Let us recall the Lal Masjid debacle in Islamabad in 2007. In July, the Pakistani army occupied the large mosque in the center of Islamabad, which had been host to a band of radical clerics openly defying the government on supporting terrorism, and the resulting scuffle killed something like 50 extremists and injured hundreds more. The Pakistanis caught one of the extremist leaders, a mullah named Abdul Aziz Ghazi, trying to escape wearing a burqa. He had languished under house arrest until today. What?
Since he was apprehended, Mr. Aziz has been held under house arrest in Rawalpindi, the garrison city next to the capital. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court set his bail at $2,500, in a charge related to illegally occupying a children’s library adjacent to the Red Mosque, his lawyer said.
“The court observed that in absence of evidence a person cannot be held indefinitely on the basis of mere accusations,” said the lawyer, Mr. Siddiqui. But he said the government might still issue detention orders “using the pretext that the release can cause a law-and-order situation.”
Right. The sad thing is, from a legal perspective this makes sense. However, rather than proving the moral superiority of extra-legal detentions, this again highlights just how slipshod and counterproductive the American insistence on Musharraf’s rule really was. There are several paragraphs in the NYT story about how the recently-reconstituted Supreme Court is trying to settle scores and “undo” some of the damage Musharraf had done to Pakistan’s legal infrastructure. Their decision today needs to be examined much more closely—I highly doubt there is no evidence against the man—but the fact that he was held for years apparently without charges is, much like the many Guantanamo cases, unacceptable. And in the midst of all of this, it cannot be emphasized enough just how much Pervez Musharraf seriously damaged anyone’s ability to address the terrorism issue in Pakistan.
But there is another angle to consider as well. Shortly after the Lal Masjid incident, it came to light that China quite probably had a role to play in the Pakistani government choosing that moment over any others to act against its extremists because they had finally touched Chinese citizens. Then, last December, more news of China exerting its influence in Pakistan’s fight against extremism surfaced.
Now, Pakistani officials are finally admitting that in February Meng Jianzhu, China’s minister for public security, met with Pakistani President Asif Zadari and urged him to take action against the militants in the tribal region. While their concerns could perhaps be manipulated—China has falsely hyped the Uighur threat before—their identification of Uighur groups with Pakistani groups is not especially new.
What is new, and potentially worth very close scrutiny, is China’s public insistence on Pakistan taking decisive action against the extremists. In the past, they’ve been able to exert pressure in a way the U.S. hasn’t—in part because, unlike the U.S., they invest in Pakistan’s economy and not just its military—but the way the situation in Pakistan has evolved recently changes the game somewhat. It will be interesting to see if China can achieve something the U.S. could not.