[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 July 2007, 18:25 GMT 19:25 UK
Anguish of Pakistan mosque parents
By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Islamabad

Relatives wait outside Red Mosque, 4 July
Many parents blame the government for the crisis

"The students must be given protection," said Qazi Khalique. "They are immature."

Mr Khalique runs a school in Peshawar in north-west Pakistan. His 18-year-old brother is now inside Islamabad's Red Mosque, scene of a bloody stand-off between militant students and security forces.

The brother is studying at the Jamia Faridia madrassa, a religious school for boys which is attached to the mosque.

Like Mr Khalique, hundreds of desperate relatives of students still inside the mosque have gathered outside the security cordon around its perimeter.

"The government has not helped the situation by acting in an irrational manner," Mr Khalique said.

"They are responsible people and they should understand that they are dealing with children."

'Worried'

Many parents are clustered around the barbed wire perimeter, hoping to catch sight of a loved one as students filter through after leaving the mosque.

It is the government's fault, they should back down
Mohammed Javed,
Students' father

After imposing an indefinite curfew on the Red Mosque and its vicinity, the government has told the students - via loudspeakers - to surrender.

Those who come out unarmed will be granted amnesty, given 5,000 rupees ($83; 41) safe passage and free education.

Parents, however, blame government mismanagement for the current situation.

"My two daughters are inside and I am worried about them," said an agitated Mohammad Javed, a retired soldier from Kashmir.

"They are 14 and 10 years old. I have talked to them and they are willing to die for Islam."

Location map

He insisted that the government has put students' lives at risk.

"It is the government's fault, they should back down... They don't care about the common man."

But as Wednesday wore on, there were some rays of hope for relatives.

Soon after midday they were allowed up to the mosque to try to persuade their children to leave.

This is still continuing, and has met with some success as hundreds of students have been reunited with their parents.

The authorities have set up a command and control centre in a nearby market. Parents are first taken to the centre and then sent on to the mosque.

Students who are persuaded to leave are also taken there with their parents.

They are searched for weapons, their identity is checked and then they are briefly questioned and released.

But those students who arrive on their own have been taken into custody.

'Very tense'

The BBC also spoke to people who were inside the mosque when Tuesday's gun battles broke out.

It was very tense, and two students were killed while we were inside
Imtiaz Shaheen,
Worshipper in mosque

One man, Imtiaz Shaheen, said he and his friends had gone in to pray and got stuck as the fighting started.

"We had to stay overnight, and could only leave in the morning just after the curfew was imposed."

He says they were scared and just wanted to wait it out, describing how the students offered them arms to fire back, but they refused.

"We just did not want to get involved."

Students leave  Red Mosque, 4 July
Hundreds of students have obeyed the order to leave

"It was very tense, and two students were killed while we were inside, after firing took place.

"They are heavily armed and ready to fight to the end."

Most of the female students do want to leave, Mr Shaheen said, as well as several of the younger ones.

But he said the leaders of the mosque, Ghazi Abdul Rashid and Maulana Abdul Aziz, commanded them to stay.

"They said to the students that 'your lives are useless if they won't protect the sanctity of the mosque'."

Mr Shaheen, who said he and his friends finally escaped after jumping a wall in the outer compound, told how he saw children as young as 10 inside the compound.

'Enough leniency'

The mood outside the mosque remains tense, as security forces slowly tighten the noose.

Latest reports say helicopter gunships have been called in to supplement forces on the ground.

Government sources say that as many as 600 armed militants are still inside and they do not expect them to leave.

Information Minister Tariq Azeem told the BBC that there would be no amnesty for those who are armed and have fired on security forces.

They and the two head clerics would be "dealt according to the law".

"There has been enough leniency. No-one will be allowed to challenge the writ of the state."




RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific