Sorry for not posting too much these days, but am running around town here in Islamabad, trying to get into the Red Mosque. To no avail unfortunately. The mosque is still a no-go zone. The army is cleaning up the place, said a top military spokesman today during a press conference. According to the army, they have to clear the place of unexploded grenades and other weaponry. I think they have to clear the place of bodies. Because it is pretty obvious to me that many more people died than the government figures of 60 or so militants.
But since nothing is clear on the numbers of deaths, let me say something about president Musharraf, the leader of Pakistan who, by many here, is being criticised for operation "Silence" (The storming of the Red Mosque)
"Musharraf bashing" seems a national sport here in Pakistan.
The intellectuals hate him, because he cancelled 'democracy'. The PPP and PML diehards despise him, because he kicked their party leaders out of the country. The secularists don't like him because he works with the Islamists. The Islamists hate him because he is a secularist and a puppet of the White House.
So that leaves me, a Dutchman in Islamabad, about the only one - among 150 million Pakistanis - who kind of likes the president.
I'll explain why.
The sheer fact that 'Musharraf-bashing' is so popular here, is one of the main reasons. I mean, president Musharraf is - officially - a dictator. The general took power in 1999 during a bloodless coup. Since then he has never allowed real free and fair elections. A bad man, you would think. That is, until you see and hear the 'Musharraf bashing' in the papers, on TV, in the streets. Where do you find a dictatorship where it is entirely ok to criticize the dictator?
I've recently visited many press conferences here and spoke to many Pakistani journalists. My god - it is fantastic how they yell at ministers, ask very annoying questions to highly ranked military men and are day and night critical of every thing that is mildly connected to the government. God, I wish journalists in my country, The Netherlands, where so critical of the state.
But not only deserve Pakistan's journalists a medal for bravery, but president Musharraf too.
A medal for the journalists for being critical (although sometimes very much into the conspiracy mood) and president Musharraf for allowing this never ending stream of criticism, which is often very unfair and personal.
Because at the end of the day, president Musharraf is a dictator. He has the power to kill you or me without being punished. But where many dictators indeed kill you, me and hundreds of thousands others, president Musharraf holds back. This truly is a remarkable part of Pervez Musharraf's personality.
It is easy for anybody to criticize Musharraf because those people are not in the position to kill millions and grab billions. But lets be fair: Most people who are in a situation to kill or steal, do it. Saddam Hussein, Pinochet, Marcos, good old Idi Amin. Well, we could go on for hours. By the by, I would rather spend a holiday with dictator Musharraf than with that 'democratically elected' little man from Iran or President Silly from the United States.
During Musharraf's regime, the press became more free, the government is less corrupt, the economy is improving, the Pakistani army performed an excellent job during last years earthquake, relations with India improved and Pakistan hunted more asshole Jehadis down than any other player in the War against Terror. And, not very important, but quite significantly: President Musharraf even legalized love-marriage. Because until around 2003 it was ILLEGAL in Pakistan to marry somebody out of love, ONLY arranged marriages - organized by family members - were allowed. Basically, you could be jailed or killed if you would marry somebody because you actually loved that person. Pakistan's democratic governments never dared to change this truly medieval law.
There are some down sides. Yes, Osama Bin Laden might still be hiding in Pakistan's tribal regions. Yes, president Musharraf might sometimes cooperate with Islamists. Yes, he might sometimes be an autocratic guy who, for instance, fires the chief judge of the country.
But do not forget that the ultra reactionary Islamists here tried to kill him already four times. The latest attempts happened last Saturday. Considering this, I might actually rather join president Shorty and president Silly on their holidays, because I think their lives are less under threat than president Musharraf's.
You might now say: If Musharraf is such a nice guy who can stand criticism like no other, why did his army stormed the Red Mosque to flush out Jehadi militants and a bunch of indoctrinated women and kids?
First - I am not a religious person. But to quote the bible: "You live by the sword, you die by the sword." What the hell were all these guns doing in the Red Mosque? And if your philosophy is almost entirely based on the nobleness of reaching martyrdom (getting killed defending your faith) - well, then don't complain if you get killed defending your faith.
Second - Some of these "Waco, Texas-style"-kind groups here are totally out of control. Of course, they call themselves madrassa's (religious schools), or Jehadi's, but they aren't. THEY ARE DOOMSDAY CULTS. Comparable, for instance, to the Branch Davidians of David Koresh in Waco, Texas.
The Red Mosque members would run around with weapons, indoctrinate kids as young as four with hatred, glorify militarism, fanaticism and terrorism, beat up or kidnap people who aren't "good Muslims". And something else, which hardly ever gets talked about: How high do you think is the percentage of rape of little boys by their religious teachers? Honestly, sexual abuse of young boys is at many madrassas a standard thing.
For president Musharraf not to use force against a group like this - especially since they were located around two kilometers from his own presidential building - would be madness from the site of the state.
Third - It is not that the Pakistan Army immediately attacked the place. The leadership of the Red Mosque had a week to surrender. Around 1000 students (males, women and kids) were allowed to leave during the first couple of days. Some were arrested. But most of the students received 5000 rupees from the government and a free trip home.
Fourth - By storming the Red Mosque, Pakistani president Musharraf has made a clear point to all those whose goal it is to destroy Pakistan as a country or turn Islam into an endless amount of little, violent doomsday cults. Many Jehadis (actually many Pakistanis in general) think you can get away with everything here. Cheating, kidnapping, killing, running around with guns, drugs, fucking around with kids and women. The state is weak, many people think and wish. Well, no more.
Pakistan's president has drawn a line in the sand. The immediate result might have been rather bloody. But in the long run, the fact that the state has shown its teeth against the religious and reactionary ultra-right might save an awful amount of innocent lives here.