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The President's tightrope act
The old town of Lahore in the far east of Pakistan bears witness to the heyday of the Mughal empires in the 16th and 17th centuries. And the Badshahi mosque right next to the huge fort tells of the strict faith of the Muslim rulers. But the old town of Lahore with its narrow streets and lively bazaars is less known for moral austerity than for vice and pleasure.
"Many girls from this quarter go to Dubai, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia or even Europe as dancers. They dance in discos there."
When it comes to dancing, however, it is rarely the case, Akhtar admits. The fat-bellied and unshaven Pakistani is a pimp by profession and has a job in one of the scruffy, shabby old town houses.
"This area is known for the prostitution business. But we also respect religious festivals such as Ramadan here. Most of them take it into account."
But even in the holy month of Ramadan, potential customers are aggressively addressed on the street. One is asked whether one would like to spend half an hour with a woman like Praveen. The 25-year-old with the thick make-up earns the money for Akhtar. The prostitute quickly makes it clear that the religious awe in the red light district is not that far off.
"There is hardly any business during Ramadan. Not because the customers are considerate, but because they lack the money because of the expensive celebrations. We are only prostitutes because poverty forces us to. We don't do it for pleasure."
In the past, the old town of Lahore was not only known for its easy girls, but also for art enjoyment and high-class entertainment. Nasir Pervez thinks back with sadness. His family has been running a music shop here for 40 years. Traditional Pakistani instruments used to be built here, says Pervez.
"Five years ago people used to come here to see dance and listen to good music. They had fun with it. Nowadays everyone has a satellite dish or cable TV. Now you only come here for the prostitutes. That makes me very sad. But what should you do? "
Today more than ever, Pakistan is a country with many faces. It is influenced by global trends and the western lifestyle. But Pakistan is also traditionally shaped, especially in rural areas, through to religious extremism. In cities with millions of inhabitants like Lahore, the boundaries are fluid between tradition and modernity, between liberality and fundamentalism, especially among young middle-class and upper-class Pakistanis.
In Lahore's old town, the long-established Salahuddin family also has their haveli, a house in traditional Islamic architecture with high walls and only a few windows to the outside, but with a charming inner courtyard in sandstone and marble, with a fountain and plenty of space for guests. Mian Yousuf Salahuddin is a businessman, he used to be a politician. He is considered the party king of Lahore. For three decades, Salahuddin's festivals have been the meeting place for those who have rank and name in Pakistan: athletes, artists, models, politicians and bureaucrats. Mick Jagger celebrated here, and President Musharraf was a frequent guest in the Salahuddins Haveli. The photos on the walls of the house testify to this.
"The atmosphere, way of life and temperament of old Lahore are still there. Lahore is a great city. Most Pakistanis are pretty liberal, I think."
However, Salahuddin also experienced repeated encroachments and attacks by Islamist zealots in the supposedly liberal Lahore. They made a front against New Year's Eve parties and city festivals, against Western lifestyle and women in the annual marathon. Salahuddin believes that this is not in keeping with the city's liberal tradition.
"I have the same respect for people who wear jeans as I do for women in burqas, the full-body veil. That is freedom. I always advise people in religious parties against coercion. If you want something, talk to me openly. Talk is always good. Maybe I'll let myself be convinced. But if you come with a stick or a rifle in hand, then of course I won't accept it. "
Just outside Lahore, on a campus-like site, is the impressive headquarters of the Jamaat-e-Islami. It is the oldest, largest, most influential religious party in Pakistan. Its leaders have been promoting and defining pure Islam since 1941. The Jamaat is at the head of the fundamentalist opposition alliance in Pakistan. Trademark: sharp tones against President Pervez Musharraf and against the West. One of the spokesmen for the Jamaat is Munwar Hassan, the party's general secretary.
"The mood in the population is completely against Musharraf. But he is supported by America and the West. But the Americans have never supported democracy, only despots, kings, sheikhs and military dictators."
Jamaat-e-Islami only got eleven percent of the vote in the last elections in 2002. But it is considered to be the best organized political force in Pakistan with offices and activists in the far corners of the country. The Jamaat can stir up popular anger and mobilize the masses, whether against the war in Afghanistan or against the Mohammed cartoons. The Jamaatis also want to stir up a mood against Musharraf and his allies in the 2007 election year.
"Millions of people have already protested publicly. The masses want to demonstrate, they have their goals. They know that Pakistan is an American colony and that they have no basic rights here. People are ready to take to the streets against it and put an end to it do."
When British India was divided and Pakistan became independent in 1947, the country was intended to be a refuge for the subcontinent's Muslims. An Islamic republic came into being. State founder Jinnah died a little later. To this day, it is controversial whether the politically educated western politician had a clear separation of state and religion in mind or a country determined by Islam.
In fact, fundamentalists and clergymen only played secondary roles in Pakistan for a long time. It was not until the late 1970s that religious parties gained influence. Military dictator Zia ul-Haq pursued the Islamization of the country. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan made Pakistan the base for fundamentalist opposition groups.
Chic cars, cool cafés and trendy clothes - young, modern, urban Pakistan is open and western. But not everyone likes the globalization of society, says political scientist Hasan Askari Rizvi from Lahore.
"Especially in the cities there are modern Pakistanis who have lived abroad, have been trained there, who benefit from modernization and globalization and from the revolution in communications technology. That displeases parts of the population who are influenced by religious groups. You see globalization and modernization as a threat to their principles. They cannot cope with the changes that are coming here through television, internet and international media. Conservative religious elements see this as a cultural attack on the values of Pakistani society. "
The division in society is also reflected in politics. General Pervez Musharraf has led the country since a military coup in 1999 and is now president. In the struggle for international recognition and acceptance back home in Pakistan, Musharraf walks a tightrope.
Reception with military honors for George W. Bush in Islamabad in March of last year: The US President is the most important international partner, donor and advocate of Pervez Musharraf. And after the September 2001 attacks, the Pakistani President became the American's most important ally in his war on terror in South Asia. But there is always criticism of Pakistan's lack of engagement against cross-border terrorism from and to Afghanistan, especially against the Taliban. But US President Bush knows that despite its shortcomings, he has no alternative to Musharraf.
"Part of my visit here was to determine whether President Musharraf is as committed as we used to to bring these terrorists to justice. And he is. He understands what is at stake, what responsibilities he has and that our strategy is capable of doing this must be to defeat the enemy. "
For Pakistan, the partnership with the USA in the fight against terrorism is a profitable business. It has received billions of dollars in aid from Washington over the past five years. To do this, Musharraf has to be successful. The general banned numerous extremist organizations, had hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters arrested and repeatedly sent his troops to operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the tribal areas on the Afghan border.
"We have developed strategies against terrorism and extremism. If something should slip through us, it may be because of the implementation. But as long as our intention, determination and strategy are clear, we will make progress and be successful."
But Pervez Musharraf is not only under pressure in the fight against terrorism. The West also wants to see progress towards democracy. After his military coup, General Musharraf was only confirmed as president by a controversial and much criticized referendum, not by elections.
Musharraf politely professes democracy and moderation again and again. In doing so, he is primarily serving foreign expectations.
"Islam is a great religion. Unfortunately, the world believes that Islam promotes militancy and extremism. It should be tolerant of all religions. My goal for Pakistan is an enlightened society."
Like a prayer wheel, Musharraf repeats his vision of an enlightened, moderate society. But in the influential conservative circles of Pakistan, the president's liberal approach is met with incomprehension and resistance, especially in the country's up to 20,000 Koran schools, which still exert a great deal of influence.
Swinging cross-legged, students recite the Koran. The Muslim Holy Book is at the center of the education in the Lal Masjid Madrassa in Islamabad, one of the largest Koran schools in Pakistan with 10,000 boys and girls. Future clergymen would be trained here, good Muslims, but not terrorists, emphasizes the deputy school principal, Abdul Rashid Ghazi.
"We educate our students to tolerance, not to extremism. If we were to train terrorists, why should parents send their children to us? And the Koran schools are funded by the population through donations. Why should people give us money to help terrorists to train. How is that supposed to work? "
The Pakistani Koran schools shot up like mushrooms in the 1980s and became the starting points for the warriors of God against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan and the birthplaces of the Taliban. However, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, pressure increased on Pakistan to take action against the extremists. President Musharraf promised to cut the madrassas but failed. Hardliners like Ghazi there show open sympathy for the Taliban even today.
"Islam teaches resistance and self-defense when a country is under dictatorship. The Taliban are fighting back because, like in Iraq, the Americans have come to Afghanistan for no reason. In both countries this is self-defense, a holy war, a just cause against tyrants and aggressors. "
Many experts believe that the Afghan-Pakistani border region will decide whether and how quickly the war against the Taliban can be won: a question of fate for Afghanistan, which in 2006 was by far the bloodiest year since the fall of the Taliban regime. Pakistan is under more pressure than ever, as the harsh criticism of Joanna Nathan, Afghanistan researcher with the International Crisis Group in Kabul, makes clear.
"The Taliban are taking advantage of the fact that the border is porous and that Pakistan is not trying to take action against the Taliban. Other examples have shown that you cannot defeat insurgents if they can move freely across a border and find refuge in another country . As long as you don't cut your head off, you can't put down the insurrection. "
With a view to the delicate situation in its own country, the Pakistani government is fighting more and more. Hundreds of Pakistani security forces have already died in the fight against terrorism, and the president himself has been the target of attacks. Foreign minister Kurschid Kasuri said he was injured by allegations directed at Islamabad. After all, Pakistan is attacked by the same extremists.
The Pakistani government is caught between two stools. Engagement against the Islamists is not enough for the international community. In their own country, however, it is repeatedly sharply criticized. Therefore, Najam Sethi, editor of the renowned weekly newspaper "Friday Times" warns:
"The more Musharraf does for the US, the more unpopular he becomes in Pakistan. That is counterproductive. If the Americans want to say something to Musharraf, they should do it in confidence. The more that happens in public, the more Musharraf appears as an American puppet and the more unstable would the whole system because of existing anti-Americanism. "
So Pervez Musharraf continues a tightrope act. The Pakistani president tries to please the West and not to turn the conservatives in his own country too much against him. There are therefore often big differences between words and deeds. Example: Koran schools. Musharraf repeatedly promised strict government controls. But almost nothing has changed. At least a few hundred madrassas are considered direct supporters of extremist ideologies and groups. But Musharraf cannot and does not want to take massive action against Koran schools in general. Because their supporters, the fundamentalist groups and parties, are politically and socially powerful.
Much more than politics, Musharraf relies on the army, which has made him big and powerful. He has filled all important posts with active or retired officers. The army has taken on more and more functions in the state and society. Musharraf's trust belongs to the army as an institution with clear rules, discipline and obedience, not the party system.
2007 is election year in Pakistan. But it will hardly be a year of new beginnings and new beginnings. Pervez Musharraf wants to be confirmed as president for another five years by a certain majority in the current parliament in autumn. Only then will the voters be asked to the ballot box to re-elect the MPs. And then, Musharraf promises, the era of the liberals and the moderates will dawn.
"Moderate, enlightened forces have to win against the religious elements, against the dark men, as I call them. They have to go back to their former size. They never had more than three or four percent. Now they have up to 18 and rule one of the four Provinces. They must be defeated. "
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