Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pervez Musharraf - You've got to love him (at least a little bit)

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.

Harald Doornbos


ella said...


Great post.
Your view on Musharraf is very (and I mean very) interesting and quite different from the opinions one reads in both western and ME newspapers.
Thank you.

btw. I think that "president sily" is as much invention of newspapers as is the common view of Musharraf.

Anonymous said...

I just recently started reading your weblog and so far mostly agree with you.
You do nice work.
As for Musharraf, there is a lot more bad stuff happening in Pakistan than the Red Mosque situation.
Hopefully he can keep a lid on it all and survive the elections this fall.
If not there is real possibility of radical islamists getting there hands on tactical nuclear weapons.
Kinda scary over there actually.

Harald Doornbos said...

thanks and keep on commenting - cheers!

Menno said...

Well, if i had to go on a holiday with a dictator, my choice would be Sultan Qaboos of Oman. I do however realize it is way easier being a benevolent dictator if your country isn't plagued by problems and you have an almost infinite stream of oil dollars flowing in.

core said...

@ Menno,

Like the sultan of Brunei? ;-)
He may invite me anytime for a cup of tea.


Love reading your posts! First hand impressions of a journalist who dares to take a (different) view or angle..

I even forget you were a former communist... ;-)

Harald Doornbos said...

Aan 'De Concierge' van Geen Stijl -bedankt voor je advies. Heb het inmiddels veranderd. Spellingscheck doet soms merkwaardige dingen.

Trouwens, ik zit geen fucking 20 uur aan een artikel voor een blog te werken, dus dat het allemaal geen fucking perfect engels is, zal de gemiddelde lezer aan z'n reet roesten. Behalve zure conciergies...

Trouwens, Hou toch een sop? Is het niet: Hou toch eens op? Ach, beter een lulletje in een vreemde taal dan een lulletje in je moedertaal.

Commentaar concierge op Geen Stijl:

Duidelijk een *minderwaardig* soort Engels: "die hearts", alsjeblieft zeg, tenenkrommend kwalijk gewoon. Moet ik dit lezen en wat schuift dat? Hou toch een sop Doornbos en zoek gelijk een vak waar je talent in mocht hebben,

de Conciërge 12-07-07 @ 21:20

Ron de Keijzer said...

Hou zelf een sop

Anonymous said...

Alex said...

Verfrissende kijk op de hele situatie. Bedankt!
Hou een sop = Gonny van Oudenallen-speak.

han said...

screw geen stijl

riessie said...

leuk en interessant stuk.
pakistan en die musharraf zeiden mij weinig. je hoort er weinig over en ja t dringt ook nooit echt door.
maar nu weet ik wel dat hij een 'goede' is.
enne ps, dat engels is goed genoeg.
t zal mij mijn reet niet roesten dat er foutjes inzitten.
ik begrijp t
en daar gaat t om.

Petite said...

Wel wat slap dat je die moskee niet binnen durft... morgen graag verslag van binnenuit!
Voorts veel dank & hulde for the good work.
Votum & Groet van een oude Kampenaar!

Anonymous said...

Harald, niet meer posten als je gedronken hebt.
Je betoog is warrig, en het gebruik van twee keer 'god' in één alinea is ook geen overtuigende stijlvorm.

Anonymous said...

I think this is Geenstijl!

herb1979 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
herb1979 said...

Prima stukje! Gaf me een beter inzicht in de man dan veel nieuwsberichten in het journaal. Overigens vertrouwde een vriend die er werkt voor de VN me ooit toe dat "het enige dat in Pakistan functioneert is wat de Engelsen er ooit gebouwd hebben".

Anonymous said...

Mooi stukje, toch jammer dat er in je slotzin nog een fout zit, safe = save

Anonymous said...

in ben een pako uit Amsterdam en ik wil ffe duidelijk maken dat er veel achter de schermen gebeurt in pakistan dan dat er wordt gemeld in de media en dergelijke,de situatie is veels te Complex om er een duidelijke mening over te hebben,voorbeeld:de pakistaanse geheime dienst(ISI)hoort bij de top 5 geheime diensten in de wereld,denk je dat het zo makkelijk is voor radicalen of welke groepering dan ook om zich zo vrij te bewegen,in de hoofdstad notabene. denk daar maar eens over!

Anonymous said...

Fantastisch stuk journalistiek. Erg genoten van je schrijfstijl en beargumentatie!

Peter Amsterdam said...

Great post and for me totally true. In a land that is so extreme you got to have a strong man as a leader. True democracy is, not yet, possible I think in a country like this. You can better have a dictator who is open for criticism, then a dictator who locks up thousands of people. Like in China or in the communist states.
Let's see if my Pakistani colleague shares your view ;o)

Anonymous said...

Buitengewoon lachwekkend dat zo'n concierge op Geen Stijl durft te schrijven: "zoek gelijk een vak waar je talent in mocht hebben,"

Talent *in*? Nog nooit van gehoord. Je bent ergens goed *in* of je hebt ergens talent *voor* en slome concierges halen zulke uitdrukkingen nog wel eens door elkaar.

En verder: mocht hebben? Die concierge met z'n kromme tenen en z'n kromme Nederlands bedoelt gewoon *hebt*.

Harald Doornbos said...

Mooi stukje, toch jammer dat er in je slotzin nog een fout zit, safe = save

11:47 AM

Bedankt anonymous voor je commentaar. Ik zal het direct aanpassen.

Je moet begrijpen dat ik voor de GPD artikelen schrijf, voor de NOS radio allemaal radio stukjes lever, soms ook nog voor televisie en/of de VRT in belgie. En helaas ben ik ook nog half woordblind - wat nogal vervelend is voor een journalist! Mag de pret verder niet drukken natuurlijk. En nogmaals bedankt, want dat is inderdaad een ultra knullige fout.

Groeten, Harald Doornbos

Harald Doornbos said...

@ amsterdam pako,

natuurlijk heb je gelijk dat er, zeker in paksitan, belachelijk veel achter de schermen gebeurt. ellende is alleen dat het nogal moeilijk is daar een kijkje te nemen. Vervolgens begint iedereen maar een beetje te gissen. De een zegt: 100 doden in lal masjid, anderen beweren 500 doden. weer anderen zeggen: 1500 tot 2000 doden. Maar niemand die het echt weet.
En inderdaad - hoe komt het dat lal masjid zoveel wapens had, waarom bezocht de ISI de lal masjid tot voor kort (veel ISI'ers deden er zelfs hun vrijdag gebed)? In Pakistan is een ding duidelijk: Niets is helemaal duidelijk.

Toch is het een geweldig land!

doeg, Harald Doornbos

Anonymous said...

Menno, I would also choose Sultan Qaboos as a holidy mate, that I'm over 12 years old. Mr. Qaboos has a certain reputation with young Indian Boys. And no Journalist mentioning this, wellnot in Oman.

Harold, nice piece. make you wonder if democracy is such a good developing instrument...


Harald Doornbos said...

@ marnix

Enigszins provocerend gesteld natuurlijk. maar voor grote delen van de Derde Wereld geldt: Democracy sucks!

Vergelijk het met een huis zonder muren en wij maar zeuren dat de bewoners er nou eens verwarming in moeten aanleggen.

Eerst muren, dan een dak en dan, als alles een beetje meezit, verwarming.

bedankt voor je reactie.

Harald Doornbos said...

@ anonymous:

Anonymous said...
Harald, niet meer posten als je gedronken hebt.
Je betoog is warrig, en het gebruik van twee keer 'god' in één alinea is ook geen overtuigende stijlvorm.

4:34 AM

Dank je voor het advies. Afgezien van het feit dat ik een geheelonthouder ben (ja, ze bestaan nog), zit ik in Pakistan...misschien heb je er ooit van gehoord dat alcohol hier verboden is????

Het wachten is dus op jouw briljante Pakistan analyse. Of doe een minder warrig betoog over de handel in varkens in Saoedie Arabie. Cant wait....


Remco said...

Geweldig artikel. Wat een hoop zeikerds hier zeg. Lekker belangrijk, een paar spelfouten hier en daar. Who cares. Lekker negeren dat soort types, en vooral doorgaan met dit soort artikelen.

Keep up the good work.

Remco said...

Nou ja, een hoop zeikerds... een paar zeikerds. ;-)