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Security beefed up in Pak amid fears of backlash
K J M Varma in Islamabad | July 11, 2007 18:50 IST
Anticipating a backlash from religious extremists to the death of radical cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi in the crackdown on Lal Masjid, Pakistan government has tightened security across the country, while President Pervez Musharraf [Images] will address the nation on Thursday.
Officials said that the government has already initiated a host of steps to beef up security all over the country, especially the major cities and the volatile North West Frontier Province as well as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, from where majority of the students of Lal Masjid hailed.
Security forces have stepped up vigil outside foreign missions, especially the Chinese.
Militant students of the mosque had abducted seven Chinese nationals last month, which proved to be the last straw for the government to order the siege of the mosque.
Subsequently, three Chinese nationals were killed in Peshwar when the 'Operation Silence' was launched to flush out militants from Lal Masjid.
The ripples of Lal Masjid crackdown were felt mostly in tribal areas of NWFP like Malakand Agency and Bajour where a militant cleric, Maulana Fazarullah, who is also relative of Ghazi threatened to step up attacks against Pakistan military.
The decisive crackdown against Lal Masjid extremists was perhaps the first by Musharraf during his eight-year tenure in
It is to be seen what impact it would have on over 12,000 madrassas in cities like Karachi, Peshwar, Lahore [Images] and Multan housing an estimated two million students.
Lal Masjid had housed 7,000 students in its madrassas in Islamabad.
Meanwhile, Musharraf will address the nation on Thursday by which time the operation was expected to be over and the bodies, including that of Ghazi and his associates, buried.
A great deal of significance was being attached to Musharraf's speech as he is expected to announce a decisive action against extremists.
Many believe that despite fears of backlash, the operation against Lal Masjid had resurrected the General's political future, which came under a cloud after his move to suspend Chief Justice Iftikhar M Chaudhry on March 9 sparked
His move has won him strong support not only from US but also from China which was livid with the extremists for targeting its nationals.
Analysts say that attacks against Chinese also hardened Pakistan's powerful military which treats its all weather
The operation also won the support of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto who said that Musharraf took the right
This has already caused strains in the opposition alliance as Muttahida Majlis-e Amal, has objected to her statement and threatened to walk out of an alliance being cobbled up by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Military spokesman Arshad declined to provide the casualty figures of the militants saying it would be available only after the operation was over and the bodies collected from different parts of the sprawling complex.
Media reports published varied figures of casualties of militants. Some reports said 66 militants were killed till Tuesday while others put the toll over 80.
Arshad said 86 persons including family members of the slain radical cleric Abdul Ghazi and that of his brother Abdul
He said army and paramilitary Rangers have only provided back up from outsides while the commando unit comprising of 164 personnel of special services division conducted the operation.
He said the first phase of the operation to clear the complex of militants was more or less over but the troops have to complete the mop up operations before the complex could be declared safe for the media to visit.
The complex was being cleared of unexploded ordinance and also some militants who continued to fire from remote parts.
One commando sustained injuries while clearing mines in the complex on Wednesday morning, he said.
So far no suicide attack which was threatened earlier by the clerics has been carried out in the complex, Arshad said.
Intelligence estimates of militants present in the complex ranged from 150 to 250 before the operation started.
More than 1300 'students' -- girls and boys -- surrendered before the operation began, he said.