Pakistanis march for secularism

On April 15, tens of thousands rallied in Pakistan’s biggest city, Karachi, to protest demands by a radical religious school which has begun a Taliban-style anti-vice campaign in the capital, Islamabad. “The people of Islamabad are insecure and under threat due to the activities of these religious terrorists,” said Altaf Hussain, exiled head of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), addressing the rally by telephone from London. Hussain said the radicals in Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, and adjoining Jamia Hafsa Madrassa were hurting the image of Islam. “Islam is a religion of peace and it does not need Kalashnikovs and sticks,” he told the rally, while a police helicopter whirled overhead.

The Lal Masjid compound has taken on the appearance of a rebel camp in recent weeks, with young men armed with sticks guarding the entrances. Women, also carrying staves, patrol the school’s grounds, and there are reports that firearms have been sighted.

The stand-off began in January, when young women from the Jamia Hafsa Madrassa occupied a nearby public library to protest against the demolition of mosques built illegally on city land. Last month, burqa-clad female students from the Madrassa raided a house they said was a brothel. Pakistani authorities are considering deploying women commandos to deal with burqa-clad students occupying a library in an Islamic seminary, sparking a standoff. (Gulf Times, Qatar, April 16)

See our last post on Pakistan.