Here in Islamabad, these are times of life or death. Of individual or collective rights. Of religion in your heart or in every cell of your body. Of God as a brother or God as an abusive father. Eventually - this is the struggle within Islam.
"If you do not surrender, you will be killed," Musharraf just told Pakistani television.
I've spend most parts of the day around the Red Mosque. It is getting pretty difficult to get close to it. The army has basically sealed off the whole G6 sector of town (2 km by 2 km). Yesterday I managed to sneak in and got to 200 meters of the mosque. Today no such luck. Everything very much blocked. Some large explosions and a lot of firing from within the area.
Outside Islamabad's no-go zone, I met a large group of people, who all have family members inside the mosque. Brothers, sisters, cousins. Most of their beloved one's are between 14 and 25 years old.
"They are ready to give their life for Islam," one man, Baber Khan, told me, speaking about his 14 year old cousin Amjad Mahmoud.
I asked him if Amjad could decide if he was ready to die. I mean, you need to be eighteen to drive a car here. To make such a rather important life-or-death decision is kind of heavy on a 14 year old kid. But Baber Khan's answer was rather clear: "That 14 year old children want to die - that is the power of Islam."
All of the waiting family members are, not surprisingly, very angry at the government. According to most of them President Musharraf is "just cracking down on the mosque because [US president] Bush wants it". I am not very sure US president Bush has ever heard of the Lal Masjid. Pronouncing it ("Lal what???) could be a problem too.
This is very much an internal Pakistani problem. Because let's not forget that the 'students' in (which means in Arabic and Urdu: Talib or Taliban) in the Red Mosque are extremely militant. Over the last couple of months they have violently tried to 'cleanse' Islamabad from all 'non-Islamic things'. They have attacked music stores, barbers. They kidnapped some Chinese girls who, according to the Red Mosque, were working in Islamabad as prostitutes.
(The funny thing is that the three costumers who were caught together with the Chinese girls were all members of the MMA - the radical right wing, pro-taliban religious block in parliament. According to the embarrassed MMA-members they were "just visiting the Chinese girls to get a knee massage because of pain in their legs".)
Recently Lal Masjid students kidnapped police officers and five days ago they killed a Pakistani soldier, a journalist and destroyed several government offices.
Not to do anything against the Red Mosque - in the middle of Islamabad, only one kilometer away from Musharraf's presidential palace - would simply be unsustainable.
Anyhow. A peaceful end to the standoff seems every hour less likely. Maybe presidents Musharraf's harsh words were bluff, part of a policy of the authorities to build up the pressure on the militants inside the mosque. And most Pakistanis aren't that impressed with the suffering inside the Red Mosque of the militants. The general mood in the country is verymuch: "Finish off the militants - they asked for it."
The family members I spoke to expect the worst. "My two brothers are inside," 17-year old Nasser told me. "This morning I spoke to my two brothers via a mobile phone," he continued, "They are only 13 and 14. They don't know what to do. But yesterday they got wounded. They were shot by the army while trying to find some water around the mosque."
But the worst is, at the same time, the best. "There is honour in death," Baber Khan, the man whose cousin is inside, "They will never surrender, never try to escape. They will defend the Red Mosque until the end."
Then we all heard the deep sound of a column of tanks approaching. I looked up and five tanks drove past us. 500 meters later, they made a turn, into the direction of the Red Mosque. More soldiers appeared. I heard shots being fired. Sand sacks. Barbed wire. Machine guns. Soldiers running.
About the pictures in this story:
Top: President Musharraf
Above: Baber Khan, with grey dress, and others waiting outside the no-go zone.
Middle: Red Mosque female militants, a couple of months ago, while attacking so called 'non Islamic institutions'. (not my pic, took it off the wire)
Middle: A stressed boy waiting for his family members who are still inside the mosque.
Below: Family members of the students watch as a column of tanks passes us.