Red Mosque Fallout Could Derail Election: STRATFOR
The much anticipated Red Mosque operation is in its final stages. Security forces are cleaning up and trying to fully secure the mosque/madrassah complex. Major combat between security forces and the militants lasted for about four hours. At least 40 militants about half a dozen security personnel reportedly have killed so far. Dozens have been wounded on both sides, and some 50 militants have been arrested. As of the writing of this piece, however, there is not much information on the fate of the women and children that were being held hostage by the militants.
After the dust settles and more information becomes available regarding casualties and damage to the mosque, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government likely will face the wrath of radical and militant Islamist forces in the country. This likely will involve a significant wave of attacks against government, military and Western targets around the country. There could also be assassination attempts against Musharraf and other key government and military officials.
Meanwhile, there are already indications that the government is going to engage in anti-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations elsewhere, especially in the North-West Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Either a militant reaction to the Red Mosque operation or a sweeping government action against jihadist forces -- or both -- is likely to lead to significant violence and unrest. The United States likely will be watching the situation closely and be ready to act should the situation arise. In such a situation the government could move to impose some form of emergency rule.
The imposition of emergency rule could allow the government to get a handle on the militancy in the country and even lead to the capture or elimination of al Qaeda-related high-value targets -- albeit after a long and bloody campaign. But it will complicate the political situation because the parliamentary and presidential elections slated for autumn will have to be postponed. This could create political unrest in addition to a militant insurgency.
Even if Musharraf decides against imposing emergency rule, the fallout from the Red Mosque operation could still cause a delay in the elections. At the very least, Parliament could be dismissed, which would allow Musharraf to continue as president leading a caretaker government for some time before fresh elections could be held. But this will only allow him a limited amount of time to conclude ongoing back-channel talks with his political opponents to secure his own political future.
In the wake of the Red Mosque operation, Musharraf will need not just the support of the Pakistan People's Party whose secular ideology he shares; he will also need the support of some of the more pragmatic Islamist elements to help counter extremists and terrorists. Here is where the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman -- the largest component party of the Islamist coalition, Mutahiddah Majlis-i-Amal -- could play a role.
But this depends upon whether the president will be able to press ahead with the elections and deal with the militancy at the same time. Musharraf no longer has the luxury of dealing with them one at a time.