur or the Naxalites in Chattisgarh. There is little attempt to understand, why these movements arose, why they continue to thrive and prosper, what ideological props they possess and why they hold appeal here. Instead, the thinking of the establishment is that the army can go any where, do any thing, kill and suppress any one - veni, vidi, vici in the true style of Julius Caesar. The truth is that it is an incomplete perception. Army boots and flag marches can bully people into submission for a time, for a season, but not forever. Popular movements and beliefs can not be subdued easily, or else there would be no shriveled up monarch in Nepal, no moth-eaten Pakistan and no hemorrhaging democracy in Sri Lanka, not to mention India’s own numerous bleeding spots.

There is a lot of talk in India about winning over the hearts and minds of discontented people but no attempt is made to listen to the beating of the heart. Army doctors going and tending to wounds that other soldiers have inflicted or repairing huts and mosques and temples can feel the throbbing pulse but not the bleeding heart. When that effort is made and attempts made to listen, one can have some very pleasantly unexpected results. In a recent development, The Asom Sahitya Sabha, the apex literary body of Assam, has urged the ULFA and other insurgent groups to give up their demand for secession and sit for unconditional talks with the government.

The President of the literary body Kanak Sen Deka told reporters that the Asam Sahitya Sabha did not support any secessionist activities and was of the firm opinion that Assam was an integral part of India. The Sabha said the allegation made by secessionist organizations that colonial rule was imposed on Assam through the Constitution was only a conspiracy detrimental to Assam's interest. Moderate voices like this which speak with authority and credibility and challenge the voices of violence, no matter where it comes from are to be welcomed. Amongst Muslims, among Hindus, among Christians, among every one. For instance , many of us would find the policies , programs and ideologies of the leftists in India archaic. But given the fact that there is a leftist space in the political sphere and that space has to be occupied by some one, who you would rather prefer – Sitaram Yechury and the sedate Prakash Karat or some masked underground comrade screaming lal salaam as he kidnaps you for ransom or hold you on trial in a Peoples’ Court?

It is time that we encourage the State to think in terms of policies and initiatives that are not derived from the Mosaic 'eye for an eye' policy but encourage moderate and peace loving voices to rise, speak up and isolate violence as is beginning to happen in Assam. Or else a long and silent night will soon descend accompanying an unending winter.


Shantanu Dutta is a medical doctor by training and a development professional by vocation. His writings mostly deal with change, complexity and conversion and tries to look at a changing world through heaven's eyes.
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July 10, 2007
09:57 AM

It's tragic that every time Pakistan makes moves towards a stable and progressive society, it is pulled back into a benighted morass by it's 'guardians'. Perhaps this will be the straw that will break, not Musharraf's, but the 'guardians' backs.

July 10, 2007
02:19 PM

it wouldn't be fair to compare the operation bluestar with what's happening in pakistan. the people involved and their objectives were very different.

July 10, 2007
04:01 PM


how were they different?

There were religious zealots(extremists) inside Golden temple too. So what was different?

July 10, 2007
05:38 PM

Difference is that India is a "secular" (read: hijackable) society. Therefore if the Indian state acts against fanatics in the Golden Temple, it automatically earns ethnic outrage, international condemnation, assassination of the PM, and bombings of airliners.

But if military-run Pakistan acts against fanatics, they can do whatever they want, and get away with it. Nobody will say a thing.

Where's SCAMnesty International, with their press conferences and preachy condemnations? I don't hear anything.

July 17, 2007
07:29 AM

States, even in the first world, are guilty of using the jackboot. These days no one has the time to reach out, listen, and understand problems. That said, sometimes the jackboot is the only way out. Its like handling our own kids or treating our own body. Rarely, one has to use the stick on the kids or one has to cut open the body for surgery. The Lal Masjid case, IMHO, justified an army action. The lesson that India ought to learn from this incident is that no place of worship should be allowed to be used as a safe haven for terrorists.

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