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US Pakistanis Keep Wary Eye On Events Back Home


The state of emergency and continuing violence in Pakistan are of special concern to the estimated half a million people of Pakistani descent living in the United States. Many of them are following events in their homeland through web-based news outlets as well as international news programs. VOA's Greg Flakus has more on the story from Houston, Texas.

There are some 120,000 Pakistanis in the Houston metropolitan area, making it the third largest Pakistani-American community in the United States. Houston is also home to the Pakistan Chronicle, a newspaper marketed to Pakistani immigrants all over the United States. It has a readership of almost 40,000. The paper also maintains a web site that registers around 100,000 visits a week. (http://www.pakistanchronicle.com)

Mohammed Danish, the Pakistan Chronicle's web site manager, says traffic on the site has increased in recent days because of the situation in Pakistan, but he says there have been relatively few e-mail messages sent to the site from people in Pakistan.

"Actually, it was more from the people in the United States and outside of Pakistan than from Pakistan. The people here in the United States, in particular, are a lot more concerned, from what I have noticed, than the people actually sitting in Pakistan. People over there, I do not believe, are letting this get on their life (interfere with their life) too much," he said.

He says he spoke with a relative in Pakistan by telephone following the announcement of a state of emergency and found him relaxed and talking about normal daily activities, such as going to the market.

As for Pakistanis here, Danish says age has a lot to do with how concerned people are about politics and turmoil back in Pakistan. "The population from the 20's to the 40's and maybe a bit higher than that is, of course, concerned about that,"

Flakus: "And the younger population?"

"They are drifting more towards their own personal life."

The publisher of the Pakistan Chronicle, Tariq Khan, says many people in the Pakistani-American community reacted with horror to recent suicide bombings in Pakistan, and this has caused them to be supportive of the country's president General Pervez Musharraf, even if they disapprove of his suspension of the constitution.

"These people, the suicide bombers, they have no religion. What kind of people are they? They are a threat to the government. They are a threat to everybody, any political party, any religious party, because you do not know what they want," he said.

Khan estimates that 75 percent of the Pakistanis in Houston are willing to give Mr. Musharraf some leeway in dealing with militants and terrorists, but he says they also expect him to fulfill his promise to hold elections by mid-February and to take off his military uniform and rule as a civilian.

A much stronger condemnation of the state of emergency is found on the web site of the Association of Pakistani-American Lawyers. The Seattle-based group calls for an immediate end of the state of emergency, the restoration of the Pakistani Supreme Court and respect for human rights. (http://www.apalnet.org/page6.html)

The president of the association, Khalil Ur-Rehman Khan, spoke to VOA by telephone about the situation in Pakistan.

"People are not happy all over the country. The vast majority of the people, not only the lawyers, but including the intellectuals, the media, no one is happy with the present situation. I think it is extremely important for lawyers and the civil society to take steps, non-violent actions, to make the government suspend the state of emergency, end it immediately," he said.

Khalil Rehman Khan says the state of emergency has damaged Pakistan's image as a nation of laws. He says he doubts that Mr. Musharraf's actions will accomplish anything in terms of fighting terrorism and radical movements.

"I think it is not going to solve the problems of Pakistan. It is not going to eliminate terrorists. No single individual should be above the law, and the constitution and basic human rights should be respected," he said.

Khalil Rehman Khan says his organization may have little influence on the Pakistani government, but he believes it is important to let the world know that there are many Pakistanis both in Pakistan and in other countries who believe in human rights and the rule of law.

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