Sunday, July 08, 2007

The attack on the Red Mosque is gonna happen tonight!

Well, you never know of course. But tonight will be D-Day for Islamabad. I'm not gonna sleep, but hang out close the Red Mosque. All my batteries of phones and camera's are full. Just ordered enough soft drinks and cigarettes to survive the night.

Because all signs are there that Pakistani troops tonight will attack Islamic militants inside the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid). To be clear: That is the night from Sunday to Monday, Pakistani time. I expect the Army operation to start around Monday, 04.00 AM.

A couple of hours ago, Islamic fundamentalists, killed three Chinese workers in Peshawar. The killers shouted Islamic slogans during the killing of the Chinese nationals.

This - and the killing around the mosque last night of a major-colonel of Pakistan's SSG - makes it intolerable for president Musharraf to continue the standoff in Islamabad. SSG is by the way the Pakistani equivalent of the British SAS.

Instead of killing or harassing their usual targets (Americans), Islamic militants have recently started killing and kidnapping Chinese workers here. Not because they don't like chicken-sweet-and-sour, but because China is THE ally of president Musharraf.

While the US-Pakistan friendship is very much a marriage of interest without much love between the two, the Pakistan-China relation is very much a love marriage.

Almost all consumer goods here in Pakistan come from China. The country is majorly investing in Pakistan. China helps fixing a mountain road connecting both countries (Karakoram Highway). China and Pakistan developed weapons together (One of the most recent ones is the development of the JF-17 Thunder jet fighter). And Last but not least - China was a major help in developing Pakistan's nuclear bomb.

Over the last half year, the Red Mosque and their aggressive pro-Taliban style actions in Islamabad has been an annoying development. But it wasn't more than annoying.

This all changed when the Red Mosque radicals started to kidnap Chinese women and men, who were accused by the Red Mosque vigilantes as prostitutes and pimps.

The Chinese government labelled the situation in Pakistan for its nationals so dangerous, that, on June 27th 2007, the Chinese government urgently asked the Pakistani authorities to guarantee the safety of its nationals. This Chinese request is highly unusual. And among friends, highly embarrassing for president Musharraf.

Since June 27th it all has been different. Five days later Red Mosque militants and Pakistani police, Rangers and Army men clashed close to the mosque. 20 people died. Immediately, the army laid siege to the mosque. 1200 people surrendered last Wednesday, but around 1000 stayed inside.

I shortly spoke today to Pakistani Religious Affairs Minister, Mohammad Ejaz ul-Haq (You might remember, he is the son of former Pakistani president Zia ul-Haq). He told me that a rather small group (70 - 80 men) inside the Red Mosque are die-hard Jihadis. "These people are definitely the worst terrorist imaginably," he said, "They are worst people than Taliban and Al Qaeda combined."

Mr Ul-Haq told me also that "The people who tried to kill [Pakistani] Prime Minister Aziz are inside the mosque." Pakistani PM Shaukat Aziz was targeted in July 2004 by a suicide bomber who blew himself up next to Mr. Aziz car. Five bystanders died.

So it is serious. Luckily I today received my special "curfew pass" - which means that the army will allow you to hang out relatively close to the mosque, even when it is curfew.

It's now or never. Anyway - I'm off to the Red Mosque area. Good night to all and good morning Pakistan....

At the other hand - I've been many times wrong in my predictions. So maybe the stand-off will just continue, leaving me a tired and bored Dutchman.

Harald Doornbos


Anonymous said...

I read Musharraf just gave them a final ultimatum, so you may be right.
Great reporting by the way, you really show the atmosphere around there.
Take care of yourself!

PS I hope you aren't "speeding" around Islamabad after our previous "discussions".

Anonymous said...

Take care Harald, don't run into stray bullets. According to BBC World the women in the mosque are in separate quarters. The mention between 200 and 500 militants. Do you have relibable figures concernig militants, women and children?


Harald Doornbos said...

Not speeding here - because Pakistan has a serious military government...Another reason might be - have to use taxi's here in Islamabad.
By the way, the natives here are brown, eat rice and put chicken bones through their noses. So exotic! Cheers, Baden-Powell

Anonymous said...

I didn't realise Pakistanis put chicken bones through their noses, how wonderful! Must ask my Pakistani friend where her chicken bone is, she's usually swanning around without it, maybe it's in her jewlery box, ya?

PS very glad to hear you're sticking to speeding limits when the military is enforcing them.