ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Female Islamic students wearing black burqas kidnapped an alleged brothel owner and held her prisoner at their seminary in the Pakistani capital Wednesday, part of an anti-vice drive in defiance of the military-dominated government.
In a separate sign of growing extremism in Pakistan, pro-Taliban militants firing rockets attacked a northwestern town and kidnapped the principal of a school where they had tried and failed to recruit students as suicide attackers. One security force member was killed.
Both incidents reflect an undercurrent of fundamentalism that is challenging the moderate mainstream society in this Muslim nation of 160 million people, and the failure of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s government to contain it.
Late Tuesday, a group of 30 female and 10 male Islamic students broke into the alleged brothel in Islamabad after the owner, known as Aunty Shamim, ignored their warning to close it.
One of the students, 20-year-old Seema Zubair, said they were holding Shamim, her daughter, her daughter-in-law and her 6-month-old granddaughter inside their Jamia Hafsa seminary. She said they were not being maltreated and would be freed if they promised to close the brothel.
“We are not authorized by the government to arrest them, but we are authorized by our religion, because this (prostitution) is evil,” Zubair told The Associated Press.
Authorities on Wednesday arrested two of the seminary’s female teachers and two male students over the abductions, sparking angry protests by hundreds of stick-wielding students outside the Lal Masjid mosque where they worship. Abdul Rashid Ghazi, vice-principal at the Jamia Hafsa seminary, threatened jihad, or holy war, unless the teachers were freed.
Both male and female students roamed the main road near the mosque, yelling “Down with Musharraf!” while jihadist slogans and songs played over loudspeakers. Male students commandeered two police vehicles, beat an officer with sticks and captured two other policemen, witnesses said.
Tensions eased late Wednesday, when Ghazi announced the policemen would be freed after authorities agreed to release the seminary teachers and male students.
It was the second major disturbance in the past two months at Lal Masjid, which has a hard-line Islamic reputation and links to an outlawed militant group accused of sectarian attacks on Shiite Muslims. In recent days, students have also warned nearby shops to stop selling music and video CDs that they regard as “un-Islamic.”
Critics say the government has failed to live up to pledges to regulate Pakistan’s thousands of religious schools, even in the capital. Some of the schools promote extremism and are a recruiting ground for jihadists fighting U.S. and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, in the town of Tank, about 185 miles southwest of Islamabad, pro-Taliban militants launched a raid in revenge of Monday’s police shooting of two men who were accused of trying to recruit teenagers for holy war and suicide bombings from schools in the area.
Local police chief Omar Hayyat said hundreds of fighters fought an hours-long gunbattle with security forces, killing one paramilitary policeman.
The militants abducted Farid Ullah, the principal of the Oxford Public School where Monday’s fighting took place, and one of his brothers, Hayyat said. The militants later fired rockets at a police station and other nearby government buildings and set two banks on fire.
A local militant told the AP they were questioning the principal to determine whether he had alerted police about the presence of their associates at the school.
“We will kill him if we find him guilty,” the militant said on condition of anonymity because he didn’t want security forces to discover his identity.
The attack on Tank demonstrated authorities’ weak control in a swath of territory along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where Taliban guerrillas find sanctuary. The United States fears al-Qaida is trying to regroup in the same area.
Ayesha Siddiqa Agha, an Islamabad-based political and defense analyst, said the government had no clear policy on how to counter either militants or religious fundamentalists.
She said the student campaign in Islamabad, one of Pakistan’s most liberal cities, had worrying similarities to the social strictures of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
“They are going to turn into a moral police,” Agha said. “That is not a situation in which I would want to live.”
Associated Press writers Thaksina Khaikaew and Stephen Graham in Islamabad and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Tank contributed to this report.