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Asem Mustafa Awan: Why My Nation Burns With Anger Against Mr Blair

by Asem Mustafa Awan / The Independent, UK Tuesday, Oct. 09, 2001 at 9:02 AM

"Unfortunately I don't believe that General Musharraf, the Pakistani leader, is right to claim that public opinion supports his co-operation with America. From what I can see out here at ground level, most people's thoughts seem to be with their Muslim brothers in Afghanistan."

Asem Mustafa Awan: Why my nation burns with anger against Mr Blair

09 October 2001

Here in Islamabad, life goes on, but it is certainly not business as usual. People are understandably apprehensive about what the future may hold for them in the wake of the bombing of Afghanistan.

This morning, as I made my way from my home in Rawalpindi to Islamabad, I sensed an atmosphere of tense routine. I think we are all praying that God will have mercy and that good sense will prevail.

People here are watching the BBC and CNN to get their information. We have probably been watching the same pictures as people in Britain. But it's the radio that's proving the most popular medium. Again, it's the BBC and its World Service that we rely on to bring us the latest news of what's going on over the border in Afghanistan.

As I write, I've been up all night covering events for my newspaper, The Nation. I don't know when I will be able to get to bed yet. I was at home when I found out that strikes had begun on Afghanistan. They have been long expected, but they still left me feeling stunned when they began.

Unfortunately I don't believe that General Musharraf, the Pakistani leader, is right to claim that public opinion supports his co-operation with America. From what I can see out here at ground level, most people's thoughts seem to be with their Muslim brothers in Afghanistan.

As people in Britain are no doubt aware, some have taken to the streets in violent protest at the air strikes. At around midnight on Sunday night there was a massive anti-bombing demonstration outside the news building of The Jang, the daily Urdu-language newspaper, in Rawalpindi. I made my way there to cover the demonstration for my own paper.

Among the chanting crowd I was surprised to see that Tony Blair, the British prime minister, is coming in for some serious abuse. It is no longer only the American president who is the object of people's anger. One angry youth yelled at me: "Why is he acting like this? Is he trying to compete with Bush to show who's the most popular leader?"

Another youth complained that Mr Blair was acting like the US's "special emissary". And, incidentally, they're burning effigies of Bush and Blair now. More and more young men are proclaiming their desire to leave for Afghanistan and to join the Holy War in defence of Islam.

Even among those who are not burning effigies of Western leaders on the street, there is a high level of scepticism about how good American intentions really are. Last night I spoke to an old war veteran who was sipping tea outside a Rawalpindi tea shop and listening to the BBC's World Service. "The United States has ditched Pakistan before," he muttered, "They are not a trustworthy ally."

Someone asked him if he thought Pakistan was in danger from the missiles flying over our land. He replied that if God decreed he was to die in this way, then it was at least good to die for a cause. He seemed to be getting more enthusiastic as he went on: "I may be old but if this had been a war with India I would still have gone to the front with my gun to defend Pakistan. As things stand, my son is soon to leave for Afghanistan and I have given him permission to join the Taliban. That will be my contribution to this war."

As for my own feelings, I am drawn to going to Afghanistan, like many young men in Pakistan. But I want to go as a journalist rather than a holy warrior. I've even been growing my beard so I'll not draw attention to myself and risk being imprisoned (or worse) by the Taliban.

I've managed to make it to the border a few times since the 11 September attacks on America and I'll surely try again. I was there when the deadline for the surrender of Osama bin Laden ran out. I'd go armed with a pen in my right hand but a gun in my left.

The author is a reporter for 'The Nation' newspaper, based in Islamabad
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