AUS DEM SPIEGEL
Ausgabe 29/2007

After the Red Mosque Bloodbath: Are Musharraf's Days in Power Numbered?

By Rüdiger Falksohn, Padma Rao and Tobias Schreiter

A violent crackdown ended the Red Mosque siege in Islamabad and allowed Musharraf to reestablish his authority over Pakistan -- for the time being. With al-Qaida vowing reprisal attacks, the conflict with Islamic fundamentalists threatens to throw the country into turmoil.

Pakistani special forces stormed the Jamia Hasfa madrassa in Operation Silence.
AFP

Pakistani special forces stormed the Jamia Hasfa madrassa in Operation Silence.

In his youth, Abdul Rashid Ghazi had a reputation as a headstrong young man. As a member of the warlike Mazari tribe from northwestern Pakistan, his stubbornness appeared to indicate a certain fighting spirit. If nothing else, it definitely reflected a strong rebellious streak. He defied his father Abdullah's wish that he receive a formal Islamic education, dropped out of Koran school and refused to grow an appropriately pious full beard when he reached adulthood. Instead, he insisted on shaving.

Later, Ghazi returned to the fold after all. He studied international relations in Islamabad and went to work for the Ministry of Education. After his father, the founder of the Red Mosque, was murdered by rival Islamists in 1998, the prodigal son even embraced religion, becoming a leader known as a maulana.

Together with his brother Abdul Aziz, he took over the leadership of the Red Mosque, using it as a platform for preaching pro-Taliban views and voicing strong condemnation of the US invasion of Afghanistan. The Red Mosque became a center for radical fundamentalist teachings and the authority of the Pakistani government was challenged when students and leaders of the mosque set up a Taliban-style judicial system.

Recently, for a few days in early July, the Ghazi brothers even managed to attract the attention of the world by publicly leading the resistance movement against Musharraf. Along with hundreds of followers, they barricaded themselves in the mosque and engaged in bitter battles with state security forces.

His brother Abdul Aziz tried to flee the besieged mosque disguised in women's clothing, and was soon ridiculed as "Maulana Coward." Abdul Rashid, however, opted for a tragic hero's death. "My martyrdom is certain," he announced as their beleaguered stronghold was about to be stormed. "We trust in Allah that our blood will lead to a revolution."

He reportedly spoke of "genocide" and "naked aggression" in his last telephone call before the line went dead. Witnesses say that there was suddenly so much smoke inside the religious fortress that you could hardly see your hand in front of your face. A few hours after Ghazi's death, the army took full control of the mosque. On 11 July 2007, at 4:00 am, "Operation Silence" was completed, leaving behind a battlefield strewn with corpses -- and a number of important questions.

Was the apparently seriously wounded Ghazi actually killed by his own people to put him out of his misery, as was widely reported? If this were true, then he would not be a martyr, according to the strict definition of the term -- something which would certainly please Musharraf.

Were there also foreign fighters in the mosque, for example Uzbeks and Afghan Taliban, as was claimed? Why were the first casualties so hastily cremated that not even their relatives had time to identify them?

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.
REUTERS

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

What was the actual number of casualties in the revolt against Musharraf's Western values? Government sources referred to 75 dead. However, the press, which had been largely hindered in its work, discovered that at least 800 funeral shrouds had been ordered and a similar number of empty graves had been arranged in H-8 and H-11, two cemeteries that had been rapidly sealed off from public view.

But the biggest question of all concerns Musharraf himself. Shortly before the celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the nation on August 14, he seems to be losing his grip on the country. The supreme commander of the army prides himself in wearing his general's uniform wherever he goes, yet remains as isolated and weak as the state apparatus that he heads. Without his army and support from the US, which was underscored by George W. Bush during the recent crisis, Musharraf's days in power would be numbered.

It was only by resorting to a show of military force that Musharraf was once again able to prevent the country's radical proponents of Shariah law from making a fool of him. His crackdown has gained him a temporary measure of respect abroad and at home, from the country's most influential political party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), and among the large majority of moderate Muslims.

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