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"Women commandos take aim at 'female Taliban'

April 22 2007 at 8:11 PM
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GyG  (Login Dick Gaines)
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From The Sunday Times (UK)
April 22, 2007
Women commandos take aim at 'female Taliban'
Dean Nelson and Ghulam Hasnain, Karachi

PAKISTAN'S military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, is preparing to use an
all-women commando unit to break the occupation of one of Islamabad's most
militant madrasahs - Islamic seminaries - by armed female students.

The paramilitary police have been placed on standby as ministers and senior
army officers work on plans to raid the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) and two
associated pro-Al-Qaeda madrasahs in the heart of the Paki-stani capital.
Pressure has been mounting on Musharraf to move against the activists after
they mounted a Taliban-style campaign to impose sharia (Islamic law) in
Islamabad.

Gangs of burqa-wearing female students have raided brothels, video shops and
barbers' salons, denouncing them as "unIslamic" indicators of the country's
moral decadence under the general.

More than 150 specialist female antiterrorist officers have been trained for
action at the Elite Police Training School in Lahore. They rise at 4am and
spend the next 11 hours learning marksmanship, climbing down 120ft towers,
abseiling from helicopters and practising unarmed hand-to-hand combat.

"They're trained to fight fire with fire and expect to come under intense
gunfire in battle," said Javed Noor, the head of the college. "They learn to
fight with a handgun and an automatic machinegun."

He added that the women trainees generally performed better than their male
counterparts, especially in rope-climb-ing and marksmanship.

"Their drop-out rate is also much lower. For every 1,000 men who take the
course, 250 will drop out. But if I get 30 women, 29 will pass," he said.

An instructor at the college said three batches of women commandos had now
graduated. The officers were originally sent for specialist training to
create an elite force to tackle female extremists and to protect women
ministers and visiting dignitaries. They will be essential if raids on
all-female madrasahs are to go ahead.

Tension has been growing since a madam was kidnapped from her brothel by
female students, paraded before a press conference and forced to repent her
sins. Video shop owners were warned to close down and offered financial help
to switch to more "Islamic" business.

Last week the women said they would target the country's legal wine and
spirit shops run by businessmen from Pakistan's small Sikh, Christian and
Parsi communities.

Musharraf has been humiliated by the campaign, which has mocked his own
policy of "enlightened moderation" and the promotion of women's rights. The
Red Mosque is run by a government-appointed mullah. The two madrasahs linked
to it are run by militant sons of an Al-Qaeda supporter who was shot dead
shortly after he returned from a meeting with Osama Bin Laden in 2001.

The government has sent negotiators to hammer out a settlement in an attempt
to avoid an armed confrontation. But ministers believe they cannot be seen
to give in to demands for sharia.

Senior Pakistan army officers and ministers said the government was planning
a crackdown, but feared that an armed assault on the mosque and the
madrasahs could leave hundreds dead.

There are believed to be 3,000 armed female students inside a children's
library and the Jamia Hafsa madrasah, and a further 5,000 armed men inside
the Jamia Fareedia madrasah, all ina residential area in the heart of the
capital.


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