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Pakistani pragmatism - If bin Laden is guilty, punish him

Tuesday, September 25, 2001

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- In the street, for the cameras, it is daily ritual: a knot of bearded men excoriate America and torch a slightly comical straw George W. Bush. Indoors over tea, things are less simple.

"Osama bin Laden is a hero to many people, and they want him to survive," said Farid Khan, who spends his day ladling curries and listening to customers. "But if it cannot work out, let him go. It is not worth a war."

In Khan's cafe, a hole in an old wall with the red-painted name long chipped away, the predominant opinion coincides with that heard at Qarim Buksh's sandal stall in the bustling bazaar:

If Washington can demonstrate that bin Laden is really behind the attacks in America, then he must pay. If Americans bomb innocent people to salve their national feelings, the world is in for big trouble.

Buksh himself needs no further convincing. "Osama is a bad man," he said. "There is only one of him and a million Afghans. They should not have to suffer more."

That is Peshawar, by the Khyber Pass where pro-Taliban feeling runs strongest in a proud, complex nation that stretches from Himalayan peaks to the dry, flat plains of the Indus Valley.

In Rawalpindi, a hubbub of color and noise at the heart of Pakistan, the sentiment for bin Laden and his terror tactics is less generous.

"Killing is wrong in Islam," said Sadia Mariam, a 21-year-old university student. Her friends nodded agreement. "If you shed the blood of one innocent, you wound everyone everywhere."

And in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, there is broad hostility toward neighbors who came as refugees and ended up embroiling their hosts in a potentially ruinous mess.

'Eating us up'

"The Afghans are eating us up -- all our energies are fixed on them," Malik Sohail Hussain said in his ice cream parlor, Yummy's, near a Subway sandwich franchise and a Citibank branch.

"We want to live peacefully like America, like Europe, to be a loving place," said Hussain, an official of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce. "First Saddam Hussein. Now bin Laden. What are these mullahs doing to us?"

Many Afghans blend in well, waiting for a chance to go home, he added, but he is not hopeful. "Too many just want to fight," Hussain said. "When there is peace on the border, the mullahs will fight each other."

The shock of terrorism at home has forced Washington to make Pakistan its new best friend. Pakistani leaders have decided their own best interest lies in supplying intelligence and logistical support against their old Taliban friends, but many people worry about what that might mean.

Moderate Muslims, the majority, hope a strong U.S. alliance will counter efforts by conservative mullahs to turn their growing numbers of followers into political power. But they also have reservations about America.

Sadia Mariam and her friends laughed hard at a newspaper cartoon showing a giant King Kong waving Old Glory atop the Empire State Building bellowing in wounded rage:

"Our great nation! We're going to show the world!!! Crusade!!! We're going to kill even MORE INNOCENTS!!! Good against evil!!! Make no mistake, we are even MORE ARROGANT!!!"

Tamima Tasneen, 21, said she admired much about the United States but feared its leaders and its people had too thin of a grasp on global realities.

"To some extent, the Americans are also responsible for this, because of Palestine and other things," she said. "Bush should be broad-minded, show humility. Americans always think they're superior."

At that, one of the group started mockingly singing the U.S. country-western favorite "I'm proud to be an American..." The others laughed again.


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