The mosque, however, appears determined to rob Musharraf of his success. Over 1,200 students surrendered following Aziz's post-capture announcement that the standoff needs to end. But today, the Red Mosque's remaining students indicated their desire to keep fighting by defying a government deadline for surrender. Estimates vary as to how many remain in the mosque: Aziz says there are 850 holdouts, and government sources say they're facing perhaps 100 hardcore armed fighters. Many fear that the hundreds of women still within the mosque will be used as human shields if the army storms it, as Musharraf's detractors desire, creating the propagandistic impression of a bloodthirsty dictator murdering pious, defenseless women. An interior Ministry spokesman emphasized the dueling needs for both "minimum casualties" and completing the operation in "minimum possible time."
Reuters quotes one surrendered student saying the holdouts are "ready to die." That could be yet another Red-Mosque pose: during the last several months of crisis, it has often backed down in the face of superior force. (After students kill people and embarrass Musharraf, that is.) But unless Musharraf can bring finality to the Red Mosque's latest provocation -- and soon, and without giving it a propaganda victory in death -- the chorus seeking his ouster is about to get a new rallying cry.