The NYT story about Al Qaeda’s new leadership is getting most of the Pakistan-related headlines today, but feel free to skip it. It’s a snoozer, and aside from its mention of a few jihadi noms de guerre that none of us have heard before, the news value is negligible. Here’s the one and only interesting part:

Officials are also divided and somewhat puzzled about Iran’s role in pursuing Qaeda figures.

Intelligence officials say they believe that the Iranian government has in some cases been quite active in the hunt and has put under house arrest a number of top operatives who fled from Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, including the Egyptian operations chief Saif al-Adel and Saad bin Laden, one of the Qaeda leader’s sons.

But officials say they believe that several other important Qaeda figures may be operating in Iran, including an Egyptian known as Abu Jihad al-Masri and a Libyan explosives expert named Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, who is thought to travel between Iran and Pakistan’s tribal areas.

These stories about Iran being secretly in league with Sunni jihadis pop up from time to time, but they’re so murky as to be scarcely worth speculating about. The other news tidbit in the Times piece is about jihadis returning to Pakistan from Iraq to share the skillz they’ve learned fighting U.S. troops, a fact which some lefty blogs predictably are making much of without considering that that sort of thing works both ways. Like I say, not really worth your time.

Instead, go over to LGF and watch the video of Channel 4’s report on Jamia Hafsa, the madrassa for women located next door to Lal Masjid, a.k.a. “the red mosque,” which itself is within walking distance from the seat of Pakistan’s government in Islamabad. Remember that story from last week about fanatics in burqas raiding a brothel and kidnapping the madam? That was the Jamia Hafsa glee club in action. I gave you the heads up there too about Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the pro-jihadist imam of Lal Masjid who’s emerging as a threat to Musharraf. He’s interviewed in the clip. Roggio put out an APB about him two weeks ago:

The “many Taliban who have been preparing for Musharraf’s ouster” in Islamabad include Ghazi Abdul Rasheed and Maulana Abdul Aziz, the leaders of the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad. Rasheed and Aziz are the “leading ideologues of the Pakistani Taliban” and are “wanted by Pakistan’s interior ministry.”

Rasheed and Aziz issued a religious edict in 2004 that forbade soldiers from fighting in South Waziristan. “The decree stated that Pakistani soldiers fighting South Waziristan did not deserve a Muslim funeral or burial at Muslim cemeteries in the event that they were killed while fighting in the tribal region which lies on the Pakistan-Afghan border.” Musharraf is reported to have order an airstrike on the Lal Masjid, inside his own capital city, but the military declined.

Musharraf is playing the same game with Ghazi and his ilk right now that Mubarak plays with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, using the alleged fanaticism of the public to justify his authoritarian rule to the west. But is it true? Time notes that only 13% voted for fundamenatalists in the last elections. The military’s getting tired of dictatorship too, allegedly:

How the military feels about Musharraf and the elections is also a crucial variable. Those who have spoken privately with senior Pakistani officers say they are eager for a return to democratic rule.

“I have not met a military official who does not want an election in this country,” a Western diplomat said. “There’s a desire for legitimacy.”

But the diplomat, who was not authorized to speak for the record, said that desire does not stem from any dissatisfaction with Musharraf and that the general remains popular among the top brass. “How could he not be?” the diplomat said. “He personally signed off on every senior promotion that has occurred over the past 10 years.”

Time thinks Musharraf may eventually be cowed by Ghazi and the Islamists into declaring martial law in Islamabad, which would be dicey given the popular dissatisfaction with him right now over the firing of the country’s chief justice. That would explain Ghazi’s provocations lately, including the brothel incident and the sit-in at the children’s library. That’s also mentioned in the clip. Click the image to watch.

ghazi.jpg

Update: An op-ed in Dawn calls Ghazi’s maneuvering a “creeping coup.”

The situation today is that the leaders of Lal Masjid are declaring victory in this latest round. The children’s library is still in their control, and their baton-wielding force patrols the streets in the area. The authorities keep claiming that a number of wanted men are hiding inside the mosque but remain reluctant to take action. The excuse they offer is that the use of force may result in bloodshed. That brute force was used only a few days ago to crush opposition supporters a few hundred yards from Lal Masjid is easily forgotten.

Lal Masjid is supported by not only the Hafsa and Fareedia madressahs but also has the backing of a dozen or so other large and small seminaries in different parts of city. And their students — almost all of them from outside the city — can assemble at the shortest possible notice, as has been witnessed during recent protest gatherings…

To them the stand-off in Islamabad may not yet be a huge crisis as has been the case with crises in the past. It may take a while for the decision-makers to understand how dire the situation has become. In the meantime, the creeping coup by the Pakistani Taliban will continue unchecked to challenge the writ of the government and the state. And perhaps alter the country’s social fabric to an extent that it is rendered unrecognisable.