For months now, students at one of Islamabad's most radical mosques have been on a campaign to 'Talibanise' Pakistan - in other words, turn it into a state that enforces the strictest version of Islam as the country's law. The students have defied both the police and government authorities. Along the way, they have adopted violent vigilante tactics, including kidnapping and torture, and have even set up their own sharia courts, with mullahs performing the role of judge and jury. In his second Dateline report on the challenges currently facing Pakistan, Nick Lazaredes discovered that these new Islamic warriors are not only men, but also young women and girls who say they are prepared to die for their cause.
REPORTER: Nick Lazaredes
These militant young girls from a religious school in the heart of the capital, Islamabad, say they're doing God's work. Their mission is to turn back the clock - Taliban style. With the backing of two mysterious brothers, these girls are engaged in a potentially deadly stand-off with Pakistan's Government.
MULLANA ABDUL RASHID GHAZI, RED MOSQUE: If you attack us, we are ready to sacrifice our life. If you attack, we will sacrifice our life here.
YOUNG GIRL, (Translation): The war will continue.
Declaring that Pakistan must abide by the principles of sharia? the extreme interpretation of Islamic law - and in open defiance of the government, these girls have become vigilantes, taking the law into their own hands and punishing those who they say have wronged Islam, like this woman they allege is a prostitute.
AUNTY SHAMIM,(Translation): They broke down the door with axes. After that they just barged in and they threw tear gas. Then they put ropes around our necks and dragged us out like dogs.
The Lal Mosque, or Red Mosque, is one of the oldest and largest in Islamabad. It has long been a melting pot for radical ideas and runs religious schools, or madrassas, for both boys and girls, each holding several thousand students. It's run by two brothers, both of them hardline clerics. The eldest, Maulana Aziz, never gives interviews and has rarely been filmed. He prefers to leave the PR side of the Red Mosque to his brother, Maulana Ghazi.
MULLANA GHAZI: I mean, we are demanding... welfare? totally welfare state based on Islamic principle.
The trouble began in late January when city administration officials in Islamabad ordered the demolition of what it called an illegal mosque. In response, the militant female students occupied a government building next door.
MULLANA GHAZI: It was just to invite the attention of the international media and to the people, that they should come and they should listen to us, what we are demanding, so, it is justified I think.
MAN (Translation): Brothers and sisters, we have only one mission. It is to further God's rule in this world. Pakistan was made for Islamic rule.
Most Pakistanis were surprised that the Government didn't send in its special forces to stop the illegal occupation. Emboldened, many of the students took to Islamabad's streets.
STUDENTS (Translation): God is great! - Allah Akbar! - God is great! - Allah Akbar! - Come on! Come on! - Holy war! Holy war!
Like the Taliban, the Red Mosque followers consider most films and music un-Islamic, so Islamabad's music and video market was an obvious target. This man was one of the students' first victims. Now all that's left of his once thriving business are empty shelves.
MUSIC SHOPOWNER, (Translation): There were English CDs and DVDs, Indian DVDs and Pakistani DVDs, audio and video cassettes and songs and 20 video players. They burnt them all.
The students at the Red Mosque ramped up the pressure and gave the Pakistan Government a list of demands. As well as demanding the legalisation of all mosques deemed illegal by the Government, they also insisted that a strict system of Islamic law be immediately implemented throughout the country.
IJAZ UL-HAQ, MINISTER FOR RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS: It is risky, I mean, there is no doubt about it. I mean, if somebody is blackmailing you and you are negotiating with them, that means that others will follow suit, you know.
Pakistan's Religious Affairs Minister, Ijaz ul-Haq - son of former military dictator, Mohammad Zia ul-Haq - was the first person called upon to solve the crisis, but says he was unable to complete negotiations with the rebel clerics.
IJAZ UL-HAQ: I gave up the negotiations after the three days and I..
REPORTER: Why did you give them up?
IJAZ UL-HAQ: I gave them up because I thought that this guy was under some sort of psychological pressure, he was giving unreasonable demands, un-Islamic demands, the demands which cannot be implemented.
Ignoring the Government, the Red Mosque set up its own sharia court and went looking for people to put before it. Within weeks, a middle-aged woman, known to locals as Aunty Shamim, was about make headlines.
AUNTY SHAMIM, (Translation): I've asked the world for help but no-one has helped. I think it's preferable for me to commit suicide. That's all.
Aunty Shamim says she was eating dinner with her family when students from the mosque burst into her home, accused her of running a brothel, abducted her and her daughters, and took them back to the Red Mosque. There, according to Aunty Shamim, began the torture.
AUNTY SHAMIM, (Translation): Men and women came and pulled my hair and said, "Admit to your crime!" I asked, "Do you have evidence? Why should I confess?" They said they would drag me out again or kill and bury me. They showed me a place where they would bury me and finish me off.
So far as Maulana Ghazi's concerned, the abduction of Aunty Shamim was justified because the police had done nothing about neighbours' suspicions that she was running a brothel.
MULLANA GHAZI: We are not saying that we want to take the law into our hand, or we want to do the policing.
REPORTER: But you did.
MULLANA GHAZI: But we did. Why? The question is but why. It is for example, as I have said the system is not working, it's a total failure. When the department are not doing its job, for example the police is not policing. It is police job to stop the brothels because it is illegal, according to our own laws and according to Islam.
Back at the Red Mosque, separated from the rest of her family, Aunty Shamim says she was forced to confess to making money from prostitution.
AUNTY SHAMIN, (Translation): They beat me with sticks on my back and on my palms, then they started to pull my toenails out. They tortured me so much that even if they had accused me of wrongdoing with my son, I'd have agreed. That's how much they tortured me.
MULLANA GHAZI: I mean, she's telling a lot... many lies because she is used to it, and she's that kind of lady.
REPORTER: But she was kidnapped, wasn't she?
MAULANA GHAZI: It was not a kidnap because you know that our students went to shut down her brothel, and that was it. And the females were there, not the males. And that very moment she started, I mean, fighting, and she abused. She was almost fighting, I mean, with the students. And then they brought her..
REPORTER: But they had come to her home, though, so, isn't it logical?
MULLANA GHAZI: It was not home, it was not home. I mean, it was home-like home, it was a house, but it was not used as a house.
Ironically, if the actions taken by the followers of the Lal Mosque were meant to reinforce the message of Islam, for the woman at the centre of all the drama, they've had such a negative impact she's ready to disavow her faith.
AUNTY SHAMIM, (Translation): If this Islam, I would prefer to become a Christian. Does Islam mean putting a rope around a woman's neck, and having eight people hit her with sticks, and having two men drag her around with a rope around her neck? If Islam means that, I'll become a Christian.
Despite Aunty Shamim's ordeal, and the publicity surrounding it, the government has been unable to defuse the situation.
IJAZ UL-HAQ: The only embarrassing thing for the government is that these people are sitting in the heart of Islamabad, and obviously by occupying a children's library they are challenging the right of the Government. But we are concerned that there are arms in the mosque, there are militants who are in the mosque. If the Government raids the mosque or uses whatever means it has to flush the people out, there is going to be a reaction and we will find some body bags over there.
MULLANA GHAZI: They said, if you attack us, we will defend, and while defending, we can make anything. We will defend, we will sacrifice our life. So, I mean, nothing is wrong in that.
REPORTER: Will they actually go to the extent of blowing themselves up - sacrificing themselves or the children standing behind them?
GIRLS, (Translation): We are all ready. - We're ready. So much so that we are ready to sacrifice our lives for Islam.
REPORTER: Even the children standing behind them?
TRANSLATOR (Translation): Are the children ready?
GIRLS, (Translation): Yes, they are. Everyone is devoted to Islam so they are willing to sacrifice themselves for it.
It's now more than four months since the girls at the Red Mosque began their stand-off with the Government and there's no sign of a peaceful resolution. In fact, just last week there was another skirmish with authorities when the girls abducted four policemen who were patrolling outside. They were released a short time later.
IMRAN KHAN, MOVEMENT FOR JUSTICE PARTY: I mean, how can a couple of hundred women, you know, threaten a whole country of 160 million people? It's just the biggest joke going on.
But some well known politicians in Pakistan, like former cricketer Imran Khan, refuse to take the Red Mosque girls seriously. He believes that they're simply a media sideshow which the government is keen to keep alive to promote the fear of religious extremists taking over Pakistan.
IMRAN KHAN: This is General Musharraf showing the Taliban cross to the American Dracula, it's to scare the Americans that, "Listen, if you don't do anything, if you don't help me - I'm your man around here - this place will be swamped by these Taliban-type religious extremists."
MAN, (Translation): Those here who trust in Allah and the Koran, who trust in what is being taught in the madrassas, who brought trust from every corner, repeat after me! - God is great! - Allah Akbar! The people at the back are quiet. They should join in. - God is great! - Allah Akbar! - God is great! - Allah Akbar! - God is great! - Allah Akbar!
GEORGE NEGUS: Well played, Imran! Imran, by the way, unwelcome in Karachi, has threatened to take Karachi's MQM party to court for inciting violence.